The wide influence of Charles Meeker in McCook

Friday, October 18, 2019

Charles Meeker, whom, if you are aware of the name at all, is recognized with an irrigation ditch southwest of McCook being named after him; the Meeker Canal. Charles was brought in as a civil engineer to help the farmers attempting to design the best locations for the future canal and ended up being an advocate for the eventual financing and approval of the canal at a time when emotions were running high concerning land acquisition and costs.

Charlie’s influence was greater than just that one project. He came to McCook in the employ of the B & M Railroad as a Civil Engineer, traveling from Lincoln with Ed White to McCook in October of 1885. By 1889 he had left the employ of the railroad and joined the city as its’ own civil engineer. On April 26, 1889, the McCook Tribune printed this notice: “Messrs. Francis, Smith and Remer completed the platting of C. H. Meeker’s seventeen-acre addition to the city, the early part of the week. Over seventy lots have been laid out, from which in the course of time Charlie hopes to make a nice “spec”.

Two scant years later, Charlie had joined with Mr. Phillips to create what became the downtown Meeker-Phillips Block, complete with a hall for community gatherings, office quarters in which both Judge LeHew and C. H. Boyle had occupied offices. The Meeker canal, which had drawn Charlie into McCook, had been operating as designed, Charlie had left the position of City Engineer in 1891 and was imprinting his presence in a town that was barely 10 years old. He and his wife owned a home on Marshall Street, the present East 1st Street, and were among the movers and shakers of the newly minted town.

In 1896 when the County Seat election and subsequent Supreme Court rulings granted McCook the rights to being the County Seat and thereby ordering the records and offices of Red Willow County to be housed in McCook, there was an immediate problem because McCook had promised to build a courthouse but the work had not begun and the records had to be moved immediately. From the McCook Tribune, April 24, 1896: “A survey of the situation and due consideration of the bid made by Messrs. Meeker and Phillips, finally on Tuesday evening decided that commissioners in favor of the handsome stone building known as the Phillips-Meeker block; and on Wednesday morning the work of packing the records for shipment was commenced and prosecuted with such vigor and success that by 8:30 the same evening everything but the jail cage was on board a freight car ready for shipment; and shortly after nine o’clock the car and contents were safely delivered in the Burlington yard in this city, where they remained untouched until the following morning, properly guarded.” By Friday morning, the records were in place at the temporary courthouse and offices were open for business. The treasurer and county clerk were placed in the south room of the first floor with an area noted for the commissioners. The district court clerk and sheriff were in an upstairs room with the county judge and superintendent in an adjoining room on the same floor. The jail, as soon as the cage was delivered, would be located in the north basement and the vault was to be built under the main stairway, convenient to the treasurer and clerk. The county operated at this location until the first courthouse was built upon the ground where the present courthouse stands today.

When he left the employ of the City as the civil engineer, Charles still had his hand in serving the community by becoming the Superintendent of the McCook Water Works and working hard in 1901 to keep water users happy while a new well was being drilled to supplement increasing usage in McCook.

By 1902 he was again City Engineer, serving until 1908. During that period, he joined forces with Miss Rachel Berry, a former principal of McCook High School, and began a drive to provide a public library for McCook which culminated in the City Council voting for a two-mill tax levy allowed for the support of a public library. When a $ 10,000 grant was received from Dale Carnegie, McCook’s public library became a reality.

C. H. and Agnes did not live out their lives in McCook, moving to Denver and then to San Diego for the last years but their hand is seen in McCook’s development yet today.

SWNGS open library hours are 1-4 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays at 110 West C, Suite M-3.

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