to Bust: Prosperity and Decline of Buffalo County Nebraska
Dr. Mark Ellis, History Department
University of Nebraska Kearney
Boom to Bust: Prosperity and Decline of Dying Buffalo County
“Our state will climb upward in the galaxy or the union
rapidly, and will be one of the brightest stars there in.
Great is Nebraska,” (1) --a quote from the 1890 Armada, Nebraska
newspaper exclaiming the excitement of westward expansion
during the 1800s that brought settlers to the Great Plains.
Though known at first as The Great American Desert because
of the lack of trees, Nebraska was covered with prairie
grass, and contained some of the most fertile farmland in
the country. The Homestead Act of 1862, which promised 160
acres of land to anyone who farmed it for five years, helped
attract settlers to the area. The territory of Nebraska
became a state in 1867 and migration continued. With 193
settlers listed just a few years after statehood in 1870,
and located along the Platte River, Buffalo County in
central Nebraska was mostly populated by waves of settlers
from Eastern and Midwestern states and Western Europe during
the latter part of the nineteenth century. As the number of
farmsteads grew in the area, groups of settlers began
establishing towns; in northern Buffalo County the
communities of Armada, Miller, Poole, Sodtown, and Watertown
started appearing. The new neighborhoods were centered
around desired stopping points, such as a newly created
general store, post office, or train depot.
Aspirations were booming during the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries for the future prosperities of
these small towns in northern Buffalo County, but as time
and transportation progressed, the need and viability for
the villages changed. Opportunities in the area may not
have looked as promising as they did initially. As seen in
an article from a 1911 issue of The Miller Forum, the
paper asked its readers to be aware of possible
depopulation by stating, “There are eighteen vacant houses
in Miller at present. Had you thought of it? How does this
look? Would this feature be encouraging to those looking
for a location?”
As time went by, opportunity seemed to be knocking
elsewhere, and the result was the depopulation of Miller and
Poole, and the disappearance of Armada, Sodtown, and
Watertown. The contrast between the numerous towns in the
county by the early 1900s as compared to almost a century
later is shown below in Images 1 & 2.
-- Image 1:
Buffalo County in 1919 [this is the 1885 map of the county], green lines indicate local
Note: Sodtown was no longer appearing on maps by
this time, but was located
southeast of Poole
-- Image 2:
Recent map of Buffalo County
they represented the very definition of ‘opportunity,’ these
towns began with high hopes of prospering and having a long
life, but opportunity traveled down the road with the
progression of transportation. The idea that new towns
meant fresh starts for settlers, not only
socially but also
economically through establishing new farms and businesses,
added to the illusion that success was inevitable. Popular
belief was that the coming of the railroad was going to lead
to economic permanence. The railroad did directly affect the
outcome of the towns, but not in the same way hoped. It was
the reason for two towns’ beginning and the key factor to
three towns’ demise. The spread of the automobile also was
key, and possibly the biggest factor was how time provided
and dismissed the possibility of growth for these towns.
Although the towns of Armada, Miller, Poole, Sodtown, and
Watertown were all established with the optimism of being
prosperous communities, they died out through the twentieth
century due in large part to the lack of opportunities
available, which are circumstances of not only
transportation, but of harsh mother nature and economic
conditions, as well.
Aspirations Booming: New Towns in Buffalo County
During the early days of Nebraska’s statehood, the town of
Kearney, located along the Platte River, was flourishing.
The number of settlers in the rest of Buffalo County was
also on the rise. Northeast of Kearney, along the trail
between the growing towns of Grand Island and Broken Bow,
was an ideal resting place for wagon trains and freighting
outfits. A twenty square acre plot for a “village site” was
laid out and a town began in 1879 with the building of
Ernest Farr’s sod house and the establishment of a post
office. Land was purchased in April 1880 for a cemetery at
the price of ten dollars. Located in the Cherry Creek
Township, the new cemetery and Presbyterian Church were
named “Cherry Creek,” however with the growth of the town it
was more appropriately labeled “Sodtown” because of the
prevalent use of sod as building material. Due to the lack
of lumber, Sodtown lived up to its name in its early days of
existence with two general stores, a blacksmith shop, and
post office all made from sod. Even the lumber yard
was part sod.(3)
With the waves of people entering the area came the increase
in children, which was felt by the local school. The sod
schoolhouse, which was said to have been built in the mid
1870s, was already in existence when the town started. A
frame schoolhouse was built north of the soddie in 1884.
Starting at as early as three years old and attending until
the age of twenty or twenty-one, students went for two terms
of school a year and made as many lessons as possible. A few
years after the new building was constructed, the school
boasted fifty-five students, so many that there were two or
three pupils to a desk, and the school was considered
“large.” Similar to the school, as the town grew, frame
structures replaced soddies in the “first thriving
settlement in the northeast corner of Buffalo County.” (4)
the county, in the northwestern corner, Armada Township was
being settled by people migrating west as early as the
1870s. According to United States Census reports, at the
turn of the century, the majority of those living in Armada
Township claimed to have been born in Midwestern America,
mostly from the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, and
in Europe, generally from the German regions. The first
settlements appeared in the township in 1873.(5)
name of “Armada” was given after the post office moved to a
general store owned by William Craven in the early 1880s.(6)
The town really began growing from there. A school was
created in the new town in 1881. In 1886, forty-four
students were in attendance, and by the winter 1889-1890
semester, enrollment was up to eighty-five. Armada boasted a
livery barn in 1885 and a two-story hotel by 1886, and while
it had no churches, fourteen church groups were present as
well. Town population reached 250 persons by the winter of
1889-90. In the spring of 1890, the town of Armada boasted
two banks, two hotels, four general stores, a harness shop,
a hardware store, two drug stores, one jeweler, a photograph
gallery, two meat markets, a millinery and dress shop, two
buggy shops, an implement shop, three blacksmiths, a
windmill shop, two livery barns, a furniture store, two shoe
shops, a barber, a newspaper, and three doctors.(7)
By 1890 the Kearney & Black Hills Railroad (K. & B.H.R.R.)
decided to add a line to connect the larger town of Kearney
to the more western town of Callaway. As the railroad
created the line in 1890, depots were also built every
ten-to-twenty miles or so to allow steam engines to stop and
get water. In Armada Township, a small town with a post
office grew around such a stop and was given the name
Watertown. The Watertown Post Office, with J. S. Veal as
postmaster, was established that same year.(8)
arrival of the railroad helped create more local
accessibility to commerce, and for the people of the area, a
gathering point. In 1891, the Methodist Church sported
fourteen members. Although School District 101 was created
in 1886 and a sod schoolhouse was built in the country it
was replaced by a wooden one closer to the town in the late
1890s.(9) In 1915, the school boasted thirty-nine
pupils, ten grades, and two teachers, while the nearby grain
elevator had the capacity to hold 10,000 bushels.(10)
During the summer of 1890, the K. & B. H. R. R. created a
depot ten miles down the line on the south side of the Wood
River half a mile south of Armada. The town was named
“Miller” after Omahan Dr. George L. Miller, a man who was
“greatly interested in the establishment of the railroad.”(11) Known
as “Gem City,” its creation was enthusiastically publicized.(12) Faith
in the Railroad and the increased opportunity that would
come with it is reflected in local newspaper articles in
1890 with statements such as:
Controlling, as it does a trade of nearly forty miles in
all directions, it is with the coming of the rail road
bound to be the commercial center of this vast
agricultural country, and will be the principal grain
and stock shipping point of this rich valley….The
Kearney & Black Hills R.R. will furnish easy access to
good markets; and when it is extended to Wyoming, will
open a field in which the products of this valley will
find an immense sale.(13)
The railroad was only part of the growing process,
businesses were essential as well. People had been migrating
westward for decades, but the challenge was in attracting
them to a community where they would hopefully stay, such as
Miller. One way to do this was to seemingly sell the area as
a place where the sky was the limit. Opportunities to
succeed economically were advertised with quips like “We
have a most beautiful townsite, surrounded by a fine farming
and stockraising country, and all the men who are opening up
in business here, are live, energetic business men, and will
work together in union for the upbuilding of this place.”(14)
“Miller can support handsomely a bakery and a furniture
store,” added another report. “If you are looking for a
location don’t fail to look the town over.”(15) In
July of 1890, the local newspaper, The Miller Union, in its
first edition in the new town, captured the aspirations of
the new site and the hopes for the future. “The past has
shown,” stated the paper, “that a good town can be built
about the distance that Miller is from Kearney….We make a
prediction that within one year there will be a population
of one thousand people in the banner town of the Wood River
was incorporated in 1890 and the post office established on
July 25 of that same year.(17)
In the months preceding the town, the site was mapped out
and advertised in area newspapers, as shown in Image 3. The
building of each new business was also covered by the local
paper. A town lot was even given away to a couple that
agreed to get married in public(18).
Covering all important events, especially those concerning
the railroad, the paper noted dutifully when K. & B. H. R.
R. Chief Engineer Cox “placed the depot stake on Miller at
the head of 4th street.” (19)
--Image 3: Promotion appearing in the July 17, 1890 issue of
The Miller Union.
Although the town did not reach 1,000 people in its first
year, it did grow. The Methodist Episcopal and United
Brethren Churches both chartered in 1890 with twenty-five to
thirty members, and both built buildings three years later.
School District No. 57 was organized in 1890 and a school
was built in 1893. Still increasing, town bustled into the
new century. In 1905, the Christian Church was chartered
with thirty-five members, and the school added the eleventh
grade in 1912 and the twelfth grade nine years later. The
town sported different clubs, lodges, and women’s temperance
groups, and prided itself for being a part of “the finest
farming lands in the West.” (20)
The desire for an established community was prevalent all
across the county, and specifically in the area around the
Union Pacific Railroad’s siding at Poole in North Central
Buffalo County. A branch line was built through the area in
the 1880s, where some residents had large claims of land,
and the establishment of the railroad siding was
appropriately named Pool’s Siding, after the homesteader
William “W.W.” Pool, who had moved to the area in 1876. In
1896, a Western Union telegraph office was established. W.W.
Pool and two of his daughters were the telegraphers; his
daughter Ella was the main operator. As more people came
together, the signs that a town was blooming became more
apparent, especially after a three-room school building was
built about 1906 in the town’s vicinity.(21)
Even though the community was coming together, both the
local general store and post office read ‘Pool Siding,’ but
the railroad sign said ‘Poole.’ As old homesteaders moved
into the town, the post office changed to match the railroad
after a request from the postmaster. Unified under a common
name, the town of Poole was incorporated in 1911 after the
population reached sixty in 1910.(22) Booming in the 1920’s, the
town was very community-oriented. In fact, there were no
taverns, and the town was so “strait-laced” that an
ordinance banned “immoral and indecent” dances, such as the
bunny hug, Boston slide, turkey trot, and tango.(23) After a
slow start, the community had a common name on all its
buildings, and most importantly, the name was recognized as
one belonging to an incorporated village.
Sodtown, Armada, Watertown, Miller, and Poole all appeared
as the result of a need for commerce and community.
Establishing towns made sense to local farmers who could
take crops to be sold somewhere fairly close, as well as
pick up supplies without having to make too far of a trip,
especially when horses and horse-drawn wagons were the main
mode of transportation in the late 1800s. Growing around the
cattle trail, general store, and railroad, these towns gave
settlers the chance to create their own version, perhaps, of
“The American Dream.” They had the opportunity to,
figuratively speaking, start with a clean slate in business
endeavors and socially as well.
Everything Moving: Transportation Becomes A Mixed Blessing
While the arrival of the railroad through the towns of
Poole, Miller, and Watertown was clearly advantageous to the
people of the area, it also had drawbacks. A prime example
of transportation causing the death of a town are the events
which occurred in Armada in the summer of 1890, the same
time that the depot was built across Wood River in Miller.
At that time, the town had over 200 inhabitants and was
growing steadily. The only problem for Armada was that while
it was developing on the north side of the Wood River, the
K. & B.H. Railroad decided to build following the southern
edge. The track followed the river and passed by, but not
through, Armada; a depot was to be built one-half mile
south, and on the other side of the river. The new townsite
of Miller was owned by Hancock Land and Improvement Company,
which, in early June of that year, gave Armada home and
business owners first pick at lots and deeds before opening
them to the public. The Hancock Company even proposed to
move the buildings free of charge.(24) Sentiments for the town
ran deep, and the issue was hotly debated. In the July 10,
1890 issue of The Armada Watchman, one source posed the
question “Have you ever stopped to think how lonely Armada
will look when all the buildings are moved, which are under
contract?”(25) The very next issue, which became
Union in the time-span of a week, printed a more positive
outlook by promoting the new town by stating that since
Miller was starting with over 100 people and
well-established businesses, “it is sure of an immediate
An iron bridge was constructed over the Wood River and
popular sentiment of the town’s inhabitants was that it was
insensible to travel a mile to get to the depot from the
town of Armada. The distance between the new town and old
are visible below in Image 4. The transition made sense, but
even so, the matter of moving the town was highly
controversial. Those wishing to stay in the old town were
very skeptical as to whether the developers would stick to
their word. As a last desperate attempt to thwart the move,
they formed a barricade on the outskirt of Armada. Pioneer
spirit won out, however, and on the morning of Saturday,
July 12, the barricade was broken and the buildings of
Armada began moving en masse to the new town site.(27) The
editor of The Armada Watchman was also not in favor of the
new town, however he stated that the paper wants to do what
was in the “best interest of most involved.” (28)
In the July 17, 1890 issue of
The Miller Union, one source
stated that “the only limit was as to the time the offer was
left open,” but by that time most of the people had given in
and acquired lots before the offer had expired.(29) The First
Bank of Armada was one of the first businesses to convert by
changing to The First Bank of Miller. According to Miller
Area Heritage, during that summer, fifty-two of Armada’s
business and residential buildings moved across the river,
as well as most of the 250 people.(30)
--Image 4: Part of Armada Township Plat, 1907
While not as dramatic as the events in Armada, the arrival
of the railroad through Buffalo County was also directly
related to the withering of Sodtown. Although booming in the
1870s and 1880s on the cattle and wagon trails, when the
Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was built through
Buffalo County in 1886, Sodtown was bypassed. As the town
lost business and began fading, however, the neighborhood
did not die. Sodtown ceased appearing on the county plat
early in the twentieth century, but a sense of community
remained, as did local farming families and the area school.
In June of 1922, locals organized the Sodtown Band, which
became fairly popular and traveled around the area playing
at different town functions.
As Sodtown made the transition from a town to just a
community, remnants of what used to be were preserved. For
seventy-six years, Sodtown’s school kept its doors open.
About 300 children had been taught there, but by the time
the school closed in 1957, it had only five pupils.(31) The
community tried to remain strong, and “one-half of the
school land was sold to the township for $1, at which time
the Sodtown Hall was moved onto this half-acre.”(32) The hall
remains on the land in 2004, and is still used as a
gathering place. Ironically, the other evidence of what was
once a thriving town is the Sodtown Cemetery, which is still
used by local families.
On the Go: Transportation Brings Change
The progression of the railroad into the area had a clear
hand in the origins of some towns and the decline of others.
One town that can be seen as functioning almost solely
around the Black Hills & Kearney Railroad was Watertown,
which was established in 1890 as a stop for steam engines to
get water. When the steam engines quit being used, the need
to stop there disappeared, as did the buildings and any
recognition that a town was once there. While appearing on
plats into the 1950s, today the land where the town once sat
is privately owned farmland.
Still on the map, though smaller than it once was, is
Miller. With the evolution of more efficient transportation,
people began to move to where they felt opportunity existed.
Though the times had changed since its early days, a
business directory from 1930 listed a bank, barber shop, two
general stores, a drug store, carpenter, hatchery, grain
elevator, lumber and implements, carpenter/cabinet work,
blacksmith & implement shop, recreation parlor, department
store, meat & groceries, beauty parlor, and café.(33) A sign of
changing times, and the evolution of transportation, is seen
through the appearance of motor-oriented businesses. While
two garages were present during Miller’s peak size, the
latter business directory listed three motor companies, two
oil companies, and a filling station; all of which are
tell-tale signs that the automobile had arrived. Unknown at
the time was that the auto would bring about the town’s
Laws were enacted in 1918 “for the construction of
hard-surfaced roads,” which would be yet another sign of
changing country life.(34) Better roads meant better
transportation, including a change in meeting points. An
example being the change in the way schools were located.
Originally, schools were built systematically to be within
walking distance of children, but as distances shrank with
the help of autos, schools began consolidating.(35)
By the early 1930s, Buffalo County had six miles of paved
roads, four state highways running through it, and 240 miles
of graveled highway.(36) Automobiles allowed farmers greater
access to nearby towns, and trucks began changing farms as
well. Not only used on the farm, trucks were also used to
transport goods to market without having to deal with the
high prices of the railroad. As the automobile gained in
popularity and practicality, the railroad no longer effected
the growth of the town.
The nearby, steadily growing city of Kearney had a
population of almost 8,000 during the 1920s, and was the
center of transportation in the county. Located along the
Platte River, it was host to not only a stop on the
Transcontinental Rail Road, but the Lincoln Highway starting
in the 1910s, and later Interstate 80 in 1970. The county
seat and home to the largest population of people in the
county, Kearney’s size did nothing but increase since the
Miller was connected to Kearney not only by the railroad,
but also by highways. Kearney was closer than ever, as shown
through the disappearance of hotels in Miller by 1930. The
convenience of motor vehicles also allowed consumers to have
more choices in where they shopped. Why go five miles to the
local store when you can drive ten miles to a bigger town
with more selection and lower prices?
Harsh Conditions Hinder Opportunity
The town of Poole seems to be an example of those who,
despite population drops, wanted to try to keep the town
official through a depression, drought, lack of main
highway, and continuous loss of business. When the town was
incorporated in 1911, it had about sixty inhabitants. The
1920 and 1930 census reports show the town level off at just
over 100 people, which would be its peak population. While
the town’s population declined from there, it did not die,
even when the population reached nineteen. The Nebraska Blue
Book defines a “village” as having 100-800 inhabitants, and
“villages have the option of retaining their form or
government when their population exceeds or falls below 800
population.”(37) Determined to keep their town a town and
establishing the ideal small community, the village was not
completely abandoned. Despite the low numbers, the town was
able to stay incorporated for over sixty years. After
January 1, 1973, the town was officially unincorporated.(38) As
a possible foreshadowing, only a few years earlier, “the
last general store burned to the ground,” and today the only
building still standing on Main Street is the old bank
Vermillion’s Guide of Buffalo County Nebraska,
Poole had two general stores, a garage, the Union Pacific
depot, a lumber company, elevator, and the State Bank of
Poole in 1931.(40) The State Bank of Poole survived the crash of
1929 and was still in business two years later. The two
banks in the nearby town of Ravenna, however, did not
survive very long after the Stock Market Crash and in 1931
the owner of Poole’s bank changed location and it became
Ravenna Bank. Ravenna was a larger town and a better
opportunity for the owner. Without a bank, and in the midst
of the Great Depression, the town suffered, but did not give
up on the community. The census of 1940 still listed over
seventy inhabitants. The U.P. Railroad used the line through
Poole less and less, however, and after a 1947 storm washed
out a local bridge, that part of the “spur” was abandoned in
1948.(41) After these major deterrences to the town, it could
not help but depopulate, as shown below in Chart 1.
The lack of a school gives newcomers even less incentive to
stay and one more reason for some residents to move
elsewhere. In the 1940s, the high school was moved to
Ravenna, and then the Poole School District closed in 1966.(42)
Only nineteen inhabitants were reported on both the 1960 and
Poole’s Main Street is not the only casualty of
depopulation; Miller’s businesses have nearly disappeared as
compared to earlier times. After a very promising start,
Miller’s prime years lasted until the beginning of the First
World War. The largest recorded population on the national
censuses was reported for the town in 1910 with 330 people.(43) In its heyday, Miller was host to The Bank of Miller, a pool
hall, photo gallery, pharmacy, shoe store, cream station,
two hotels, meat market, saloon, hardware store, barber
shop, bakery, print shop, five family-owned stores, two
garages, and three elevators. Even though Miller installed
its water system in 1917, by the 1920 census the town shrank
by over 100 people.(44)
During the 1900s, the growth of Miller stagnated. Looking at
the beginning of the town, and the area around it, it would
seem that the pioneer spirit brought people looking for new
opportunities to succeed, and they hoped to find it in a
virtually unsettled new state. Census reports from 1900 show
that in Armada Township (the area consisting of Armada,
Miller, and Watertown), most of the inhabitants were not
natives to the state, as can be expected since the county’s
population had gone from 7,535 people in 1880 to 20,254 by
1900. Likewise in Armada Township, most residents were
newcomers in the 1890s, but more and more residents were
natives of the state as time went on, illustrated by Chart
2, which also indicates that not as many new people were
moving into the area.
The desire to go somewhere and create something new, such as
a town with new opportunities in life, most likely
accompanied those that came into the area. The citizens of
Miller knew the feeling and could relate to stories that
appeared in 1910 issues of The Miller Forum which tried to
raise awareness of people migrating to Central Canada. One
article stated that 90,000 U.S. settlers had moved to
Western Canada in 1909, 60,000 the year before, “and for
several years [previous] the number has been running into
these large figures.”(45) The paper states that there is “not
room now for all on these lands,” and as for the demand for
land: “Canada is the only country on the continent in a
position to supply it.”(46) Looking for opportunity, the
settlers may have been attracted by word that land sales in
the Canadian Northwest would increase from three to fifteen
dollars an acre.(47) Such a promise of opportunity is most
likely what brought most of the settlers to Buffalo County
Perhaps Buffalo County’s towns were the victims of bad
timing. Miller did not get the huge population growth it had
hoped for in its first ten years, which may have cursed any
possibility of creating a large town. A depression, which
started in 1893, was felt by farmers through the rest of the
decade.(48) Due to the environmental hardships and economical
trouble, western Nebraska’s population decreased twelve
percent between 1890 and 1900. In that same time span, the
average size of farms had tripled, going from 220 acres to
660 acres, but the number of farms had decreased almost
forty percent. According to historian Frederick C. Luebke in
his book Nebraska: An Illustrated History, “Thousands of
farm families were ruined; they had no choice but to leave.”(49)
When times are hard, opportunity seems to dry up and people
look for prosperity elsewhere. Life in the country was hard
on the inhabitants. When Mother Nature dealt a mean hand, it
was felt first by those that made their living off the land,
farmers, and then by those who counted on local money as
income, businessmen. The conditions during the late 1800s
and early 1900s were not always the most pleasant, despite
the high spirit of settlers. The population boom during the
1880s allowed the state to grow, but after a decade of mild
environmental conditions, the variation in climate and
Mother Nature typical of the Great Plains reappeared. Times
were difficult for settlers who had to contend with prairie
fires, hoards of grasshoppers, drought, blizzards, and
illness. Disaster was not selective, even those who seemed
“successful” fell victim to the surroundings. After his son
died in childhood and he found out that his pregnant wife
was not going to live through her pregnancy, W.W. Poole, the
village of Poole’s namesake, went to the cemetery and
committed suicide on his son’s grave. His wife only survived
for two more weeks and the baby passed away as well.(50)
Another sign of hard times was the presence of death in the
communities. Suicide was only one of the ways some people
dealt with their troubles. Loosing a loved one or their life
savings may have been the push some needed to move on to
somewhere else that they hoped would have better things in
store for them. Death is always a tragedy, especially when
children are involved. Many children in the area at the turn
of the century did not live very many years. Farming
accidents and waves of illnesses, like typhoid, cholera, and
whooping cough, left children unwell in a time and place
without modern healthcare and the conveniences of science.
Because children were some of the most susceptible to
disease, large families were common, not only as a necessity
for farms, but also since not all of them were likely to
live to adulthood. It must have been psychologically
draining for parents to know that there was a good
possibility that they would outlive at least some of their
children, and there was nothing they could do about it but
continue to rely on their own home remedies to try to
protect them. Image 5 shows Gravestones in the Armada
Cemetery that mark the resting places of multiple children
from the same family, many of them not living past two years
of age, which was common at the Sodtown Cemetery as well.
--Image 5: Gravestones of a family’s five children at Armada
As more and more of the land was settled, opportunities
changed for those who lived in the area. It appears that in
Miller, while the median age group was 18-29 years old in
1910 and 1920, differences exist in the demographics between
the two years. Chart 3 shows that in 1910, the 18-29 age
group made up almost 25% of the population of the town, and
were more than likely the parents of the 17% of the
population comprised of children seven years old and
younger. This suggests that there were a lot of young
families in town. Those representing the 30-39 age range
made up 8%; 40-49 made up 12%; 50-59 made up 12%; 60+ made
up 8%. Ten years later, in 1920, children seven and under
made up 14%; 18-29 made up 14%; 30-39 made up 14%; 40-49
made up 9%; 50-59 made up 11%; 60+ made up 15%. This shows
that the generation which had the highest amount of people
ten years earlier was no longer as strongly represented,
suggesting that the number of young families declined as
well. At the same time, the numbers in the older generation
increased. This seems to show that as time went on, even
though more and more Nebraska natives were present, and more
and more were staying in the area, not as many in the
younger population stayed. Similarly, Chart 4 shows how the
trend of those fifty years old and older in Poole was also
on the rise during the first decades of its existence,
indicating that more and more of the older generations were
staying on the land.
While the populations of Miller and Watertown were
decreasing by 1920, the general population in Armada
Township was still recorded as increasing from 351
inhabitants in 1910 to 392 in 1920. This lends one to assume
that the opposite of urbanization was happening. More people
were moving to the country and possibly farming on smaller
farms. World War I occurred just a few years prior to the
1920 census, and as an incentive to raise more crops for the
war, prices were increased to try to attain the supply
needed. New technology, such as motor tractors, made growing
crops easier and more efficient. During the war, the amount
of cultivated land doubled. At that time, farming was a more
lucrative occupation than possibly even a generation before.
