What was it like to live in McCook in 1886

Monday, October 18, 2010
McCook from the rail yard, 1886; looking sough on Main Street, 1882; S.H. Colvin, Fairview Postmaster, top right, Attorney Thomas Colfer, right.

1886 was an interesting year. Nebraska was still the new frontier, but elsewhere in the world noteworthy things were happening -- for instance:

* The first Tournament of Roses was held in Pasadena, California.

* The first gas propelled automobile was patented by Karl Benz in Germany.

* 1st aluminum manufacturing process was developed.

* The London Times published the first classified ad.

* The Carrollton Massacre, Mississippi, 26 blacks killed.

* Sigmund Freud opened his practice in Vienna.

* Jacob's Pharmacy sold the 1st Coca Cola in Atlanta (contained cocaine.)

* New York Tribune first published using linotype machine.

* 1st Polo Meet, U.S. vs England

* 1st major earthquake in eastern US---Charleston, SC. -- 110 killed.

* Apache Chief Geronimo surrenders, ending last great Indian war.

* U.S. ship "Mayflower" defeats England's "Galatea" in 7th America's Cup.

* George Anderson of Memphis, Tennessee, patents typewriter ribbon.

* St. Louis Browns defeat Chicago 4-3 in 10 innings in World Championship.

* First successful commercial AC power plant opens in Buffalo, New York.

* AF of L formed by combining 26 unions -- Samuel Gompers President.

* Statue of Liberty dedicated by President Grover Cleveland.

Meanwhile, in Southwestern Nebraska: In 1886 McCook was still in the "boom" stage of development. Folks had come to the new town on the banks of the Republican River from Eastern Nebraska and most of the states to the east -- lured by promises of rich, cheap farm land, jobs on the railroad and businesses to serve a growing population. People had hardly had a chance to get settled before the ambitious firm of Ryan and Turner decided that what the community needed more than anything was a City Directory -- and they were just the people who could (and did) supply same.

Ryan and Turner had a way with words and did their best to "sell" the new community to potential settlers, as well as to give the good folks of McCook reason to be proud of their new community.

From their brief history of the town, "On the north bank of the Republican River, near the center of Red Willow County, is one of the fairest spots in Southwestern Nebraska. Here the mild Republican, fringed with forest trees and bedecked with shrubbery, placidly winds its circuitous way through the oval valley, which, widening into miles of peaceful bottom land, finally loses itself, on either side in gentle slopes and terraces that rise into the divide beyond. Here a broad plateau juts out shelf like, and rises 30 feet above the sleeping river, commanding a sweeping view of a landscape, which when bathed in the golden glory of an autumnal sunset, tempts the pen of the poet or the pencil of the artist.

"On this spot, attracted by the beauty of the surroundings, the fertility of the soil, and the salubrity of the climate, in the spring of 1877 William Colvin became the owner of a tract of land ... Two sod houses were erected near the river bank, in one of which "Squire" Colvin opened a general merchandise store, feed station, and hotel, and in 1879, after inducing every traveler to set his hand thereunto and securing the far and near for signers to a petition, a post office was secured..., and this primitive child of the plains was christened that suggestive and appropriate name, 'Fairview'."

"Here, in this rude habitation the 'Squire' kept a hostelry for man and beast, dispensed merchandise to the natives, and distributed the mails for the surrounding country, while at night the neighboring hills flocked in to "trip the light fantastic toe," or amuse themselves by shooting full of holes, the venerable stovepipes of "mine host."

"A surprising 'coup d'etat' was staged by the powers that be in railroading, cheating the land speculators at Indianola and Culbertson out of fat profits, when the Burlington and its co-worker, the Lincoln Land Co. selected Fairview as a division point.

"The advent of the railroad into McCook was soon followed b y the arrival of division officers. The erection of a commodious depot building, an elegant eating house and a substantial and finely built round house soon followed the railroad. Then, enterprising, energetic and liberal businessmen came from the other towns to give impetus to the boom and reap the profits thereof. Buildings were moved from Indianola ... Lumber yards, banks, and merchandise stores were started; doctors and lawyers soon put in an appearance and in a remarkably short space of time every line of business was represented.

"It is confidently expected that in the early spring the village will be organized as a city and take her place where she belongs, among the thriving and prosperous municipalities of the state ... Since the organization of the town but little has occurred to mar its fair name. Peace and good order prevail ... and the structure erected as the city prison has from long disuse ceased to be either ornamental or useful".

The ads in the 1886 Directory are interesting as well. "Thos. Colfer and J.A. Cordeal will practice in all courts of the State and the United States ... Fees reasonable and must be secured if not paid in advance." Tom's son, Frank, and grandson, Tom, were attorneys in McCook for many years. Frank, and later, Tom were among McCook's most entertaining storytellers.

John F. Cordeal, lawyer and nephew of J.A. Cordeal was a columnist in the Gazette during the 1930s, in which he detailed much of the early history of McCook.

L. Bernheimer, located on Dennison St., desired it to be known that he was an "artistic cutter and tailor".

"Dry goods, clothing, boots and shoes, hats and caps, groceries, etc, etc were on sale at Lawler and Magner, "The Great Bargain House."

Cheap homes at easy terms were for sale by the McCook Building Association, J.R. Phelan, Trustee.

Joseph Menard, of the Chicago General Store, located in the Opera House building, boasted, "This store does the largest wholesale and retail business of any in the Republican Valley".

The Livery Stables of D.J. Smith & Co., on McFarland St., gave "special attention to transient and boarding horses, and ordered up equipage."

"Let John F. Collins build your home."

R.A. Cole, cleaner, promised "all work warranted, and fits guaranteed, to make your clothing look as good as new."

Frees and Hocknell, Lumber Yard advertised a full line of lumber and coal. A young man, A. Barnett was an up and coming businessman in their employ.

L.W. Marble guaranteed satisfaction with his photographic work.

Source: Lee Hannify, McCook Gazette Golden Anniversary Edition 1932.

1886 in History, American Public University

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