Same issues, similar personalities affect community over years

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Omaha World Herald did a big story about McCook's plans for a new city hall, as well as the major construction project planned for the local college. The report also covered concerns about the Republican River, economic development and the important personalities involved.

But don't look for a copy on the news stands, or online, for that matter. The story was written in 1946 and was recently recovered from the archives of the High Plains Historical Society Museum by curator Marilyn Hawkins.

If city officials feel the new city complex approved by voters in Tuesday's election was a long time coming, they are right.

The city hall and library mentioned in the post-war story would have been constructed just north of the old post office on Norris Avenue, in the lot still occupied by the old Carnegie Library and the High Plains Museum.

The city had tentative plans to spend $150,000 for the new city hall and library -- $1.6 million in today's dollars adjusted for inflation, but considerably less than the modern facility's projected $5.2 million cost. The new facility includes fire and police departments as well as city offices, but not the library, of course.

Other items in the 1946 city budget sound familiar: $120,000 for a sewage disposal plant, $20,000 for paving, $15,000 for a water main extension, $15,000 for a water department shop, $25,000 for street lighting, $3,000 for traffic signals and $5,500 for a new standpipe (water tower).

Gazette founder Harry Strunk explained plans for 14 dams on the Republican River between Wray, Colorado, St. Francis, Kansas and Republican City, Nebraska, with water development including Benkelman, Stratton, Trenton, Culbertson, Indianola, Bartley, Cambridge, Arapahoe, Oxford and Alma.

"This development will be the greatest boon ever to come to Southwest Nebraska," Strunk told World Herald reporter Eldon K. Langevin. "People cannot live in a country without water. And without control over those waters.

"We have had some irrigation. There are 150 wells in Red Willow County alone which provide pump irrigation. Thousands of small man-made dams have been built to help conserve the soil," he said.

"In other days, farmers broke too much ground," he explained. "Flash floods took a lot of valuable top soil. Our farmers had to learn the hard way. Now they are saving the land by strip farming, by terracing and by planting in contour."

Strunk can be forgiven for his prediction that irrigation development would double or triple the population of Southwest Nebraska in the coming years. He was correct in his assessment of the importance of irrigation to the economy.

While McCook Community College is gearing up for a new events center, McCook Junior College was preparing for construction of the Memorial Hall dormitory. Perhaps some of our readers can let us know what became of that project, did it become Brooks Hall?

As it is today, civic leaders made all the difference turning 1946 dreams into reality. The story listed Frank Morrison, Ralph Miller, Rolland Larmon, W.K. Swanson, R.G. Stevens and E.F. Petersen as members of the central committee of the Better McCook Community Planning Project. Others included John T. Harris of the Chamber of Commerce, A.E. Haylett, Clark Jorgensen, Mayor Leroy Kleven and Publisher Harry Strunk. Their efforts continue to reverberate through the community to this day.

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  • 64 years in the works and we are ready to proceed. Talk about careful planning! I think it's safe to say that the new ERC and Administrative Offices weren't the product of rash decisions.

    -- Posted by Nick Mercy on Fri, Nov 5, 2010, at 2:24 PM
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