Flashback Friday: The Ruins along Highway 2

Potash ruins, Hoffland, NE

The ruins of the potash plant at the former town of Hoffland, Sheridan County, Nebraska, July 9, 1955. NSHS RG2541-6-31

 By: David Bristow

Highway 2 through the Sandhills is one of Nebraska’s most scenic drives. Deep in the Sandhills lakes country, near the tiny town of Antioch, stand desolate, oddly-shaped concrete ruins visible from the highway—as if Antioch had once been a much larger city, or home to some inexplicably large enterprise. And that’s pretty much what happened during World War I when Antioch became a potash boomtown.

Potash is a potassium compound that was used as a fertilizer additive, especially in the Cotton Belt. It was also used to manufacture various products such as glass and soap. Before World War I, the U.S. imported most of its potash from Germany. Normally it sold for $8 to $10 a ton, but during the war the price soared to more than $150 a ton. When alkaline lakes in the Sandhills were discovered to have potash, a new industry was soon underway, resulting in ten huge plants that could each produce a hundred tons of potash per day.

potash facility, Antioch, NE

“Nebraska Potash Co. Antioch, Nebr. July 1917 Photo by Van Graven Alliance.” NSHS RG2541-1-7

The lakes were on state-owned school land that was leased to a private company, and rumors spread of favoritism and dirty dealing. The Nebraska state land commissioner and the secretary of state responded with a press release in which they stated that they would tolerate no delays in the project because “our country needs the product for munitions.” That was false—potash wasn’t used in munitions—but the story was widely believed and tended to shield the project from criticism. (“So much for patriotism,” complained the Alliance Semi-Weekly Times after debunking the press release.)

In true boomtown fashion, the Sandhills potash industry rose and fell quickly. Various companies struggled for control of the industry, but the war’s end re-opened the import market and the Nebraska plants were soon priced out of business. Their ruins stand as a testimony to the wide-ranging and unpredictable effects of war and international commerce.

Richard Jensen describes the potash boom in a 1987 Nebraska History article (PDF). A National Register of Historic Places nomination (PDF) also describes the site’s history and its remaining structures. And if you’re driving Highway 2, look for a historical marker west of Antioch.

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Timeline Tuesday: Easter Cards

The history of modern greeting cards began in 1843 in England with the design of the first Christmas card. Easter cards were introduced somewhat later, but by 1887 Omahans had a wide variety of “these pretty souvenirs of the season” from which to choose. The Omaha Daily Bee on March 25, 1887, described the Easter cards then available in Omaha.

The Bee said: “The designs for Easter cards this year are more unique and elaborate than ever before. The cost of these beautiful tokens representative of purity, and hope, is about as usual, ranging from 20 cents to $3.50. Some of the designs are beautiful, all are expensive.

“One particularly novel and neat favor, represents a large water lilv, fully blown, the petals and stamen being of satin. The stamen is yellow, the inside of the petal white and the outside dark green. The picture of a pretty child lies in the center of the flower. The leading design is a golden rayed cross with an infant’s head in the center, in an aureole, its body sweeping away to one side. On the margin are golden darts with golden doves on the corners. A satin card, with an ostrich plume fringe, stands in a bronze easel. The main feature is three cherubs or choristers and the subscription, ‘Let us sing with joy at Easter.’ A marbleized satin cross with a beautiful infant loaded down with flowers, the arms of the cross illuminated with golden vines and leaves excites admiration.

“Booklets are an Easter novelty. They are leaves held together and contain appropriate verses and illustrations. Some of the cards are fastened on a base of tinted etching paper with silken knots and are very bright looking. Cross illuminated bookmarks with silken fringe and the Easter eggs pictured thereon are plentiful and popular. One of the prettiest has a flock of doves flying earthward, while in the background and dim distance are the three dark crosses pictured against the ruddy sky in the east. Mountains toss about, while in the foreground bright flowers and grasses look natural enough to almost suggest the soft breezes that move them on Easter morn. On this card is the inscription, ‘The Lord is risen to day.’ A cross buried nearly in a white plush base, with lilies and various flowers intermingled, is seen.

“Also a beautiful stuffed marbleized satin crescent with the concave side decorated with bright-lined lilacs and blue bells and crosses formed of pine needles and wild roses and hundreds of other chaste and elegant designs, are to be found in the stores of Omaha, from which a selection of favors may be made. The trade in prayer books and hymnals is on the increase, and dealers say it will continue until after Easter Sunday.”

 

Easter cards

Easter (along with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day) has long been a popular holiday for sending greeting cards.

