could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers


Today is:

Boom to Bust: Prosperity and Decline of Buffalo County Nebraska Towns

Heather Stauffer
Dr. Mark Ellis, History Department
University of Nebraska Kearney

August 2004

Boom to Bust: Prosperity and Decline of Dying Buffalo County Nebraska Towns

“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?”(2)  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 highways. 

Note: Sodtown was no longer appearing on maps by this time, but was located

southeast of Poole



   -- Image 2:  Recent map of Buffalo County


Believing 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)

Across 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)

The 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)

The 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 Valley.”(16)

Miller 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 The Miller 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 rapid growth.”(26)

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 decline.

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 late 1800s.

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 building.(39)

According to 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 1970 censuses.

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 as well.

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 Cemetery

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 on.


“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 1890.

“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 Achievement. 1916.

“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, Nebraska, 1967.

“Local News.” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.

Luebke, Frederick C. Nebraska: An Illustrated History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

“Miller.” 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. Lincoln, 1940.

Nebraska Legislative Council. Nebraska Blue Book 1952. Lincoln, 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.

“Nebraska’s Future.” Armada Watchman, 10 July 1890.

“The Position.” 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. 609.

Snell, Winona Duncan. Poole: The Beginning, the End, and Beyond. 2003.

Urwiller, Irvin, and Alice Howell. “Sodtown, the Community that Would Not Die.” Buffalo Tales, 26 January 2004, <> (30 May 2004).

Vermillion Map Company, “Poole Business Directory.” Vermillion’s Guide to Buffalo County Nebraska. 2001. <> (27 July 2004).



1  “Nebraska’s Future,” Armada Watchman, 10 July 1890

2 “Miller and Vicinity: Brief Items of Interest About Our People and Their Visitors,”

        The Miller Forum, 20 July 1911.

3  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 (Summer 1986): 46; Urwiller & Howell.
4 Urwiller & Howell; Fort Kearney Genealogical Society, 46-47.
5 Samuel Clay Bassett, Buffalo County Nebraska and Its People: A Record of Settlement,

        Organization, Progress and Achievement (1916), 287.
6 Ibid, 287.

7 Miller 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.

11 Miller 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.

15 “Local News,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
16 “Miller.”
17 Miller Area Heritage, 5.
18 “A Town Lot Given For A Prize,” The Armada Watchman, 10 July 1890.
19 “The Miller Depot,” The Miller Union, 17 July 1890.
20 Bassett, 287; From Trails & Rails, Buffalo County Archives; “Miller.”
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.”
26 “Miller.”
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, 49.
32 Ibid., 49.
33 Vermillion Map Company, “Poole Business Directory,” Vermillion’s Guide to Buffalo

         County Nebraska, 2001,

        <> (27 July 2004).
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 Legislative Council, Nebraska Blue Book 1940 (Lincoln, 1940), 280;              Nebraska Blue Book 1972, 644.
39 Frisbie.
40 Vermillion Map Company.
41 Frisbie
42 Ibid.
43 Addison E. Shelton, ed., The Nebraska Blue Book and Historical Register 1915 (Lincoln:

         State Journal Company), 609.
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 1910.


This is our cat looking for stories

Our Cat Smoky looking for files.

Copyright ©   All rights reserved


You may use content from this web site for your personal, not-for-profit purposes.  Please contact the Buffalo County Historical Society at <> for permission to use the Buffalo Tales


 Search Our Site

Please Send Mardi Anderson your Comments/Feedback

Revised: 05/15/2011