As the 1920s faded into the next decade, more problems arose
that would challenge the towns. As the 1930s trudged on, and
Nebraska literally became a desert due to wide-spread
drought which was turning the fertile land into a dust bowl,
farm prices plummeted and many farms went bankrupt. Farm
prices bottom out by 1932, becoming the lowest in Nebraska’s
history. People leave the land in droves; all totaled, over
600,000 acres of farmland were abandoned. With the main
source of income in the area not able to sustain the locals,
they left to find somewhere with more opportunity.
A sign of a declining town is the downsizing of the local
school. Chart 5 shows how the population of Miller declined
after the 1930 census. The 1950 census reported a population
of 179, and the last class to graduate from Miller High was
in 1958.(52) In 1964, Miller consolidated to form the new
district of Sumner-Eddyville-Miller, and until 1978, the
arrangement schooled first through third grades in Miller,
fourth through sixth in Eddyville, and junior and senior
high in Sumner. After the spring of 1978, all elementary
grades were taught in Eddyville.(53)
Due to harsh conditions of the area and more efficient
transportation, the opportunities of the towns died out
along with the towns of Armada, Miller, Poole, Sodtown, and
Watertown, even though they all had promising starts. In its
early years, Nebraska’s population boom was felt all over
the state, and newspapers were not shy writing about it.
“Her towns and villages have grown,” wrote the Armada
Watchman, “and innumerable new ones have started since that
time. Her rural population has kept pace with the onward
movement and millions of acres of Virginia soil have been
brought into subjection during that time. Verily her growth
has been marvelous. What will it be when the twentieth
century arrives?”(54) The article “A Way to Boost Your Town,” in
the March 3, 1910 issue of The Miller Forum, states that
“There is only one way in which the country town can be kept
on the map and made to be really worth while—something more
than a water tank or whistling post—and that is through the
organized effort of its business and professional men.”(55) Staying organized proved to be easier said than done,
however, as opportunities in the towns changed and each
community was forced to deal with them. Today, while about
the only traces of the town of Armada is the cemetery, the
town of Miller is still a strong community with 156
inhabitants. While Poole is no longer incorporated, it still
appears on local road maps and has done well hosting
baseball events over the past decades. Sodtown no longer
exists as a town, but the community around the old town
still uses the Sodtown Hall building on the old school land
and the cemetery. Watertown seems to be the farthest gone;
all that is left is a little plot of land that was used as a
cemetery, but today grave markers are missing, and those
present do little to identify anything about the people that
are buried there and what their lives were like. While the
fates of these towns seem tragic, they were all born with
the best intentions, and really have not died. While there
are not all of the physical trademarks of a town present,
the shared enthusiasm and dedication to the towns is clearly
seen and have become part of the land buildings once stood
“90,000 American Settlers Go to Canada.”
The Miller Forum,
27 January 1910.
“A Town Lot Given For A Prize.”
The Armada Watchman, 10 July
“A Way to Boost Your Town.”
The Miller Forum, 3 March 1910.
Bassett, Samuel Clay,
Buffalo County Nebraska and Its
People: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and
“The Bonds of Union.”
The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
Clerk of the Legislature,
Nebraska Blue Book 2002-2003.
The Encyclopedia of Nebraska, St. Clair Shores, MI: Somerset
Publishers, Inc., 1999.
Fort Kearny Genealogical Society. “The History of Sodtown
School,” Buffalo Chip 9, no. 2 (Summer 1986): 46-57
Frisbie, Al. “Poole Still in Danger of Being a Midlands
Ghost Town.” Omaha World Herald, 21 October 1970.
“Good Bye Armada.” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
Kearney Business and Professional Women’s Club. Where the
Buffalo Roamed: Stories of Early Days in Buffalo County,
“Local News.” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
Luebke, Frederick C. Nebraska: An Illustrated History.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
“Miller and Vicinity: Brief Items of Interest About Our
People and Their Visitors.” The Miller Forum, 20 July 1911.
Miller Area Heritage (1983).
“The Miller Depot.”
The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
Nebraska Legislative Council.
Nebraska Blue Book 1940.
Nebraska Legislative Council. Nebraska Blue Book 1952.
Nebraska Legislative Council. Nebraska Blue Book 1962.
Lincoln: Joe Christensen, Inc., 1962.
Nebraska Legislative Council.
Nebraska Blue Book 1972.
Lincoln: Joe Christensen, Inc., 1972.
Armada Watchman, 10 July 1890.
The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
“The Rush to Canada.”
