Friday, September 17, 2021

Small Towns along the Road (2)

…continuing with our July road trip as we began to explore/sightsee in northern and western Nebraska.

Our next stop along US Hwy 275 was in Scribner Nebraska, a town of about 800 people, that was founded ca. 1870.  The surveyor who plated the town named it for his son-in-law, who had founded the Scribner Publishing firm.

The Harder Hotel at 503 Main Street in Scribner was built in 1901 for Hans Harder, a German immigrant from Schleswig-Holstein.  Harder had been a stonemason before moving to Nebraska.  The building was designed in the Rundbogenstil style and it is Nebraska’s only recorded example of an Atrium Type hotel.

OK…I had no idea what the Rundbogenstil style was.  It is a round-arch style that was popular in the German speaking lands of Europe and among German immigrants.  It is an amalgamation of several architectural styles.  As for an Atrium type hotel…basically it is a hotel where the atrium is the central focus of the building with bars, restaurants, seating areas around it and the rooms reaching out from the central core.

The second and third floor rooms in the old hotel are now vacant.  In addition, the Old Hotel CafĂ© and Saloon on the ground floor is no longer in operation.  The building is reputed to be haunted…a piano playing has been heard by locals and the sound of children playing has also been heard.  It is alleged that in the past a man was found dead in one of the rooms, a woman was found dead in the closet of another room and another fellow supposedly flung himself to death from the top floor.  To learn more, go to

FYI, the Harder Hotel building is currently for sale/redevelopment.  It can be yours for only $50,000.  Check it out at:

The J.O. Milligan Building at 439 Main Street in Scribner was constructed in 1884 and it was home to the Milligan Dry Goods Store.  Over the years it served a number of businesses.  However, in 1973 Amos Musbach purchased the building.  The son of German immigrants, Musbach bought the Milligan Building just a year before his death.  He wanted to have a place to leave and display his most cherished possessions.  The Musbach Museum opened in 1973, the same year that it was purchased.

Today this museum features antique farm machinery, medical equipment, kitchen ware, an old pioneer wagon, a player piano and a large salt and pepper shaker collection…with 1,728 sets of shakers!  To learn more about the Musbach Museum, you can go to

I wasn’t able to determine when this building was constructed.  I did find a postcard on line from 1923 that describes it as the City Hall.  It also appears to have served as the town’s fire station at some point.  Love that bell tower... At its peak in 1930, Scribner’s population totaled 1,066 and today it has about 800 residents.

Like most towns along the northern portion of Nebraska, decline set in when the Chicago and North Western Railway ended service in the spring of 1982.  Scribner still had a population of over 1,000 when rail service ended.  Flooding along the Elkhorn River had damaged and destroyed too many bridges.  Repairs weren’t economically feasible.

A notable event occurred in Scribner on March 7, 1929.  Poorly stored dynamite exploded in a house fire, killing 6 firefighters and as many as 50 others were injured.  This is the second largest loss of firefighters lives in Nebraska’s history.  One survivor lived to be 100 years old…with a 2.5 inch nail lodged near his heart.  He died in 1998.

We love a good country fair and Scribner is home to the annual Dodge County Fair during the first week in August.  It lasts for 4 days and features 4-H exhibits, livestock shows and plenty of old time entertainment.  There is no admission fee at this fair.

The next small town along our route was West Point Nebraska.  West Point, with a population of about 3,300, is the county seat of Cuming County.  The town was founded in 1857 when 4 Omaha businessmen formed the Nebraska Settlement Association which was focused on finding suitable townsites in the Elkhorn Valley.  West Point was the westernmost outpost along the valley.

The West Point City Auditorium was built in 1911 and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.  Significant as a local venue for performing arts and community events and financed by local donations, this Early Commercial and Tudor Revival Style building was purchased by the city in 1945. 

The auditorium has also been known as the Nebraskan Theatre and, as shown in the photo, the West Point Community Theater.  Currently it shows first run movies and it is also used as a performing arts theater.  To learn more or to see what’s playing, just go to

West Point became the county seat of Cuming County in 1858 after winning the election over the community of DeWitt.  Only 19 votes were cast but 12 were for West Point.  The following spring, over 4,000 Pawnee flooded the valley during a hunting excursion.  They were displeased that white settlers were in the valley and they burned down several homesteads and killed livestock for the meat.  The so called “Pawnee War” ended without a fight.  To learn more, you can open the following and read what the general in charge of the army told to the Nebraska Historical Society in 1900.

The Cuming County Historical Museum complex, at the county fairgrounds in West Point, includes several buildings filled with historical displays.  It’s maintained by the Historical Society and the Cuming County Agriculture Society.  

