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Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - July 14, 1898


History of Merrick County

• From "the beginning" until the year 1895.




LetterHEN the old stage road ran through Merrick County, its entrance into the county was marked by a little stage station by the name of Silver Glen. This station was located a little south and east of the place where the town of Silver Creek is situated, and occupies about the same relation to that town as the old stage station of Lone Tree held to the present town of Central City. Eleven miles farther west upon the stage road was Hartwell's ranch, which might be called the genesis of the present village of Clarks. Again, eleven miles west of the old Lone Tree station was Shoemaker's Point, which was finally abandoned that the village of Chapman might supply its place in that portion of the county's history.
   With the coming of the Union Pacific railroad, as has already been noted, the stations along the old stage route were gradually deserted, and settlement gradually crystalized about the new towns along the railroad. Largest in size of population and first in point of permanent settlement of these new railroad-built towns was the Lone Tree, whose early history has been described in Chapter XII. The name of this town, as has been dwelt upon in detail in Chapter XIX, was in 1875 changed to


and it is under this name that we will briefly outline its history from the change of name until the year 1895, omitting, however, many of the details connected with its growth, but better associated with the history of the county at large.
   The location of the county seat at Central City has always influenced largely its growth and prosperity, and given it an advantage that accounts for much of its superiority, in size and business influence, over the other towns of the county:
   From the year 1875 until the year 1883 the development of Central City was that of any ordinary frontier town--somewhat slow and more or less irregular. But with the years following 1883 came that period of rapid growth known throughout the west as a "boom." From the Courier of April 12th, 1883, we learn that--

    From the way the boom starts in, Merrick County is destined to its full share of the large immigration that is now making its way westward .... Those whose available assets run up into the thousands and tens of thousands are beginning to get quite numerous, and advise us of a growth and society that is no longer frontier. Quite a large amount of capital--an element we are always glad to encourage has located in this immediate vicinity within the past few months.

    This "boom" period was hopefully inaugurated, and seemed to promise the making of a town which in commercial and social standing should outrival Grand Island. It was during these years that the "Union Block," on the south side of Broad street, were erected; that the Grand Opera House, Academy of Music, Newton Hotel and the college came into existence; that the steam flouring mill and a cracker factory, added to the coming of the Burlington, suddenly increased the importance and influence of the county seat. It was in 1886 that the people tired of facing the railroad and a row of coal sheds and elevators, and created "Stitzer Avenue." It was the period of rapid growth and large hopefulness, when industries and railroad enterprises seemed intent upon raising Central City to a high place in the business world. It may be said that during these years Central City reached a dimension from which it has never been able to advance--a point from which, in fact, it fell back and had not yet recovered at the date with which we cease to follow its history.
   The boom period of Central City's history saw a few fortunes made and many wrecked. It saw the men who had stood behind the town's development since its infancy raised first to a high position, and then carried back to partial or complete ruin by the reaction.
   So much for a general view of Central City. In detail it may be said that from 1875 to 1895 Central City increased in population from four or five hundred to between twelve and fifteen hundred; in churches, from three to seven; in school buildings, from one to three; in newspapers, from one gradually up to 1five, at which point our history ceases; from one business street to three; and from two residence streets to nearly a dozen more than equal to the original two.


   Following close upon Central City in both population and business importance has been the town of Clarks--a name shortened from the

1Resuming the history of the Courier as dropped in Chapter XIV, we find that it was edited by H. R. Persinger and R. F. Steele, either in partnership or individually, until 1879, when it passed into the hands of A. Fitch and Bro., by whom it was edited until its discontinuation in 1894. Following the Courier, in 1880, the Merrick County Item made its appearance, with R. F. Steele and L. C. McCarn (Steele & McCarn) as editors and publishers. J. H. Dony soon succeeded Mr. Steele in editorial control, and before the end of the year sold out to Mr. G. A. Percival, who, with Mr. Steele, edited it until its disappearance in 1881. January 1st, 1882, the Central City Nonpareil made its appearance. It was Republican in politics, with Mr. H. B. Millard as editor, and Millard & Holcomb as publishers. The files of the Nonpareil for the years from 1885 to 1890 not being obtainable by the writer, no statement of the changes in editorial control is attempted, except that at the date with which our history closes the Nonpareil was owned by Messrs. Wolcott & Maxfield. In 1888 the Merrick County Republican, with Mr. W. P. Watson as editor, came into existence, and ran until 1893, when it was transformed into the Central City Democrat, with Mr. Geo. Wells as editor, he being still in control at the time our history closes. In 1891 the Independent Press, with Charles Grosvenor, arose to aid the Populist cause, and was running under the same editor in 1895. The last journalistic venture of which our history includes a record was the founding of the Central City Republican in 1893 by Judge W. R. Watson, the paper espousing the party politics indicated by its name.

old-time Clarksville which it was christened in honor of the then superintendent of the Union Pacific, Mr. S. H. H. Clark. The early settlement of Clarks and vicinity dates back to April 1, 1865, when C. B. Hartwell located three miles east of the present station and opened a ranch for the accommodation of the stage travelling public. It was called the Junction Ranch.
   The permanent town of Clarks was platted in 1866, during which year Mr. John McLean settled there. He was joined in that year by Mr. F. Coyle, and in 1868 two more were added to the permanent settlement, in the persons of Messrs. A. Kerr and Thomas Tague. The postoffice came to Clarks in 1869, with Mr. Kerr as postmaster, and in 1871 the first school was opened, being held in a sod shanty erected upon Mr. Hartwell's land. During the same year the first store was opened in Clarks, with Mr. L. B. McIntyre as proprietor.
   The first religious services in Clarks were held in the winter of 1869-70 at the residence of C. B. Hartwell by Rev. David Marquette of the Methodist persuasion. The meetings were well attended and everybody contributed to the support of the minister. There were also services held at the home of John Higgins, on Section 21, by Father Ryan. In the spring of 1871 the first Sunday school was organized in Clarksville. It was called the Union Sunday school, with A. P. Daniels as superintendent. About this time Rev. John Gunderman of the Baptist denomination, began holding meetings in the granary of Jesse Turner, and the people appreciated these efforts so that the building was filled to overflowing. This early church life has since taken permanent form in the organization of four denominations: The Catholic, Episcopal, Congregational and Methodist.
   In newspaper history, the record of Clarks is by no means as extensive as that of Central City. The Messenger was the first paper of the town, being issued first on May 4th, 1878, by Mr. Jas. J. Kreider. On the 10th of April, 1879, Mr. J. C. Hartwell assumed control, Mr. Kreider having suddenly disappeared. The history of the paper thereafter we have not secured in detail. Suffice it to say that with the exception of the year from 1881 to 1882, when it was suspended, the Messenger has represented 'Clarks' newspaper enterprise until after 1890, when its name was changed to the Clarks Leader.
   The town of Clarks has gradually risen from a frontier settlement to the dignity of a modern village. In 1866 it had a population of less than a score. During the years since then it has attained to a population of between six and seven hundred, with a proportionate growth of business and residence portions of the town.
   During the early days, there was a time when Clarks lacked only one vote of being selected as the state capital, and it was understood that Central City's representatives in the legislature controlled that vote--explaining to quite an extent the undercurrent of hostility which previous chapters have shown controls largely the action of Clarks people in matters wherein Central City is concerned.

(Chapter XXII concluded next week)


© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller