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The Old Church

What images come to your mind when you hear the words "church basement?" That's what we all called it, though some more eloquent pastors liked to dress up the title to "lower sanctuary" or even "vestry." "Basement" just didn't look quite right in the bulletin. I got to thinking about this while reading a bit of a daily journal kept by one of our departed church members. She noted, in the month of March, that the weather was now warm enough so that Sunday morning services could be held "upstairs" again! (this was the Swedish Mission Church, Stromsburg)

Who remembers, or even has heard, that it was so hard to heat the "old church" that services had to be held in the...lower sanctuary, let's say? Though many new churches don't even have them any more, I have to confess that one thing that comes to mind in the memory of childhood are the particular and pungent smells that told you you were in the church basement even if you had your eyes closed. On the plus side was the smell of egg coffee and tuna salad sandwiches. On the negative was the inadequate ventilation of the rest rooms.

It was also home to the great old institution of Sunday School. You started out in the small chairs in the front row. Hopefully, mother was one of the teachers and not too far away. There was a girl in the row behind me who, though she had a pretty bad cold, had forgotten her hanky and her face reflected the dilemma in the most disgusting way. It almost cured me of turning around to look back from that time on. As the years dragged on you got back, row by row, till at last you could go to "upstairs" Sunday School. That ranked right along with high school graduation as a joyous moment.

It was also where the choir robes were kept; that last vestige of formality from the old country, maybe even from the middle ages, which managed to survive into recent memory. Properly suited up, the chorale would assemble right there where the Sunday School had just been, for one last shot at the hard part of the song where the tenors had to hit a sharp note. Especially Vielus Anderson, who only had one eye and might miss it.

May God forbid that secularism should ever win out and the churches pass from the scene. But if that should happen perhaps a future historian will determine that the decline really began when churches no longer had basements.



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In the summer of 1914 there appears in the Headlight a series of recollections of the early days in Polk County. The initial piece is by Calmar McCune, but it is soon "corrected" at length by Liberty Clark. Even at that early date there was some variation of memory on what happened.

One new story for me was the account of cattle drives through Polk County. Usually we think of the Texas cattle drives as terminating at the Santa Fe Railroad in Kansas or the Union Pacific. But according to Mr. Clark, the government had purchased beef for the Indians of the Sioux reservation in South Dakota and longhorns were delivered "on the hoof" by the cowboys right through the Hackberry Precinct.

He contrasts the appearance and behavior of these Texas cattle with the more refined character of our Polk County cows. Anyone on foot, even among the cowboys, when these creatures appeared was in no small danger of being attacked. If one was not on horseback the best course was to climb the nearest tree, of which there were few. They were also very skittish, and if a thunderstorm should occur a stampede was inevitable. The innovation of the drovers was not to try to stop this unstoppable event, but to direct it in a circle. So, from a half mile to a mile circle would be trampled to oblivion by the panicky longhorns until things quieted down.

If this failed, the drovers were in for a long roundup of scattered critters. It was admitted that some stragglers were shot and butchered by local homesteaders as recompense for the great disturbance of their tranquillity. For this the Texans predictably struck upon a mode of revenge which consisted of appropriating the occasional horse from the homesteaders. According to Mr. Clark's colorful prose, these missing properties were sometimes retrieved by local volunteers who were variously known as "vigilanters" or possibly even Ku Klux Klansmen.

The occasion which jarred Liberty Clark's memory was the arrival in Stromsburg of the committee promoting the Meridian Highway, which was being layed out from Mexico to the Canadian border in 1914. This was the forerunner of good old Highway 81. The appearance of those Texans evoked the memory picture of those eleven or even twelve foot span longhorns which as a child he had seen fording the Blue River near his home.



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A Rystrom ad

Rystrom Implement Company began by selling harvesting machines, commonly called "binders," to area farmers in great numbers. These popular devices were shipped in by the railcar loads, along with hay rakes and other things. Though this takes us beyond the Central Bible Seminary days a bit, the Headlight ads for those newfangled automobiles has surely caught our fancy. Rystrom had sold some Fords that predated the famous Model T; when you could even get a red one.

Buicks were early on the scene, and some less familiar names such as Paige or Maxwell. Remember comedian Jack Benny's Maxwell from his radio program? The first Chevrolet ad in the Headlight went as follows: "looks like a Buick; priced like a Ford." But the Model T was by far the most popular. Ford kept lowering the price as production went up. Yes, those were "the good old days."

In 1915 the records showed that the state with the highest per capita car ownership was...Nebraska! We were a mobile people. And Rystrom was now shipping in Fords by the carload. The price was now $460 and the plan was to build 300,000 the next year. Ford ads boasted that he never bought steel or supplies on credit; only cash. What a man! If only he hadn't uttered those infamous words, "history is bunk!"

Editor Chattie Coleman even bought a Model T and wrote some pretty entertaining stories about it. A garage owner who helped her with water for the radiator remarked, "I only charge for automobiles, not Fords." That was typical of Model T humor back then. Even when the gas in the tank was all gone, they would "run for a while on their reputation."

Rystrom had so many Fords in stock he had to hang some from the ceiling. From early pictures I believe his place was east of the Legion building, once known as Cuddy's Welding shop. The door was open the other day as I drove by, and the thought crossed my mind to look in and check. But I suppose it's unlikely that there might still be a forgotten Model T hanging in there.



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A public service announcement from the Headlight in 1915. The subject might be "it beats picking corn."

"Parties visiting Omaha from this community are warned against the operation of one Raymond Larson, employed by farmers some two years ago in this territory. He resides in Omaha now and his game is to search the hotel registers for parties from this community, telling them some hard luck story and that he is in need of immediate aid to pay his hotel bill and be able to return to his friends and relation at Stromsburg. He appears to be quite successful in raising the needed funds and goes by a different name in each case.

Under the alias of 'Elmer Carlson' he secured $5 from one party, and alias 'Charley Anderson,' $4 from another party, and $1 from a third, all three being from our city. It may be better judgement for Stromsburg people to steer clear of Omaha until this Scandinavian genius is put to work on a rock pile somewhere."

What a scam! Surely not one of our Larsons.



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Most often called "Highline," here called "Highland" for whatever reason

Before the state and federal highway systems came to be, back when every road was a dirt road, the first generation of motorists prompted a "better roads" movement. Localities were interested in seeing that these "named" roads went through their towns, promoting travel and business. Since all roads looked alike, it was necessary to mark these routes with bands painted on poles and posts along the way. Statewide organizations approved these markings in order to avoid confusion or duplication.

Everyone has heard of the Lincoln Highway, and probably also the Meridian Highway which went through Stromsburg. But a new one for me was the "High Line Cutoff." Promoters for this road envisioned a more direct route running south from Central City across a new bridge and on east to Omaha. The sandy Lincoln Highway arcing up along the Platte and U.P. railroads was "a joke," claimed the eager promoters. Chairman of this High Line Cutoff committee was C.H. Lindburg of Polk, with citizens of various other towns along the way joining in. They had assurances that the Lincoln Highway committee would publicize and advocate for their shortcut.

This new road, marked by eight poles per mile painted with a white band with orange trim, top and bottom, would procede from the bridge through Hordville, Polk, Stromsburg, then going east on cemetery road to Victory School, where it turned south to Wayland. Not wishing to slight any of the members, it then wended its way to Gresham, Ulysses, Dwight, Valparaiso (where there was a connecting road leading to Lincoln), Weston, and on to Valley and Omaha. Being a local effort, the survey crew consisted of the local committee members driving the proposed route in their open cars; even editor Chattie Coleman was along, possibly in her new Model T.

Road improvements would consist of whatever the adjacent farmers could achieve in the way of dragging to smooth the ruts after rains. Counties paid farmers for this at that time. About all that was required was a painting crew to mark the poles, and this the Stromsburg folks set out to do. Rain curtailed their first efforts, and we eagerly await upcoming issues of the Headlight to see how the High Line Cutoff progresses. At some point there may have been detractors from such places as Osceola or Columbus, bypassed by this new shortcut.



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Before publishing his book, C. H. Morrill wrote long articles for the Headlight which make interesting reading. Here is part of one:

"During the summer of 1883, Governor Nance, J.H. Mickey and myself, organized the Osceola bank and the Stromsburg bank. Interest rates were high, and the only securities were chattel mortgages, often at the full value of the stock mortgaged...

In the western part of Polk county and the eastern part of Hamilton county there was a strip of territory, perhaps ten miles in width on which the crops were destroyed by hail for many years in succession. It was known as the hail district...

I remember lending $200 to a man living in Hamilton county. He gave as security a mortgage on one dark brown horse, named 'Moody' and one sorrel horse named 'Sankey.' Times were very hard and we were obliged to carry this loan with 'Moody and Sankey' as security for about five years, renewing it every ninety days."

(here we should remind younger readers that Moody and Sankey were an early famous evangelist and his musical partner, like Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea)

"One day the owner of the horses came into the bank and paid off the loan. When he got his note and release of mortgage he said, 'Thank God, old Moody and Sankey are clear once more. The hail has been so bad I should have been obliged to leave the state if I could not have borrowed the money'."



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Today I encountered one of those newspaper items that keep me going back to reading all those old editions for whatever may be learned about the Greenwalls' past.

It went like this: "Since the first of April the Rystrom Implement Co. has sold Fords to the following purchasers: H. C. Meinhold, John Greenwall,..." (etc.) "...making twenty-three in all." The Headlight, 4/27/1916. Fords were selling like the proverbial hotcakes, and grandpa got him one. Time to check out just what 1916 Fords looked like.

There were five models offered, ranging from $390 to $740 in price. Amazingly, internet search engines are vague about Model T Fords...but Ray Miller's classic book, From Here to Obscurity, 1971, has many details. Wouldn't you know, in August Henry dropped the price another $80. Which model did grandpa chose? The most popular was the Touring... at $490 it offered double the passenger capacity of the $390 runabout. Most likely that was the one. In other auto news, brother-in-law Eric Forslund was also driving a Ford. Finney Peterson, however, chose a Chevrolet, and editor Chatty Coleman exchanged her Model T for a Dodge, with a self-starter.

That previous December 12, The Headlight had a hint that may have influenced the Ford purchase. "John Greenwall had quite a serious runaway on Sunday. He was coming to town and after he crossed the B & M track his team became frightened and ran away. The buggy was more or less injured and the little boy had an arm broken." Did that mishap prompt grandpa to join the modern trend to horseless carriages?



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In 1916 the "good roads" movement was in the news and auto touring was becoming very popular. Stromsburg was not only on the Meridian Highway, which according to the Nebraska Department of Roads website had graduated from markings painted on poles to real metal signs which read "Meridian Road" and gave the distance to the next county seat.

As reported earlier, a shortcut from Central City to Omaha called the "High Line Cutoff" was laid out through Stromsburg as well. We wondered how the Osceola folks would take this development, since it bypassed them, and the solution was not long in coming. A new road, called "The Goldenrod Shortcut Route," was announced in the October 5, 1916, Headlight. From west to east, it followed the High Line Cutoff from Central City through Hordville, Polk and Stromsburg.

But rather than going straight east, it proceeded through Swede Home, Osceola, Shelby, Rising City, David City, Bruno, Prague and Valley. It was 28 miles shorter to Omaha than the Lincoln Highway. This route was also marked with bands on telephone poles and other posts. Much of the Highline Cutoff was identical with today's Highway 66 and the Goldenrod with Highway 92.

Meanwhile, in June there was a grand inaugural caravan of automobiles traveling from Central City to Omaha over the newly marked Highline Cutoff. Decorated with the orange and white colors, 40 cars were counted as the procession went through Stromsburg and 60 by the time Omaha was reached. There were festivities at Aksarben, and only a couple of breakdowns were recorded. Because C.H. Lindburg of Polk played such a central role in developing this route, there was some sentiment that it should be called "The Lindburg Road."

It was a very fluid time and these routes sometimes ran over the same roads at times, as the example from 66 up through Stromsburg shows: it was on the Meridian, the Highline and the Goldenrod. Then just one year later it was reported that the Highline had a new name: the "National Highway." That may have happened when a new committee proposed an extension of the eastern National Highway to run all the way across the country. Their route ran straight along 66 as it is today and bypassed Stromsburg.

That might have been a disadvantage were it not for the fact that both the Meridian and Goldenrod still came through Stromsburg. In the end it was the Lincoln Highway that won the day in the federal highway program that established Highway 30.



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There was no Environmental Protection Agency in circa 1915, but the need to dispose of garbage was beginning to appear and it fell to the city council to direct such issues. As a practical matter there were numerous ravines in and about Stromsburg which needed to be filled in. One of these was at the corner of 8th Street and Main (Highway 81). I have to admit I couldn't picture that corner so the next day on the way home from the post office I drove by there, and, yes, there was the ravine. So the city placed a notice in the paper for residents to dump their garbage right there.

Previously a popular dumping ground was in Buckley's pasture, but when he made the offer to give that land to the city for a park, further dumping was prohibited there. Another notice was placed for dumping to be done in Freeman's pasture, at the west end of 4th Street. Then there was a call for fill 3/4 mile west on 9th Street.

A real eye-opener came along when the city changed over from its own electrical power plant southeast of the square to a power line running up from York. The old plant was torn down, leaving a vacant hole. The Headlight carried the city's announcement calling for all "garbage and manure" to be deposited there!

Landfill regulations can sometimes be annoying, but do we really want to go back to that?



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In March of 1916 it was announced that Rev. E.A. Skogsbergh was coming to hold meetings in Stromsburg. Not since before the turn of the century, when Professor Waldenström visited, had such a famous preacher come to town. It was said that this might be the "last chance" to hear Skogsbergh. Here is a little background on this Swedish evangelist.

When he came to America in the '70s as a young preacher, he witnessed the Chicago meetings of D.L. Moody. Since Moody's church was right on the edge of the Swedish community, he was able to make use of that facility for a preaching mission to the many immigrants there. Soon he was being called "The Swedish Moody." He went to serve as pastor to the Swedes on the south side of Chicago, and there built a tabernacle church which was the largest of its kind among the Mission Friends up till that time.

That church, where the Covenant denomination was later founded in 1885, was far overshadowed by the Minneapolis Tabernacle which was also built under his leadership and still may be seen adjacent to the former Twins stadium. A third Tabernacle was built on the west coast. His effectiveness as a traveling evangelist may be guaged by the results of his meetings in Princeton, IL., where the size of the church doubled following a Skogsbergh visit.

The next year, in the fall of 1917, it is again announced that Skogsbergh would hold meetings in Stromsburg with topics to include "the secret to a happy marriage." What we do not have, is a report on how these meetings came out. That might make one think that somehow they did not materialize, or at very least, Skogsbergh in 1916 was past his prime.


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