The Kester Planing Mill in Neligh has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places as of July 28, 2014.
Commonly called the Neligh Planing Mill, it is a fully equipped millwork shop dating to 1911-1912, complete with period mill working equipment and power system. It is the finest known example of the types of planing mills to have once operated across Nebraska. These operations served in the upbuilding of communities through supplying local and regional carpenters and contractors. The shop once built windows, cabinets, wood trim, and other custom wood products.
The Kester shop characterizes the evolution, adaptation, and development of motive power used in small, light manufacturing operations between the late 19th and early 20th century in Nebraska and nationally. It is therefore an important example of the technological advances in motive power adapted to these smaller operations during this period across the state, following national trends in these industries. It is also has a rare surviving example of a power-drive line-shaft system with its array of line shafts, pulleys, and belts still connected to a number of pieces of its original woodworking machinery. Kester’s use of this system represents the technology of line-shafts in industry, again a trend nationally and within the state.
Howard Kester, the son of a carpenter himself, and the operation he founded profited from Neligh’s early 20th century economic growth. By 1910, the population had risen to 1,566. After Kester built the mill, his crew grew to nearly twenty seasonal workers. They produced milled lumber, window sashes, doors, and cabinetry for numerous buildings, and contracted for remodeling houses in Neligh and throughout Antelope County. Howard Kester built several Neligh business buildings and Neligh’s West Ward School. He contracted for more than 100 new homes in Neligh and a similar number in the Neligh vicinity, as well as numerous barns and remodeling jobs.
In addition to the scores of Kester-built buildings throughout the area, much custom-built cabinetry and interior woodwork survives in the area as well, according to family and others. Perhaps most recognized is a stairway in the former Matt Hoffman home, later the Hoepfinger-Beyer Funeral Home in Neligh. Howard Kester was a master with wood in any form and made at least two violins. Howard passed the craft to his sons. He was joined in the business by sons Harold and Homer as Kester & Sons Construction Company.
Some additional images from the Nomination are below. And next time you’re in Neligh, give the Kester Planing Mill a look yourself!