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Marker Monday: Village of Harrison

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

260-410 5th St, Harrison, Sioux County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 42.691228, -103.8810

Marker Text

A railroad camp named Summit (elev. 4876 ft.) was located on this site in 1884. When the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad reached here in 1886, an unincorporated townsite named Bowen was platted and designated the county seat of Sioux County. On June 20, 1887, the name was changed from Bowen to Harrison. The village of Harrison was incorporated on April 7, 1888. A school, county courthouse, and church were built in 1888-1889. Until a community well could be dug, water had to be hauled five miles by wagon from Sow Belly Canyon. Although the Kinkaid 640 acre Homestead Act of 1904 caused a rapid influx of settlers into Sioux County, Harrison grew more slowly, reaching its peak population of 500 in 1940. After World War II, a trend toward larger farms and ranches, mechanization, and improved transportation led to a loss of population. In its centennial year of 1986, Harrison (pop.360) remained the only incorporated town in Sioux County and the principal educational, governmental and trade center for its citizens, many of whom were descendants of pioneer settlers.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Gasohol – The First Time Around

Coryell gas station, Lincoln, Neb., 1933

This photograph, from the MacDonald Studio of Lincoln and now in the collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society, shows cars belonging to Nebraska Governor Charles W. Bryan (left) and the Merrick County sheriff at the Earl Coryell station, Fourteenth and N streets, Lincoln, on April 11, 1933. Their tanks are being ceremonially filled with a new product: gasoline blended with 10 percent corn alcohol.

This innovative motor fuel was not promoted as a way to relieve oil shortages or mitigate environmental problems. Rather, ethanol promised economic relief for Depression-ravaged farmers and offered drivers increased octane ratings. Ethanol was an excellent anti-knock additive, and Coryell had worked with scientists from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now Iowa State University) to develop the alcohol-based gasoline.

Ethanol’s principal competitor was tetraethyl lead, a highly poisonous chemical that would remain the most common anti-knock agent for nearly fifty years. Advances by the Ethyl Corporation, created by Standard Oil, General Motors, and DuPont, allowed them to produce tetraethyl lead inexpensively, and therefore dominate the market.

In 1936 Coryell joined as a complainant in an antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department, which ultimately failed in the U.S. Supreme Court. By 1940 ethanol gasoline had vanished, unable to compete economically with leaded gasoline.

(This appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Nebraska History. Photo credit: NSHS RG2183-1933-0411-1)

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Timeline Tuesday:The Davey Ghost

In 1861 a Boston photographer named William H. Mumler discovered that additional images would appear if a glass photographic plate was exposed twice. Some believed that these ghostly double exposures proved the existence of spirits. NSHS RG3507-11-6

   Tales of the supernatural are part of the lore of many Nebraska communities and occasionally surface in local newspapers. The Omaha Daily Bee on January 21, 1890, reported recent sightings of “A Nebraska Spook Which Runs Threshing Machines at Night” near the small Lancaster County town of Davey. Local citizens on several occasions formed a posse to deal with the ghost. The Bee, quoting the Fremont Tribune, said:

“The citizens of the little town of Davey are all broken up and intensely excited over the certain existence of a ghost which prowls around nightly about two miles from that place along the Elkhorn [Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad] track . . . . The latest reports come to us direct from the [railroad station] agent at Davey, who promises to keep the world posted on the great and only Davey ghost. He writes:

“‘Editor Fremont Tribune: In the vicinity of Davey, Neb., much excitement has been prevailing during the past four or five weeks about a ghost whose habitation and nightly wanderings are reported to be at a location about two or two and a half miles north of Davey. A posse was organized two or three times to lay in wait for the ghost and kill it but it seems to avoid them, and their hunts have proven fruitless, but there is little doubt but that there is one there.

“Nathaniel Berry, a farmer, whose word is considered indisputable and his integrity beyond question came to town last Friday morning and stated that his threshing machine which has been in a shed back of the house and near the barn commenced humming in the night about 11 o’clock waking he [sic] and his wife. They could not imagine the cause and were too much frightened to go out or attempt to sleep any more that night, as the machine continued to run until daylight. He further stated that his wife thought she saw Mr. Cook out in the shed early in the evening. Mr. Cook was Mr. Berry’s partner during the threshing season and owned one-half interest in the machine up to five weeks ago, when he died.

“Others [including a Dr. Krickbaum] have been confronted by Mr. Cook on their way home after dark, and they knowing he had died several weeks ago, cannot account for it but believe the ghost is that of Mr. Cook. It appeared before the south-bound passenger, No. 48, last night, and with uplifted hand and pointing finger was seen standing there in the light of the approaching engine, sparks flying from the end of its finger and its eyes resembling two balls of fire. . . . [A] number of persons [who]have soon it recently say that it is undoubtedly Mr. Cook’s ghost. Mr. Berry has been compelled to move his threshing machine.”