The Miller Forum, 21 April 1910.
Shelton, Addison E., ed.,
The Nebraska Blue Book and
Historical Register 1915. Lincoln: State Journal Company.
Snell, Winona Duncan. Poole: The Beginning, the End, and
Urwiller, Irvin, and Alice Howell. “Sodtown, the Community
that Would Not Die.” Buffalo Tales, 26 January 2004,
<http://bchs.kearney.net/BTales_198101.html> (30 May 2004).
Vermillion Map Company, “Poole Business Directory.”
Vermillion’s Guide to Buffalo County Nebraska. 2001.
<http://rootsweb.com/~nebuffal/vrmguide/toc.htm> (27 July
1 “Nebraska’s Future,”
Armada Watchman, 10 July 1890
“Miller and Vicinity: Brief Items of Interest About Our
People and Their Visitors,”
The Miller Forum, 20 July 1911.
Irvin Urwiller and Alice Howell, “Sodtown, the Community
that Would Not Die,”
Buffalo Tales, 26 Jan 2004,
(30 May 2004);
Fort Kearny Genealogical Society, “The
History of Sodtown School,”
Buffalo Chip 9, no. 2
1986): 46; Urwiller & Howell.
4 Urwiller & Howell; Fort Kearney Genealogical Society,
5 Samuel Clay Bassett, Buffalo County Nebraska and Its
People: A Record of Settlement,
Organization, Progress and Achievement (1916), 287.
6 Ibid, 287.
Area Heritage (1983), 2.
8 Bassett, 290.
9 Compiled by Kearney Business and Professional Women’s Club,
Where the Buffalo
Roamed: Stories of Early Days in Buffalo
County, Nebraska, (1967), 126.
10 Bassett, 290.
Area Heritage, 2.
12 Ibid, 2.
13 “Miller,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
14“The Bonds of Union,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
News,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
17 Miller Area Heritage, 5.
“A Town Lot Given For A Prize,” The Armada Watchman, 10 July
“The Miller Depot,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
Bassett, 287; From Trails & Rails, Buffalo County Archives;
21 Winona Duncan Snell, Poole: The Beginning, the End, and
Beyond (2003), 17, 31.
23 Snell, 5.
23 Al Frisbie, “Poole Still in Danger of Being a Midlands
Ghost Town,” Omaha World
Herald, 21 October 1970.
24 “The Position,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
25 “Local News.”
27 “The Miller Depot.”
28 “Good Bye Armada,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
29 “The Position.”
30 “Local News”; Miller Area Heritage, 3.
31 Urwiller and Howell; Fort Kearney Genealogical Society,
32 Ibid., 49.
33 Vermillion Map Company, “Poole Business Directory,”
Vermillion’s Guide to Buffalo
County Nebraska, 2001,
<http://rootsweb.com/~nebuffal/vrmguide/toc.htm> (27 July
34 The Encyclopedia of Nebraska, (St. Clair Shores, MI:
Somerset Publishers, Inc., 1999),
35 Frederick C. Luebke, Nebraska: An Illustrated History
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1995), 269.
36 Vermillion Map Company.
37 Compiled by the Clerk of the Legislature, Nebraska Blue
Book 2002-2003, p. 850.
38 Compiled by the Nebraska Legislative Council, Nebraska
Blue Book 1962,
(Lincoln: Joe Christensen, Inc, 1962),
Nebraska Legislative Council, Nebraska Blue Book 1972
(Lincoln: Joe Christensen,
Inc., 1972), 644;
Nebraska Blue Book 1940 (Lincoln,
1940), 280; Nebraska Blue Book 1972, 644.
40 Vermillion Map Company.
43 Addison E. Shelton, ed., The Nebraska Blue Book and
Historical Register 1915 (Lincoln:
State Journal Company),
44 Miller Area Heritage, 3.
45 “90,000 American Settlers Go to Canada,” The Miller Forum,
27 January 1910.
46 “90,000 American Settlers Go to Canada.”
47 “The Rush to Canada,” The Miller Forum, 21 April 1910.
48 The Encyclopedia of Nebraska, 83.
49 Luebke, 195.
50 Snell, 33.
51 The Encyclopedia of Nebraska, 85-86.
52 Compiled by the Nebraska Legislative Council, Nebraska
Blue Book 1952
(Lincoln, 1952), 358.
53 Trails & Rails archives.
54 “Nebraska’s Future.”
55 “A Way to Boost Your Town,” The Miller Forum, 3 March