Search billions of records on

Melrose, Nebraska

From the 1872-1972 Orleans Centennial
Edited by Ernest E. Kuhl and William J. Dunlay

History of Melrose

The townships of Harlan County were surveyed in 1865 by Scott and McGregor; this was a preliminary survey. The section lines and quarters were not established by it. In 1869 C. A. Danforth, later to become a Furnas County settler, accompanied General Victor Vifquain, a native of Belgium and a brigadier general in the Civil War, but a civilian in 1869, and a party of hunters who camped on a high bluff south of the present site of Orleans. He tells of seeing buffalo by the thousand, elk in herds covering an acre or more and also both black-tailed and white-tailed deer in great abundance. The abundance of buffalo led the Pawnee to call the Republican "Manure River". The Pawnee were in conflict with the Sioux and Cheyenne for these hunting grounds.

Major Eugene Carr of the Fifth Cavalry was stationed at Fort McPherson, south of the Platte, and in the month of June in 1869, he and eight companies departed from there on an expedition to drive the hostile Indians out of the Republican Valley. He arrived at a point a little west of the future site of Melrose in the latter part of June and proceeded up the Republican valley in pursuit of a large band of Cheyenne led by Chief Tall Bull. Buffalo Bill Cody was the chief scout for Carr and Major Frank North's Pawnee Scouts also accompanied him. Near the present site of Oxford Carr's wagon mules were run off by the Cheyennes, but were recovered by the Pawnee Scouts.

The topographer of the expedition, Lieutenant Volkmar, on one of his exploring trips reported finding a rising mound three miles south and three miles west of the mouth of Beaver Creek. On this mound the effigy of a man had been formed. It was constructed of small pieces of stone laid on the ground. The effigy was 16 feet in length and had a shield and spear. As Beaver Creek was the stream now called Sappa Creek, this rising mound and the effigy on it were on what is now known as Sappa Peak. This effigy was still there in 1876, according to a history written at that time and verified by the County Commissioners.

At Summit Springs in Colorado, Carr overtook and surprised Tall Bull and his band. In the ensuing battle, said to be a prototype of Indian versus cavalry battles depicted in later movies, Tall Bull was killed and the Cheyennes soundly defeated. This event and constant vigilance by the soldiers ended serious Indian troubles in Harlan County.

The Buck massacre took place later that summer in Red Willow County. An entire party of surveyors was killed by a band of Sioux led by Whistler and Pawnee Killer.

The subdivisions of the townships along the Republican Valley surveyed in 1865 by Scott and McGregor were laid out by Humanson in 1869; that is, the section and quarter section boundaries were established and staked. This opened the area, still part of Lincoln County, to settlement by the incoming homesteaders.

Among the white men who came in 1869 to hunt and trap was Andrew Ruben. He' built a dugout on the Sappa and lived there in the winter of 1869-70. He may have been a member of General Vifquain's party of hunters.

In the summer of 1870 Victor Vifquain again led a party of men to Harlan County. These were mostly prospective settlers. They were joined by J. W. Foster of Nebraska City, who joined the party after it was organized.

This group of men camped south of the present location of Orleans near the old mill site, where Vifquain and the, hunting party had been the year before. They drew lots for choice of claims. The first choice fell to Gullet and Sullivan's wagon. They chose Elm Swamp, which was just west of where the stockade was built that fall; however, they later gave up that location. J. W. Foster won second choice but did not use it as he had decided to establish himself a few miles east near the present site of Alma. He relinquished his choice to Frank Houfnagle.

General Vifquain and others selected a town site on a half section just east of where they were camping. He hoped to establish the county seat there. It was to be given the name of Napoleon. Most of Vifquain's party returned east that fall.

Under the leadership of Frank A. Bieyon a stockade was built on Section 17-2-19 a mile west and one-half mile north of the present Orleans school. This stockade was to protect the settlers from the Indians and to be a shelter from the winter storms. Differing descriptions are given of the structure, but the following seems most likely to be accurate. It was described as being 40 feet square, consisting of vertical poles set in the ground and rising to ten feet in height; a sod wall 2½ feet thick and of undetermined height was constructed around the outside. Loopholes were left for shooting hostile Indians who might contest the right of the settlers to stay on their hunting grounds. A log cabin was built inside.

It is believed by some, and is entirely possible, that soldiers helped build the stockade, as they were stationed at Fort Hays to the south and Fort McPherson to the northwest, and were constantly alert and vigilant in the protection of the settlers.

The pioneers who helped build the stockade were Andrew Ruben, Nels Peterson, M. V. Toeppfer, Frank A. Bieyon, Frank Sullivan, Dickenson, Squire Gullet, Galen James, Ellis Hewett, Lou Ericson, Charlie Johnson, Dr. Andrews and Eric Lideen. Those who came later in 1870 and lived at the stockade were Henry Christenson, John B. Olson, Frank Houfnagle, Herman Liesinger, Hans J. Ekberg and Wolf. A few others are mentioned as being occupants of the stockade: Thomas Fly, Truls Peterson and Little Johnson. They May have arrived during the winter as did James Duncan and his wife. She was the first white woman in the county. The stockade was often referred to as the "Swede Stockade" as there were so many Scandinavians there.

Mr. Piper, who wrote some account of the county in later years, says Melrose flourished through a company of soldiers who were garrisoned there in 1870 and 1871. How much time the soldiers spent there is not known. However, a story was written about a Mr. McBride being killed at a Fourth of July picnic near the site of Alma in 1871 by a soldier named Costello from Melrose. He was a member of Captain Spalding's company of the Second Cavalry. This death, the first of a settler in the county, was the outcome of a drunken fight. Whatever the cause, the soldier was acquitted. Another pioneer tells of seeing a man killed at Dobie Town - near Kearney -- by a man from Melrose.

Most of the residents of the stockade took up homesteads in the spring of 1871. John B. Olson took a claim just north of the Melrose town site. He was referred to as Big John Olson, perhaps to differentiate him from John H. Olson, who came west in 1871 and homesteaded about a mile north of Orleans. Big John sold his claim shortly after securing it and no history is available about him in later years.

Eric Lideen took a claim about a mile northwest of Melrose but gave it up in a year or two and went back to Sweden. He later returned in about 1880 and started out again; this time he stayed.

Nels Peterson located near the Carter community. Not long after establishing his claim he had two white horses stolen by the Indians. He outlived all his con­temporaries, living to the age of 91 years. Many local residents will remember him.

Frank Houfnagle established his home about two miles north of the stockade. It was distinguished as early as 1871 by two sod buildings and a barn.

Andrew Ruben, who had been living in the dugout on the Sappa earlier, took up his permanent residence about three miles up the river from the settlement. Reuben Township was named after him. He is reported to have saved himself in an encounter with a wounded buffalo by killing the animal with a bowie knife. His descendants still reside on the original farm.

Galen James was situated just across the county line in Furnas County, at the fork of Beaver and Sappa Creeks. He had been with the government surveyors earlier and made a business of helping settlers in Furnas County locate desirable claims.

Leonard Woolworth had been prospecting for gold in the Black Hills. Upon returning to Nebraska he heard of the wonderful Republican Valley and came there in the fall of 1870. He was still at the stockade in the summer of 1871 when his daughter Julia Main and her husband Lorenzo arrived. He had a garden outside the stockade in which he was raising some fine produce while he was recovering from an injured leg. He later built a log cabin east of Rope Creek which was still standing in 1918.

Hans J. Ekberg, who arrived at the settlement in the fall of 1870, had left his family in Sweden; they joined him in 1871, Martin Ekberg being one year old at the time. The family homesteaded on Melrose Creek. Mr. Ekberg was a member of the Melrose school board until it was dissolved.

