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The Nonpareil - July 28, 1898
• THE NONPAREIL'S •
History of Merrick County
• From "the beginning" until the year 1895. •
ITH the year 1880, it may be safely said that Merrick County had passed beyond the "pioneer" stage of its growth. In the half-decade immediately preceeding, it had acquired four towns, spanned the Platte with wagon bridges, and settled down to the more quiet and orderly life which is common to the established community. Yet the passing away of Merrick County's pioneer days must not be construed to mean the closing of its history. It was in the years of which this chapter treats that the greatest growth of the county in population and substantiality took place, and during which the more permanent elements of its life were given their first form and influence.
Merrick County, and particularly its county seat, Central City, has always been a prominent battleground of the temperance and license forces. Previous to 1880 the fight had been more or less intense under the local option system, and in that year a commotion of considerable magnitude was created by the blowing up, by gunpowder, of a Central City saloon. So far as the records go, the responsibility for this affair was never definitely located, and at the time each element was active in accusing its opponents of the deed. One thing appears on the surface of the affair, however, and that is that the temperance element, as such, neither participated in nor had knowledge of the existence of such a plot. The saloon was badly wrecked, and the bitterness of the fight was much increased for some time, but as it became more and more evident that the deed was one of personal, rather than partisan, purpose, popular interest subsided, and the struggle was renewed along the old line. The result has been that common to all reform work--a more or less steady swing from one extreme to the other, with perhaps a greater share of the real benefits accruing to the anti-license advocates.
The year 1880 was made memorable to Central City people in particular, and to the county in general, by the holding of the state G. A. R. reunion of that year at that place. Central City had reached the stage where it was to take a large step forward, and become the town which Grand Island afterwards became, or to accept the more humble station of a thriving country town. The coming of the reunion was regarded as a favorable omen, and aroused the hope that the state would recognize the ambition of its people, and accord the county the honor of an inland metropolis. The reunion was held north of town, on the pasture lands east of the extension of Cattaraugus avenue, and was attended by an immense number of people. The Courier and the Item made the gathering the subject of special daily editions. That the aspirations of those early days were too great it is not difficult for the citizen of today to discern, but in spite of the unrealized hopes which it emphasizes, the memory of the reunion of '80 is one which the average inhabitant of Merrick County retains with pleasure.
It will be recalled that in the early portion of our history was noted the first trouble to which the farmer of the county was subjected the grasshopper raid. It was not until 1882 that a second disturber of the agricultural peace appeared, in the form of a hail storm of wide range. In that year there swept over a large part of the county a storm of hailstones which demolished crops and injured property, giving to the people a new experience, of whose repetition they have ever since stood more or less in dread. Two years later--in 1884--their fears were realized, and again, and to an even greater extent, was the farmer's crop sacrificed to the storm god. The destruction of 1884 was of sufficient extent to produce a decided financial stress among the farmers of Merrick County, and, reacting, among all who were in any way connected with Merrick County life.
Through all of the fifteen years which are embraced in this chapter, was going steadily on that gradual change by which the county adapted itself to its larger growth. The commissioner system was dropped and the supervisor system was substituted for it. Central City grew into a city of the second class (1886) and acquired a mayor and council. The small-postoffice stage of growth--resulting in such as Vick, Burlingame, Loup, and other little "crossroads" postal accommodations--was passed and the mail facilities, as well as commercial transactions, confined to the towns, which had in the meanwhile been increased in number by the addition of Archer and Palmer. The annual county fair came into existence and achieved its highest popularity during these years, starting on a slow decline in their latter end. Social and political life became more compact throughout the county, and the county's people, brought nearer a common center by the gradual extension of the improved roadways reaching out from the county seat, became more alive to the common interests and less exclusively concerned with the affairs of their own neighborhoods.
(Chapter XXIII concluded next week.)
© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller