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Welcome to McPherson County, NE

©Copyright 2000 - 2016 by Peggy Struwe

Tryon kept tryin' until it became a city
by Jim McKee
published in Lincoln Journal Star Sunday, May 13, 2001
Reprinted here with permission of Jim McKee and Lincoln Journal Star

In the beginning there was Sioux County, which, when its boundaries were set in 1877, occupied nearly a fourth of the entire state of Nebraska but by the 1880 census had a total population of only 699.

The site of McPherson County was surveyed by both the Burlington & Missouri River and the Kearney-Blackhills railroads, precipitating some expectant settlers, but both railroads abandoned their prospective routes. In 1885 Logan County was divided from Sioux and two years later was itself subdivided, creating McPherson County, which claimed a population of 400.

McPherson County was named for Union Gen. James McPherson, who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta. Fort McPherson (1863), McPherson National Cemetery (1873) and McPherson Post Office (1889) were also named in his honor. Tryon was named county seat but was referred to as McPherson despite the existence of McPherson Post Office 4 miles to the north.

Because the closest source of lumber was North Platte, many of the area's buildings were constructed of sod. Therefore it was no surprise when the first courthouse was a soddie, albeit with a steel safe. This rather cruse affair was described as "rafters and sheeting covered with tar-paper, overlaid with tough prairie sod" surrounded with a fence to keep wandering cattle from rubbing the walls. Being the only real building in the fledgling city, it also served as the county clerk's residence, a hotel, dance hall and church.

In 1891-92, Arthur County was split from McPherson, but as there was no real population, it existed within McPherson as simply a separate precinct until 1913.

Tryon's name is still a mystery. Some sources claim it was named for the British governor of colonial North Carolina and later governor of the state of New York. A small faction claims there was an early settler by that name, but no records show evidence of him. The most probable explanation is usually credited to Mrs. Jay Smith or less often to Judge William Neville of North Platte, who urged locals to "keep on trying" to form a town.

On January 19, 1893, Tryon's name became official when it became a U.S. Post Office, but just to keep things interesting, the McPherson Post Office was physically moved into Tryon in 1894.

Growth was nonexistent, and in 1895 one observer noted Tryon had only the courthouse and one home. This stagnation ceased with the passing of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, which, recognizing even subsistence farming in a large section of the state was impossible on homesteading, allowing claims of a full section. This brought an influx of settlers. Within two years Tryon claimed a school, two general stores and several residences in addition to the court house.

In 1907 L.E. Miller moved from North Platte to a farmstead southwest of Tryon with his son Glen. Though the family stayed only five years before returning to North Platte and later to Colorado, Tryon still lays some claim to the world-famous bandleader.

Tryon continued to grow. The 1910 census showed two liveries, a pool hall, cafe and bank had arrived, while McPherson County's population reached its ultimate peak of 2,470.

Beginning about 1911, Arthur Precinct began arguing for existence as a separate county partially because Tryon, the county seat was too far away to have convenient access. In 1913 Arthur Precinct was spun off as a separate county with a resulting drop in McPherson's already dwindling population.

By 1916 the county proposed replacing the sod courthouse with a masonry building, but the vote failed. Finally construction of a replacement began in 1920, but because of problems surrounding the issuance of bonds, the current building was not completed until 1926-27.

Tryon's peak population of 150 occurred in 1950. Today it hovers around 100 and is one of only two county seats in Nebraska that are unincorporated. It also is the only postoffice in the county.

Interestingly, McPherson County's population of about 550 is low enough that two of the county commissioners recently lived in other counties.

The only "dry" county in Nebraska, it once had six towns and more than 20 post offices but now has no incorporated towns, only three place names extant on recent maps, one high school and about one person per square mile.