Frank Bieyon lived in Melrose; he had a store there which was built in either 1871 or 1872. The accounts vary, but it is quite certain that he had the first store in Melrose. He was prominent in affairs for some time.

Henry Christenson homesteaded south of the Sappa about two miles west of Melrose. He was a bachelor.

Truls Peterson, a brother of Nels, was at the stockade for awhile, then took a claim near Carter. He went to Walla Walla, Washington later, where he was thrown from a horse and died from the injuries.

No accounts of the other occupants of the stockade are available.

A very common commodity of trade at this time was buffalo meat. It was referred to as jerky or jerk. It had been dried and smoked and would keep indefinitely. It co be traded for many things, almost as eggs and butter were traded for groceries in later years. One Furnas county settler traded buffalo meat for credit and managed to use the credit to pay the filing fees on his homestead.

Many settlers arrived and located claims near Melrose in 1871. The John Gahley family were still living in their covered wagon on School Creek when a daughter, Christina, was born on July 18, 1871. George Gahley, who lived nearby the stockade, carried mail from Kearney for fifteen cents a letter.

A school was built of sod that fall on land adjoining Melrose on the west. This was called the Hooper school, as Major Hooper owned the site where it was built. A picture of this school is inscribed, "built '71-72". Districts had not yet been organized for tax support, so it no doubt had to be financed by the patrons.

J. M. Johnson and Magnus Johnson each bought a quarter section of land with agricultural scrip, Magnus Johnson getting the northeast quarter of Section 17 and J. M. Johnson the southeast quarter. Agricultural scrip was given to colleges in the East and South. They could sell it to prospective settlers who could in turn then use it to buy land, the same as if it were cash. Magnus Johnson may have been the same person referred to as Little Johnson in the list of occupants of the stockade.

Late in the fall of 1871 Magnus Johnson sold his quarter to F. W. Holbrook and soon after J. M. Johnson sold his to the same man. This half section was to become the site of Melrose.

J. M. Johnson and Eric Sandine, who had been living with Frank Houfnagle, crossed the Republican River in the fall of 1871 to establish homes on the west side. It was required for them to be on their claims before the first of the year in order to fulfill their initial obligation as homesteaders.

Mr. Johnson had not used up his homestead rights by buying the quarter on the east side of the river with the agricultural scrip and was therefore entitled to homestead another quarter. He lived in a dugout on the claim, as many others did, until he could build better quarters. His history included a term as state senator and he was mayor of Orleans for a time. Though he lived to be over a hundred years old as a resident of Orleans, his opinions and his accounts of the history of the community were still respected until his death.

Eric Sandine's quarter included part of the river where the highway crossing is west of town.

During February of 1872, someone set fire to the old stockade and burned it. No definite reason is given as to why this was done, but a little conjecture is supplied by a Furnas county settler who passed through Melrose that spring. He mentions the fact that there was quite an agitation about greenbacks in the post-Civil War years, but suggests that "gray-backs" were causing trouble at the Stockade. It would appear that they were the species sometimes called "cooties" and other uncomplimentary names.

Harlan County was organized on June 3, 1871 by an act of the legislature. J. 0. Phillips, T. 0. Murrin and Mr. Coad were appointed as commissioners to conduct an election for the purpose of electing officers and establishing a county seat. At this election, held July 3,1871, two sites were voted in for county seat, Alma receiving 37 votes and Napoleon 5. Neither place could boast of any buildings, but this did not seem to deter the contending factions. A record of the legal voters in the county who voted in the election is not available; however, the results were recorded in the state capitol.

During this period William Gaslin filed papers under the Homestead Act on part of the proposed town site of Napoleon, and as Mr. Gaslin states in a speech given in 1880, Carey pre-empted the other 160 acres. As General Vifquain had neglected to file the necessary papers under the provisions of the Town site Act, he lost all claim to it. Thus his plans, which were carefully made but not skillfully executed, came to naught. Napoleon town site met its Waterloo at the hands of Gaslin. General Vifquain, thoroughly disgusted, returned east and had no part in local history thereafter.

The winter of 1871-72 was very severe and many cattle were lost due to the storms. Wild game was plentiful but ammunition to turn it into provisions for the dinner table was scarce.

In April of 1872 Carey and Connelly built a second store at Melrose and Hooper and McKee soon after built a third. A newspaper article taken from the Omaha Republican, February 18, 1873, states that "Hooper and McKee own a large stock of commodities, two story story (sic) filled with a fine stock of goods. They are men of means and I am told sell more goods than any store in these parts."

In the spring of 1872 a number of citizens from all over the county, claiming that there had been irregularities in the county seat election of 1871 and that the officials elected that year had neglected to function, petitioned Acting Governor James to call another election. This petition was acted upon formally by the acting governor. After a full and complete registration of the voters of the county, an election was called for June 29. Two voting places were chosen: John McPherson's store in Republican City and Frank Bieyon's store at Melrose. The results of this election are given as follows: Republican City, 37 votes; Melrose, 36 votes; Alma, 31 votes and Gaslin's homestead (Old Napoleon) , 24 votes. There was no majority.

Another election was held on August 8 to try to obtain a majority. Gaslin's homestead (Napoleon), having received the least votes, was dropped from the election. Still no majority was obtained, so a third registration of voters and a third election was held on August 29. At this election Alma, having the least votes in the August 8 election, was dropped from the list and the contest was between Republic= City and Melrose. Melrose was declared the winner.

Sessions of the county commissioners were held during July and August at Republican City, but after the August 29 election they were moved over to Bieym's Store in Melrose.

Mr. L. J. Gronquist, in a letter to James McGeachin in 1927, states that the next day after the last election three men came to his farm and wanted him to build a courthouse at Melrose. He says that he built the first courthouse in Harlan county-, within two days he had the house enclosed and the county board held their first meeting there. The county records show that this meeting was held in Mr. Bieyon's new house. As several later commissioners' meetings were held at Bieyon's new house, Bieyon must have paid for the building himself. This house was on Section 16-2­19 just east of Melrose.

On September 5, 1872, a report of the election returns was called for from the clerk by the commissioners. The clerk presented the following report: "I hereby submit the results of the election August 29, to wit: No legal election. Signed, John Whiting, Co. Clerk. "

Commissioner J. 0. Phillips accepted the report. Thomas Sheffry and J. S. Bartelt protested it on the grounds of it not being a proper report. It was entered on the request of the commissioners that Thomas Sheffry did on September 5 request the County Clerk to make a full abstract of the election held August 29. This the clerk, Mr. Whiting, refused to do on the grounds of not having authority to do so.

It was moved by President of the Board J. 0. Phillips that the clerk post notices that there was no legal election of the county seat. This motion was lost so Melrose kept the distinction of being the county seat for some time.

At the August 27 meeting of the board, N. P. Cook had filed a protest against locating the county seat anywhere but Alma. The meeting the following month was held at Bieyon's home, and he was elected County Clerk pro tem, Mr. Whiting having refused to attend meetings. After almost a year of this nonattendance by Mr. Whiting he was ousted from office. It was alleged also that he treated the com­missioners with "contempt and defiance."

Mr. J. 0. Phillips' name was no longer seen as being present at the meetings and in January, 1873, the name of Martin Fitch, the former sheriff, appears on the record as the third commissioner. A warrant was issued to Mr. Fitch as sheriff to obtain all records and property belonging to the county from Mr. Whiting. At the next meeting Sheriff Fitch returned the warrant saying that he was unable to find said property and that Whiting told him to find it if he could. Any records kept up to that time were thought to be on loose sheets of paper but are lost to history.

