Friday, September 24, 2021

Small Towns along the Way (3)

…continuing to explore small towns along the highways and byways of Nebraska, part of our July 2021 road trip.

Our next stop was in Plainview Nebraska.  Plainview is located in Pierce County along NE Hwy 13.  The town was platted in 1880 when the railroad was extended to that point.  It took its name from settlers who’d moved here from Plainview Minnesota as well as from the scenic views of the surrounding plains.

The Plainview Carnegie Library was completed in 1917.  It was one of 68 libraries in the State of Nebraska that was awarded Carnegie library grant funds.  This partially Prairie Style building is apparently empty at this point in time.  A new library was dedicated in Plainview in 2016.  I also found a note on-line that stated that the old library would be offered at auction in early 2018.  It appears that little resulted from that effort, at least at this point. 

Plainview has a population of about 1,200.  At its peak in 1970, there were about 1,500 residents.  Back in 1880, soon after the railroad arrived, there were 2 general stores, 2 blacksmiths, 2 farm implement dealers, a drug store, a hotel, a doctor, 2 churches, (Methodist and Congregational), and 80 settlers.

There is one attraction in Plainview that we avoided but which some would love to explore.  My wife has a major aversion to clowns of any type…and Plainview, sometimes known as the “Klown Kapital” of Nebraska is the home of the Klown Doll Museum.  The collection features over 7,000 clowns…allegedly the largest such collection in the world.  We’ll have to take their word for it!  However, should you or someone you know be intrigued by the idea of this museum and its collection of ‘klowns’, go to:

If this railway depot looks familiar, I believe that it is the twin of the depot I pictured that’s located in nearby Pierce, the Pierce County seat.  The Plainview Depot was built in 1880 by the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri River Railroad… The last train rolled through town in 1978.  The depot was vacant for years and in great danger of being razed.  However, a group of citizens restored the building.  It is now maintained by the Plainview Historical Society.  Located at 304 South Main Street, the structure houses a plethora of local historical artifacts.  The museum is open from May through Labor Day.  I couldn’t find a website for the museum but Historical Society’s phone number is 402-582-4730. 

While many struggle to have up-to-date internet with updated connections, Plainview is served by an independent telephone company and that company has installed fiber-optic lines to every resident and business. 


         ·         Plainview was used as the fictional town of “Hawthorne” in the movie “Nebraska”.  It was the place that most of the action took place.

         ·         United State Senator Ben Sasse, one of the two current Senators from Nebraska, is from Plainview.


Our next stop was in O’Neill Nebraska.  It was time for lunch so Laurie looked up what might be available…and the top choice for diners was the Holt County Grill in downtown O’Neill. 

For some reason, possibly senility, I forgot to take photos of our food.  I do know that we both had a nice glass of lemonade. (It was hot out!) Laurie had the French Dip Sandwich…slow braised beef with Swiss cheese on a hoagie roll with au jus. ($10.50) I chose the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich...buttermilk brined floured and fried chicken breast on a nice bun with pickles, lettuce and a side of ranch dressing.  Both of our sandwiches came with homemade potato chips.  We were very happy!

Entrees include steak, a ribeye pork chop, salmon and more.  It turns out that the owner of Holt Country Grill is a home town gal who went to culinary school and worked in some upscale restaurants before returning home to open her own place.  This restaurant is located at 320 East Douglas Street in O’Neill Nebraska.  Website:

Holt County was named after Joseph Holt of Kentucky, who was the Postmaster General and the Secretary of War under President James Buchanan.  Occupying 2,417 square miles, Holt County is almost exactly double the size of the State of Rhode Island and its 1,214 square miles.  The county has roughly 10,200 residents’ vs 1,100,000 in Rhode Island.  That means that Rhode Island has over 100 times more people than Holt County does…in half the space!

The old Nebraska State Bank building is located at the corner of Douglas and 4th Streets in O’Neill Nebraska.  This bank was completed in 1883.  Probably the first all brick building in town, it was largely designed and built by Moses P. Kinkaid.  He had his law offices on the second floor.  In addition, he served as a vice president and as president of the bank.  Currently, this building is the home of the Holt County Historical and Genealogical Research Center. 