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, which was built in 1886, was moved to the site and dedicated at the Cuming County Fair in August, 1996.  This church served the community for about 108 years before closing in 1994.  Every year during the Cuming County Fair a non-denominational service is held in the Church on Sunday morning.  This is also a local wedding venue…

In addition to the church, the museum complex is home to a 1012 one-room schoolhouse as well as the Dinklage and the 7,200 square foot Cuming County Heritage Museum building was completed and dedicated in 1997.  The latter building’s displays include machinery, cars and a variety of antique tools.

The museum complex also features this handsome and rather large Chicago North Western Depot.  It was built in 1904 and it was moved to the fairgrounds in 1975.  Upon entering the depot, visitors can see a kitchen with items used in local homes in the early 1900s and lifestyle exhibits of the past are featured.   The Union Pacific caboose was placed next to the depot in 1990.

The original railroad through West Point was the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri, sometimes referred to as “the Elkhorn”.  It was established in 1869 with the railroad building several lines in Nebraska, including a long east-west route from Omaha across the northern part of the state to Chadron.  This line became known as the “Cowboy Line”.  Chicago North Western acquired the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad in 1903…and, as I’ve mentioned before, all service was discontinued in 1982.

Given the size of this local museum, I was surprised to learn that the buildings are only open by appointment and during the County Fair.  It seems like a wasted resource…but a general opening must require several volunteers to monitor the different buildings. 

In a previous post I mentioned that one big crop in Nebraska is corn.  Well let me tell you, everywhere we went there were scenic fields of hay much like this one.  In 2020, Nebraska planted 2,770,000 acres of hay which yielded 6,544,000 tons of feedstock!

Continuing along US Hwy 275, we passed through Norfolk Nebraska.  While I’d noted several places in town of historic interest, given the size of the city, with its 24,500 residents, I decided that it would take too long to locate and photograph the buildings…so we kept moving so we could reach our planned destination with time to spare.  FYI, Norfolk was Johnny Carson’s home town the local museum has a section dedicated to him.

The next town that we explored a little was Pierce Nebraska.  Pierce, with a population of about 1,730, was founded by Germans from Wisconsin in 1869.  Pierce is the county seat of Pierce County.  Both were named in honor of President Franklin Pierce.

The Chicago and North Western Railroad Depot is the cornerstone of the Pierce Historical Museum Complex.  Built in 1880, the depot first served the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad.  In 1879, a line had been built from Norfolk through Pierce to Niobrara on the Missouri River.  This building’s passenger area has many photos showing scenes from the town’s past as well as dishware, rooms depicting home styles of times past as well as exhibits from the old doctor’s office, the former newspaper’s printing press, the old Pierce Telephone switchboard, an old soda fountain and much more.

In the early 1900s, the railroad was very busy, with at least one freight and two passenger trains daily.  After World War II the line and the services offered began to deteriorate.  In 1951, passenger service was discontinued.  In 1968 the Pierce depot facilities closed and in 1969, the railway agent was removed.  The last train rolled through Pierce in June of 1978.

As you can see from this old photo that is part of the Pierce Museum Complex, the depot and it surroundings looked a bit different back in the early days...

In addition to the old railway depot, the museum complex includes a rural schoolhouse.  It is set up exactly as a school would have been decades ago, complete with the original desks, school supplies and children’s books.  Other buildings include the fully equipped Frank Kratochvil Blacksmith Shop, which was in operation from 1889 until 1921, a machine shed that contains functioning threshing bee equipment and a full size covered wagon.  A 3,000 square foot exhibition building rounds out the structures at this community museum.   

The Pierce Historical Society Museum is staffed with volunteers.  The museum is open on Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 1:30 PM until 4:30 PM.  Admission is free.  Unfortunately, we weren’t in Pierce on a Sunday…  To learn more about this museum, go to

During my research I noted that at one time Pierce was home to a flour mill (Gold Crescent Flour) and a creamery, both of which shipped their products throughout the Midwest.  In addition, the town had a cigar factory, a brick yard and an ice plant.  Sadly, time and ‘progress’ does take their toll on our small towns...

That’s all for now.  Just click on any of the photo to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Another beautiful and interesting town! I am really surprised a small town like that with a museum and hotel that size. Thanks for the tour, David.

  2. You know you are in small town America when the county seat has only 3300 residents.

  3. I remember Scribner from the years in New York, I think their shop was on Fifth Avenue. There was also the famous Rizzoli bookshop, all Italian books. I used to love to go there. My little town here in Sicily has just about 3000 residents. There were many more but now young people are moving North for work, but actually there are no jobs all over Italy, maybe even Europe for that matter.