Eric Sandine, whose land was situated as before mentioned on both sides of the Republican River, built a log skiff in partnership with Charlie Anderson and in it ferried settlers bound for Beaver and Sappa valleys across to the west side. Not more than three or four hundred pounds could be ferried on the skiff, so wagons were taken apart and as the wheels and gear were being carried on the skiff the boxes were floated across. It might take several trips to get one settler across. These wagons were referred to as dead-ax (axle) wagons by the pioneers because they had no springs.

Sometime during the summer of 1872 F. W. Holbrook, who had bought the east half of Section 17-2-19 from Magnus and J. M. Johnson, employed the firm of Charles Colt and James McGonegal to survey the town site of Melrose.

A very beautiful city was planned and designed to fit neatly into a half section. The blocks were 274 feet square and the east-west streets were 80 feet wide, except Main Street, which was 100 feet wide, this providing ample room for hitching posts for oxen and horses along the business district.

These streets were named after Eastern colleges and academies, starting with Amherst and Bowdoin on the north and ending with Montgomery and Nelson on the south. Fourteen full blocks and one-half block at each end were in the north-south extension. The present highway west of Orleans was at the south boundary.

The north-south streets were 70 feet wide and were named in alphabetical order, but apparently were named after places, as they started with Adams and ended with Havelock. The city was seven blocks wide with a street on each side, the east one being the section line between Sections 16 and 17.

A business section three blocks square was situated on the east side and centered by Main Street. There were 24 lots to the block in this area, with 12 lots in the other blocks as far west as Endicott Street. The next tier of blocks had four lots to the block and the next were undivided. This budding metropolis had a total of 787 lots within its boundaries. The blocks were not numbered. The plat was recorded on December 28, 1872, which was nearly two months after Orleans had its plat recorded.

There had now been three towns planned within a radius of three miles: Napoleon, Orleans and Melrose. Napoleon had already become a name only and the other two were soon to become locked in a death struggle with only one survivor. The newly formed town of Orleans, which was surveyed and platted almost overnight through the instrumentality of D. N. Smith, was soon to become a fierce rival of Melrose and had much to do with its demise.

D. N. Smith, a town site locator for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad, is said ,to have incurred the animosity of many by his efforts. Although Melrose was as close to the planned railroad as Orleans, the ultimate decision as to the location of the depot would be up to the railroad people.

Carl Boehl, who had a blacksmith shop in Melrose, built a grist mill on the Sappa Creek a short distance south and west of Melrose and later added a sawmill. It ap­pears that snakes, Indians and grasshoppers were not the only hazards the pioneers had to contend with, as a man fell into this saw and was sawed in two.

Joachim Boehl. the father of Carl, came to Orleans Township, then called Flag Creek, a year or so after Carl came. He homesteaded the land on the Sappa, later called the Newton place. He was buried in the first Orleans Cemetery about a mile east of Orleans. His tombstone bears the inscription, "Born 1794, Died 1884. " He must have been quite old when he filed his homestead papers. He might not have been allowed to do so in this age of Social Security and compulsory retirement.

In the early spring of 1873 Melrose and Orleans both began a building program in earnest. A Mr. Bryan Whitney of Furnas County tells of helping do carpenter work at Melrose in February and March of 1873. Mr. L. J. Gronquist states that he built several houses in Melrose and also some in Orleans.

The Omaha Republican printed an article on February 18, 1873, in which it stated that Orleans had ten buildings at the time and Melrose seven and added that there was a deadly feud between them. The county could not support both and one must go down.

At one time or another Melrose had at least ten business places. Bieyon had the first store as before mentioned, Carey and Connelly the second and Hooper and McKee a large two-story store. John R. Kennedy had a drug store, James B. Wade a saloon. The Kellog Hotel, called the Melrose House, was a two-story log structure. Pete Munson operated a blacksmith shop, T. H. Manning a tin shop and Jewell and Son a store in a building which they had bought from Moore and Sappington at Alma and moved over to Melrose.

Dr. J. S. Hoyt practiced medicine at Melrose for a few years and two newspapers were published there. The first to be printed was the Advertiser, founded by Fox and Stinchcomb but later sold to Richmond and McGeachin who changed the name to the Harlan County Argus. The second paper published at Melrose was the Sentinel, which had been previously published at Orleans and was shortly after returned to the place of its birth.

On January 7, 1873, a post office was established at Melrose and F. A. Bieyon, who had such an active part in the previous affairs in the community, became the first postmaster. On June 17, 1873, the post office was moved to Orleans and Mr. Bieyon became postmaster there.

A log church was built by the Swedish people in 1872 about two miles northwest of Melrose. When the railroad was built later it had to make a bend in the route to bypass the church. This church was later moved up on School Creek near Carter. It was said the passing trains frightened the horses tied outside the church and men had to leave the service to hold and calm them until the noise subsided.

The Section 16-2-19 lying just east of Melrose was school land at that time and a dispute arose as to who should lease it. J. S. Hoyt endeavored to create an East Melrose Town site Company and extend the city limits of Melrose eastward. Frank Shaffer also desired to lease this same land and was granted the lease by the com­missioners.

The forty acres on which F. A. Bieyon's new house was built east of Melrose appears to have been leased school land also, but it was not included in the lease which Frank Shaffer obtained. Mr. Shaffer operated a store and livery stable in Orleans at the time but maintained his residence at his homestead near Alma.

The Lincoln Daily State Journal in June, 1873, printed as follows: “As to where the county seat is, is the question at this particular time. The commissioners have declared the school section lying beside the city of Melrose some 15 miles up the Republican from this point, and there is where they transact their business, and the balance of the county offices are kept there ... Buffalo are plenty. (Yesterday, June 1) while seated in a buggy and not to exceed one half mile from Melrose, I beheld two droves of buffalo at a distance of two miles, quietly feeding. There were about 100 in each drove ... (Even this does not sound impressive compared to what C. A. Danforth saw in 1869, only four years earlier. The buffalo herds were being exterminated rapidly by white hunters.)”

On July 1, 1873, Eric Sandine and Charles Anderson applied for and received a license to operate a ferry across the Republican River along the section line between Sections 18 and 19, town 2-19 west. This would have been along the north line of Eric Sandine's claim and where the present highway bridge is located. Mr. Sandine and Mr. Anderson had a cottonwood log sawed up at Carl Boehl's sawmill and from the lumber constructed a boat which was used in the ferry business, replacing the log skiff which was used before. They operated the ferry until a bridge was built in 1880.

The records show that both Orleans and Sappa townships raised money for the building of the bridge. I believe the county funds supplied some also.

Many of the business people of Melrose had taken claims near the town and were living on them. Thus they had stores in the town while living in the country. Many of today's farmers live in town and go daily to their farms; quite a contrast.

A great many lots were sold in Melrose in the year 1873, most of them in the business district. Mr. Holbrook had an acting "attorney in fact", a Mr. L. S. Dickenson, who transacted much of the business.

Mr. Nathaniel Ayres of Furnas County, who had been East to be married and was bringing his bride to this prairie home, stopped at the Melrose House on the journey westward and was very cordially welcomed by the proprietor, Mike Manning. Mr. Ayres relates that Mr. Manning, always ready to do the social act, with a very pronounced Irish brogue promised them "the foinest of everything." They would have I 1crame from the milk of the spickled heifer for their coffee in the marning. "

Mr. Manning was quite a personage and made many real estate transactions which his wife endorsed with a witnessed X. This was not uncommon in the 1870's and more women than men used the X as a signature.

An old copy of the Register published at Lowell, Nebraska was found in 1940 which contained an ad which read: "Melrose House, Melrose, Harlan Co., Nebraska, Michael Manning, proprietor. Lately enlarged and refitted. Stable in connection with the house. Livery teams furnished." This hotel was the first in the valley west of Red Cloud.

Sometime in January of 1873 three Indians were killed in the camp of two white men. The Indians were Whistler, his son Fat Badger and Hard Smeller. Whistler was the Sioux chief involved in the Buck massacre in 1869. The story about this related by a Furnas county settler was that the three Indians had come into the camp of the two white men and demanded food and coffee. Thinking the whites had not put enough coffee in the pot, Whistler had attempted to get more from the provision box and had his fingers smashed with the lid by one of the whites for his trouble. The whites, hearing the Indians talking, thought they might be killed and so forestalled such an undesirable event by killing the Indians. The Sioux in the neighborhood, thinking the act had been committed by a band of Pawnees out from the reservation on a hunt, scalped some Pawnees and stole 30 or more horses. The Pawnees fled down the river and camped near Melrose the rest of the winter. The women tanned buffalo hides for the settlers, while the men trapped along the river and begged for food.

In March of 1873, when the Orleans School District was formed, Melrose was included in it. The citizens of Melrose and vicinity, not liking this, petitioned Mr. Luce, the county superintendent, for the formation of a separate district. As a sufficient number of signatures were obtained, Mr. Luce granted the petition and notified Mr. Thomas Connelly of his action. The new district was numbered 15 and covered an area three miles wide and extended from the Republican River north of the county line. The east boundary was the section line running north and south just west of the present Orleans school site. The petition was granted December 6, 1873. The area was soon broken down into additional districts, but Melrose had kept its educational in­dependence for the time being.

District 27 was created in 1875 and formed the northern boundary of the Melrose district. Schools were becoming very necessary as the population of the area in­creased. As one commentator of the times said, "The stork was always with us."

The 1874 school census at Melrose shows 23 boys and 13 girls of school age. It is not likely that all of these were actually in attendance. The school census in 1876 listed 11 boys and 8-girls of which 9 boys and 7 girls were in attendance. Martin Ekberg was one of these and finished the eighth grade there in 1884.

Among events taking place at the county commissioner meetings were these:

The Harlan County Argus made application to become the official county newspaper. This request was denied.

Many bounties were paid on wolves and wildcats. The wolves were not coyotes but real prairie wolves.

Republican City filed a Writ of Mandamus to compel Melrose to give up the county seat and move it to their city, thus contesting the results of the 1872 elec­tion. Judge Gaslin filed an interpleader to test Alma City's right to the county seat by virtue of the original election of 1871.

Orleans offered free of charge a building for commissioners' meetings and several meetings were held there. The county seat was said to be on wheels at the time.

A great many lots were being sold in Melrose in 1873 and it was really booming. Hooper and McKee bought eight lots on the north side of Main Street at the east side of the town for $1200.00. John R. Kennedy bought six lots across the street. These were choice locations. The drug store was opened under the name of Kennedy and Hoyt, J. H. Hoyt being a doctor. As the medical and drug businesses have always been in close alliance it might be assumed that Dr. Hoyt had his offices in the drug store building.

Much sod was broken during the first year. Some people were very particular about what phase the moon was in at the time this was done. Some of the plows used were called grasshopper plows, which were especially made for plowing sod.

The first crop of corn was called sod corn. Wheat was also planted but this was done in the spring of the year, as winter wheat was unknown at this time.

Crops were said to be good in 1873, but 1874 was a year of disappointment for the entire county and also one of bitter disillusion for the supporters of Melrose in particular. The crops were destroyed by hordes of migrating grasshoppers which were said to have come in with a favorable wind from the south and to have left again when the wind suited them. During their stay they devoured everything green and when this was gone, they forgot their color preference and ate almost anything regardless of color. Mike Manning said they ate the scranes off the windows.

These insects were back again the next year and drove many homesteaders out of the country. However, financial help, and supplies were sent in from the East and the more hardy pioneers stuck it out and were still on hand when cropping conditions became better in 1876.

The mandamus action of Republican City was acted upon in a court session held in Judge Gantt's court in that city. The reason for its being held there was the fact that the only room in the county large enough for such a session was located there. Judge Gantt honored the interpleader of William Gaslin and declared Alma to be the county seat by virtue of the first election held in 1871. This election, although considered void by most citizens of the county, had not been contested, and as the time limit for such an action had expired, the judge ordered the books to be removed to Alma.

This presented some difficulty, as no suitable building was available. However, Joel Piper was selected to perform the removal and with the help of an assistant and a little trickery the deed was done without violence. It is not likely that it took a very large carriage to haul these records in 1874, as not very many meetings had been held. The land office was still at Lowell and the real estate records were still there.

An editorial written for the Herald on March 12, 1874, contains the following:

“Melrose, the county seat of Harlan county, is growing to be an important place, notwithstanding the fact that it has to contend with a rival place at a short distance of only one mile. The name of this would-be city is Orleans and bears a remarkable history that it was founded by a pious preacher who prayed a pious brother of Crete out of some $40,000; who will deny the effect of prayer in the face of such a fact?”

This competition and the loss of the county seat was too much for Melrose, as it soon began to disintegrate. Mike Manning moved four buildings to Orleans as con­sideration for a deed to six lots on the north side of the square. He operated a hotel there called the Commercial House. He also operated a liquor business as well as various other enterprises. He is said to have become quite wealthy.

T. H. Manning moved his tin shop from Melrose to Orleans where it stood as a reminder of bygone days until very recently, when it was dismantled. T. H. Manning enlarged his business by selling hardware and continued to operate his business in a much larger brick building for many years.

Dr. J. S. Hoyt moved to Orleans and practiced medicine there for several years.

An interesting court case was on the docket of Flag Creek township and was tried at Melrose on April 22, 1874. The account of this case is still present in the original Justice of the Peace book in the Cordelia B. Preston Memorial Library. A suit was brought by Levi Harris against Robert Vance for $25.00 as a fee for keeping livestock.

J. 0. Kennedy, Justice of the Peace, presided over the trial. 0. R. Reedy served the summons on Mr. Vance on April 16. Mr. Vance demanded a jury.

Jurors appearing were Michael Manning, P. H. Munson, Thomas Guy and Thomas Connelly. The jury was duly impounded and sworn; the jurors were impaneled April 22, 1874 at Melrose. The verdict was against Vance but Harris was not allowed the $25.00, but only $10.00. He was called upon to pay the jury fees of $3.00, so was not ahead much for his trouble. Mr. Vance had to pay $10.00 in costs as well as the $10.00 to Harris. Inflation appears to have been less rampant at that time.

The Melrose newspaper, the Argus, was sold to W. C. Holden in 1875 and was renamed the Tribune but soon after its publication was stopped entirely.

Other buildings were removed to Orleans, some being used as houses. Still others were converted to farm houses. Two buildings were joined together to form the home later called the Finneger place, about one half mile south and a little east of the old Melrose town site. Another was the home of August Sandine, son of Eric the pioneer, and is still part of the house just across the highway south of the Melrose site.

The first meeting of Melrose Lodge of the Ancient, Free and accepted Masons met in Melrose on September 22, 1878. Melrose Lodge was moved to Orleans in May of 1878.

Melrose had disappeared as a community by that time. Only the school remained; it was maintained as a district until 1885, when the voters petitioned their district into Orleans. The number 15 was given to another district in the north part of the county. One might wish it had been retired like the numbers of some football heroes in the present era.

The petition of John R. Kennedy for the vacation of Melrose was granted on December 27, 1881, and so the hopes and aspirations of the pioneer settlement of Harlan county were quietly laid to rest about the time the railway was built through the valley.

Return to Harlan County NEGENWEB page HERE.

Page by PS Designs
Last update 2008