The town of O’Neill is the County Seat for Holt County.  O’Neill has a population of approximately 3,600.  It was founded by ‘General’ John O’Neill, (1834 – 1878), a native of Ireland and a veteran of the American Civil War.  The ‘general’ was a rank given him due to his command of 3 Fenian (Irish republican) incursions/raids into British-governed Canada in 1866.  During the Civil War, O’Neill started as a Sergeant in the Union Army and, due to his bravery and leadership qualities, he ended the war as a Captain.  His last command was as one of the key white officers leading the 17th US Colored Infantry Regiment…

In 1874, ‘General’ O’Neill first encouraged colonists to this fertile site in the Elkhorn River Valley.   O’Neill had immigrated to the USA during Ireland’s “Great Famine” when the potato crops failed.  O’Neill stated that his objective in founding colonies in Nebraska was “to encourage poor people from the overcrowded cities of the East”, meaning the eastern USA.  In 1969, the then governor of Nebraska declared the town of O’Neill as the “Irish Capital of Nebraska”.

This is the Golden Hotel.  This Colonial Revival structure…with some Georgian characteristics was built in 1913.  It is still operating as a hotel and it’s located at 406 E. Douglas Street in O’Neill.  When it was completed the building’s ‘fireproof’ construction was promoted… Wood was only used in the doors and windows.  At that time the hotel had 46 rooms.  Each room had a private telephone as well as hot and cold water.  Fourteen of the rooms actually had private baths!  The final cost for the hotel was $50,000.  In today’s dollars, that would be the equivalent of over $1 million!  

As I mentioned above, the Golden Hotel is still in business.  You can still reserve a room here… After all, wouldn’t you like to occupy the room that Al Capone was reputed to have stayed in when he went on ‘vacation’ and visited family in Nebraska?  To learn more, go to Historic Golden Hotel.

If you’ve seen a few old western movies that featured ‘range wars’ between farmers and ranchers, then Holt County and much of the surrounding area definitely went through that historical type of conflict.  By way of example, at its peak northern Nebraska’s Spade Ranch covered over 500,000 acres with 60,000 head of cattle.  FYI that many acres is the equivalent of about 781 square miles of land…or the equivalent of almost two thirds of the size of Rhode Island. 

Between 1890 and 1900, area ranchers had taken over so much land that the total population actually declined by 10%.  Ranchers had a history of paying poor people and widows to file homestead claims on land…and then selling the land back to the ranchers.  Settlers who wanted to farm were forced to sell or driven out.

This is the Brantly Sturdevant House in Atkinson Nebraska.  This historic Queen Anne style house was built in 1887.  The home remained in the Sturdevant family until 1977… Today it is operated as the Sturdevant-McKee Museum and it features period furnishings that show what life was like in the early 1900s.  The museum is on Facebook at Sturdevant-McKee Museum - Home | Facebook.

Atkinson was laid out by 1878 along the banks of the Elkhorn River and the town’s plat was officially filed at the O’Neill Land Office in 1880.  The railroad came to town in 1881 and the population of Atkinson went from 57 in 1880 to 1,226 in 1881!  The town is named after Colonel John Atkinson who actually owned the site.  He’d served under “General” John O’Neill’s army.  FYI, John O’Neill was responsible for much of the settlement here in Nebraska…even publishing a pamphlet entitled “Northern Nebraska As a Home for Immigrants”.  To learn more about this colorful character, go to O'Neill, Gen. John | History Nebraska.

One last bit of history about Holt County and adjacent counties.  Another feature of old time westerns were vigilantes…locals who took the ‘law’ into their own hands.  These groups were the law for years in these areas…partially because traditional law enforcement was so many miles and days distant.  These vigilante groups actually had names…in this case it was the “Holt County Regulators”.  In one more notorious case, Barrett Scott, who was the county treasurer, disappeared with the county’s money.  He was subsequently found in Mexico and returned to Holt County.  Unfortunately for him, he was let out of jail on bail and was then hung by the vigilantes.  Twelve men were tried for the hanging…and they were acquitted.  To learn more and for an interesting view of these vigilantes, go to

That’s about it for now.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Your seem to be wandering around in the middle of very small town America

  2. Just look at those buildings which could be in any town USA, middle America. I'm sure the people living in those towns know the difference though!

  3. Another interesting town and I am so glad that you and Laurie enjoyed the meal with potato chips :-)) Brantly Sturdevant House looks really nice!

  4. We stopped in Nebraska only briefly on our cross country drive to Oregon a few years ago. We did not see many of the smaller towns like you did, Dave, so thanks for this post. It’s amazing to read the comparison between Holt County and RI in terms of population density. We have family in RI and it’s not one of my favorite states, and I am a NJ native😀