Apparently not all Davey residents believed the nocturnal visitor to be supernatural. The Bee said: “Another posse of well-armed men is being organized tonight and if their courage does not fail them more will be learned as to its identity.” Unfortunately for the curiosity of modern readers, the Bee did not report the results of this attempt to confront the spirit world with force.

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Marker Monday: Republican Pawnee Village

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

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Location

State St, Guide Rock, Webster County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 40.074929, -98.33088

Marker Text

Near here was a large permanent village of the Republican band of the Pawnee tribe which may have been occupied as early as 1777. On September 25, 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike visited the village with a small party of soldiers. He was greeted by Chief Characterish and 300 horsemen. The American party found that the village had been recently visited by a large Spanish expedition from Santa Fe. Pike set up camp with rifle pits on the north bank of the river opposite the village. He persuaded the Pawnee to lower a Spanish flag and raise the American flag. After holding peace conferences between the Osage, Kansa and Pawnee, Pike served notice the land was now a part of the United States and the Spanish would be forbidden in the area. On October 7th, the American party defied the warnings of the Pawnee not to travel toward the Spanish settlements. He and his party were captured by the Spanish but were eventually released. A short distance downstream from the village site is one of the five “sacred places” of the Pawnee. It is known as Pa-hur’ to the Pawnee or “hill that points the way” and as Guide Rock to the whites.

Further Information

Read more information about Republican Pawnee Village here.

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: Hiram P. Bennet and Nebraska’s First Territorial Legislature

Thomas B. Cuming, secretary of Nebraska Territory from 1854 to 1858. James W. Savage and John T. Bell, History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska (New York, 1894)

Thomas B. Cuming, secretary of Nebraska Territory from 1854 to 1858. James W. Savage and John T. Bell, History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska (New York, 1894)

Nebraska’s first territorial legislature, convened in 1855 in Omaha, was a reflection of the restless and impermanent population then in the sparsely settled territory. Some of those elected had never been residents, and most of the rest were transient. Hiram P. Bennet, a member of the first territorial legislative assembly, recalled in an 1896 letter to the Nebraska State Historical Society, what happened when Territorial Secretary Thomas B. Cuming attempted to administer the oath of office:

“We all stood up and he proceeded to swear us to support the constitution of the United States and the organic act of Nebraska, and was proceeding to swear us that we were all citizens of Nebraska and over twenty years of age, when I dropped into my seat, pulling Lafe [Lafayette] Nuckolls, the ‘member from Cass,’ down with me, thereby declining the oath. This I did because of doubts as to my own or Lafe Nuckolls’ residence in the territory, and for the further reason that I knew Lafe was not yet twenty. . .

The First Territorial Capitol was a two-story brick structure built in Omaha in 1854 by the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company. NSHS RG1234-2-10

The First Territorial Capitol was a two-story brick structure built in Omaha in 1854 by the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company. NSHS RG1234-2-10

“Afterwards Judge Ferguson came in and administered to us the proper oath, omitting the matter of age and residence. Lafe was a bright and ready fellow. Some one, pending the arrival of Judge F. to swear us in, asked him his age. Lafe answered at once: ‘Ask my constituents, as Henry Clay once said.’”

Read more about H. P. Bennet and Nebraska’s first territorial legislature in Timeline columns on the Nebraska State Historical Society website.– Patricia C. Gaster

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Timeline Tuesday: Brainerd and Furnas at the Fair

H. A. Brainerd. From Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebraska (1888).

In 1926 journalist and Nebraska press historian Henry Allen Brainerd (1857-1940) recalled his attendance at the Nebraska State Fair in 1886 or 1887 when it was held at Lincoln. Brainerd, a native of Boston, had come to Nebraska in the early 1880s. Staging the fair was the responsibility of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, of which Robert W. Furnas was longtime secretary. Brainerd said:

“One instance of that early day is vividly before me and I never enter the fair grounds, and I have attended the most of them since that time, but what it comes to my mind. I went to the fair and entered the office of the secretary, and after a cordial greeting which was always Mr. Furnas’ custom, he remarked-‘Wait a minute, Brainerd, I want to show you something.’ After he had finished with the party to whom he was talking he took his hat and told his clerk, Harry Shaffer, that he would be back in a few minutes. He led me out to the hog shed, and pointing to a hog said, ‘Aint that a beaute?’

