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History of Paxton


 
                                              Alkali to Paxton 
                                                                                   By: Tomas England

   Like many of the communities of Keith County, Paxton had its beginnings with the opening of the first Transcontinental Railroad. The local ranching and farming throughout the county has played an important part in the development of the town.
    Paxton began as a siding complete with a telegraph station, water tower and a small depot with living quarters. Long before it developed into the community it is today, the siding was named Alkali after the soil content found in the area.
 


                                             Paxton Depot

     Prior to the siding, Fort Alkali had been established as a small fortress to protect settlers along the Oregon Trail and later railroad workers. The post was located on the south side of the river and a few miles to the west. Another post called Elkhorn was established directly south of the present town.
     One of the first residents of the station was eighteen-year-old Edwin Searle Sr., who was hired as the telegraph operator at the siding in 1867. Searle temporarily lived in a tent south of the tracks until a 4-foot by 6 foot by 7-foot shack was built with a hinged shelf for a bed. Not long after, Searle married and a baby boy was born to him and his bride in 1873.  This baby, Edwin Searle Jr. would be the first white child born in Keith County.
    As the 1870's began, the area around Alkali (Paxton) developed slowly. But by the 1880's, settlers began moving the area as land was sold. As the buffalo herds were exterminated from the surrounding grassland, ranching became a feasible and profitable business for many men, including William Paxton, John Bratt and Morrell Case Keith.
    In fact, the newly established Keith County was named in honor of Keith in 1873. Paxton, a rancher from Omaha, began to operate much of the land in the area. The small siding would one day adopt his name.
     Many of the small buildings that began to be built around the tracks were painted red with a paint mixed with sand as a fire retardant.

 By 1884, settlers began flocking to the area around Alkali. Ann LeDioyt, a widow from Illinois, filed the earliest homestead claim in 1884. She arrived with five children in a covered wagon. She soon organized what is thought to be the earliest school in Keith County.
     The Lawlers, another pioneer family, arrived that same year in 1884 to stake a claim. Dave Lawler and his wife had twenty-two head of cattle in the area soon after arriving. The abundant rainfall during the 1880's brought settlers, convinced that this was prime farming ground.
The village grew to consist of a depot, water tower(supposedly used as an Indian lookout) post office and section house by 1885.
     Alkali was incorporated and the name was changed to Paxton in 1885, in honor of William Paxton, the largest ranch operator in the area.
     On December 25, 1885 two bridges were approved for construction. One would be across the South Platte in Ogallala, and the other in Alkali. Beginning in 1886, the two bridges were constructed. They proved useful roadways as the first homesteads began developing in the young community.
    The village continued to grow. Churches began forming, including the Methodist in 1886, Catholic in 1887, Baptist in 1891, and Lutheran in 1902.


   
                                     Interior of the  Paxton Methodist Church at Christmas 

      Michael and Jane Murrin arrived to homestead and soon opened a boarding house along the railroad called the Globe Hotel. In 1888, Fred Pease opened the first livery stable and operated a ferry across the river.
    In 1895, Paxton consisted of a dozen houses, a general store, drug store, post office, water tower, depot, section house, The Globe Hotel, and one bank, Bank of Paxton.
    The 1890's saw a major recession across much of the area, and a drought caused financial loss to many farming homesteaders. Banks across Keith County began closing their doors. The Bank of Paxton eventually closed  but held on being the last bank in the county to finally close.
    The village cemetery was also established in 1895.
    As the community of Paxton entered into the 20th century, it flourished in the times. In 1897, a petition of 396 signatures was collected designating and dividing Keith County. This new county was named Perkins County with Grant as county seat.
   Many people in the area followed suit and began collecting signatures to create another county; aptly called Paxton County.The petition collected about 86 signatures, which was not enough to pass. Paxton would remain a part of Keith County.

 By the mid 1900's, the first transcontinental highway, the Lincoln Highway, chose Paxton as one of the communities that it would  pass through across Nebraska. This was an exciting time for residents.
     Businesses boomed and many social organizations began to form within the community.  Five students received diplomas in 1918. Another larger school was soon needed in the community.
     The most substantial change came with the municipal light plant and water system. Unfortunately, the light plant shut off at 10 p.m. This was an inconvenience for residents of Paxton who wished to extend the day.
    By 1920, a continuous source of power was developed and residents began to take advantage of later evenings. As the 1920's ended, the stock market crash devastated Paxton's economy and about half of its sixty businesses closed. Times were harsh in the area as drought decayed the once fertile farm ground.
    The development of the supplemental water sources and the construction of Kingsley Dam in the 1930's created a boost in the economy.  Nebraska Public Power soon began operating as the second largest employer in the community.
    As prohibition ended in 1933, one of Paxton's most famous business opened its doors on August 9, at 12:01 a.m. Ole's Tavern was in business and would continue to offer a place of entertainment for many decades.
      Today the community of Paxton stands at a population of about 500 people.

Sources: "History of Paxton" by Fae Christensen
"History of Paxton Keith County News"

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