The state fairgrounds, looking south from the Amphitheater, 1888. NSHS RG3356-3

“I gazed on the hog and answered ‘Yes!’ but compare that hog with the first prize winner of today [1926]. The hog referred to would not have weighed over 400 pounds, if he did that, [and] he was raw and rangy, but he took the first prize. And so with the horses, the cattle, the sheep, and all the exhibits of this wonderful fair that has just passed, where thousands of people attend, where automobiles bring the guests from all states in the union, where the natives come in trains loaded to the gun’ales; and by auto until there is not room on the grounds to receive them and arrangements are not far distant when greater facilities must be provided for the reception of the guests.  

“Monday, it is said, was the banner day in all the history of the fair. 75,500 people and 12,500 automobiles passed the gates. . . . Of course there may have been more, for it would be impossible to get a complete list but this is enough to warrant the fact that Nebraska is going to be advertised the world over as having one of the best states and the state fair of any state in the Union.”

In 2008 the Nebraska Legislature enacted LB1116 to transfer the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island in 2010. The former fairgrounds will become a University of Nebraska research park.

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Marker Monday: Ainsworth Army Air Field

Welcome to Marker Monday! Each Monday we will feature one of Nebraska’s hundreds of historical markers

 

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Location

U.S. 20, Johnstown, Brown County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location 42.560395, -100.0034

Marker Text

Ainsworth Army Air Field, completed on November 30, 1942, was a satellite of Rapid City Army Air Field and under command of the Second Air Force. The field was one of eleven Army Air Force training bases built in Nebraska during World War II. The 2,496-acre field included three 7,300 x 150-foot concrete runways, a hanger, warehouse, repair and machine shops, link and bomb trainers, Norden bombsite vaults, and barracks for over 600 officers and enlisted men. The base’s primary mission was to provide proficiency training for P-39 and P-47 pilots of the 364th and 53rd fighter squadrons, and for B-17 crews of the 540th and 543rd bombardment squadrons before deployment to the European Theater of Operations. Aircraft camouflage experiments were also conducted on the site. The airfield closed in 1945 and the following year the city of Ainsworth received a U.S. Government revocable license for commercial aircraft operations on the field. In 1948 the War Assets Administration declared the property surplus, and the city of Ainsworth received title to the airfield for use as a municipal airport.

Further Information

Read more information about Ainsworth Army Air Field here

Nebraska Marker Project

The Nebraska Marker Project is for the repainting, repair and in some cases, replacement of state historical markers throughout the state. Nebraska’s markers share our exciting history for generations to come. Please consider donating by visiting the Nebraska Marker Project webpage at http://nshsf.org/the-nebraska-marker-project/.

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Flashback Friday: A 1930s Medical Romance

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Wedding photo, Dr. Alice Baker and Dr. Joe E. Holoubek, July 18, 1939. Author’s collection.

By: David Bristow

Medical student Joe Holoubek was dismayed the first time he saw a “hen medic” in a class at Mayo Clinic in 1937. But he got over his prejudice against women doctors and ended up marrying Alice Baker.

Much of the young couple’s courtship took place long-distance, with Holoubek at the Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha, and Baker at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Their correspondence reveals the risks and day-to-day triumphs of 1930s medicine. The story is told in “Courtship of Two Doctors: 1930s Letters Spotlight Nebraska Medical Training,” by Martha Fitzgerald, in the Summer 2011 issue of Nebraska History.

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Dr. Joe Holoubek’s medical equipment, used in the 1930s and 1940s. Dr. Joe E. Holoubek and Dr. Alice Baker Holoubek Collection, LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport Medical Library.

While Baker faced the challenges working in an overcrowded urban hospital, Holoubek’s training assumed that most Nebraska doctors would make rural house calls and handle a variety of situations without timely access to hospitals or colleagues. Fitzgerald writes:

During the first months of their courtship, Alice could only marvel at all the challenges of Joe’s training. That fall, he was student physician at Nebraska Children’s Home, handling colds, injuries, tonsillitis, and more for twenty-one orphaned children. He even set a broken arm in an emergency. As he wrote to Alice:

“One of the 13 yr. old boys broke both bones in the lower one-fifth of the forearm while sleigh riding. It happened rather late in the day and I could not get him into the University Hospital so I had to set it there. He wants to be a G-man so while he was “shooting gangsters” I did the manipulation. A peach box furnished the splints. This happened to be the first arm that I ever set and was I surprised when the X-ray showed the bones in place.”

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University Hospital, Omaha. NSHS RG2341-328

The couple eventually settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they practiced medicine for thirty years and were known as “Dr. Alice” and “Dr. Joe.” They died two years apart, Alice in 2005 and Joe in 2007.

 

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