Welcome to Hall County, in the center of it all! Formed in 1858, Hall County was either named after the territory’s first chief justice Augustus Hall, or just some guy who lived in the area at the time who subsequently moved to Colorado. Hall County is unique in that it has the highest density of tornado activity in Nebraska, with 121 tornadoes per 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2), about 4 times the state average. That sure makes me want to move there! Hall County is also the fourth most populous county in the state. Guess it’s all the tornadoes. Maybe they’re all residential construction workers? Or tornado insurance salesmen?
The area that is now Hall County was once the center of power of the Pawnee Indian Tribe. The Pawnee where the dominant force in the area from northern Kansas up into the edges of present day South Dakota. Encounters with settlers were particularly detrimental to the Pawnee because they lived in villages and practiced agriculture, making the spread of smallpox and cholera amongst them promulgate much faster. Once weakened by disease, the Sioux, the main enemy of the Pawnee, marauded throughout their territory in a war of extermination. Numbering over 25000 in 1831, by 1872 there were less than a thousand Pawnee still living.
Grand Island, the county seat of Hall County, was formed in 1866. There was initially a different settlement a few miles away, but when the Union Pacific Railroad went through, the town was moved to front the railroad tracks. Because the town was wholly owned by the railroad, it was laid out relative to the rails, not to any grid. Thus, the origins of the Five Points area. Old Grand Island was built parallel to the railroad, new Grand Island to cardinal directions.
There’s another small town in Hall County you may have heard of: Wood River. You know someone famous from Wood River? My cousin Heather. She was a hand model in college, then a police officer, now she’s a mom. Wood River is another town that moved to suit the needs of the railroad. Most railroad towns are about 16 miles apart. I always wondered about this, but it turns out that’s about how far the average steam locomotive could go before it needed water. Towns off the railroad are usually 12 miles apart, because that’s about how far a wagon team could travel in a day. Towns further west are approximately 35 miles apart, because that’s how far a man on a horse could travel in a day. Yeah, yeah, some college coach is from there too....
Another interesting fact about railroad towns: Burlington Railroad usually named them in alphabetical order so the engineers knew where they were. Hence the naming of the towns Crete, Dorchester, Exeter, Fairmont, Grafton, Harvard, Inland, Juniata and Kenesaw.
The communities of Abbott, Alda, Cairo, Doniphan, Hansen and Shelton are also in the county. Doniphan used to be the home of great dirt track racing, but unfortunately the racetrack has closed. Cairo is the home of Baasch and Sons, the best place in the world to get cattle panels. I hauled a set of panels all the way from Cairo to North Carolina to build my wife’s round pen, and every single person that’s ever seen it, has had envy in their heart.
To-Do’s in Hall County
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer: Come see the history of settlers and the railroad!
The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center: People come from all over the world to experience the migration of the sandhill crane.
Fonner Park: Wear funny hats and throw betting slips in the air while horses run in a circle!
The Diamond: The spot where the Burlington Northern and Union Pacific Railroads cross each other. Over 140 trains run through this intersection per day. Train watching galore!
The Nebraska State Fair: It starts today! Kelly Clarkson headlines!
The Harvest of Harmony Parade: I love marching bands. Who doesn’t? The commies, that’s who!
Who’s Who in Hall
Leonard T. Fleischer invented the ridge-till planting system, and was the major force behind the start of Husker Harvest Days.
Joe Feeney was an Irish tenor who sang on the Lawrence Welk show, and performed for 5 Presidents and the Pope.
Sharon Ritchie grew up in Grand Island; she was Miss America in 1956.
Robert Evans designed the S/360 IBM computer system, the first mainframe computer system where different models all used the same code, allowing them to be upgraded after purchase.
Thomas Mangelsen is an award-winning nature photographer who documented many migrations of the whooping crane.
Simeon Wolbach discovered and proved the method of transmission of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Typhus.
Henry Fonda. He’s been in a couple of good movies.
George Baird earned a gold medal in the 4x400 relay during the 1928 Olympics.
Edith Abbot was a social reformer who founded the magazine Social Service Review.
Grace Abbot was also a social reformer who worked to improve infant mortality rates worldwide.
Who Was Great in #8?
Ameer Abdullah was, that’s who!
Tyrone Williams, all Big-8 defensive back on the 94-95 teams.
Stanley Morgan Jr. - he’s a wide receiver. He’s decent, you might hear his name a couple times this season.
Tre Neal - grad transfer defensive back from UCF. Hopefully you hear his name a bunch this season too.
Jesse Wilkening - center fielder on men’s baseball team.
Brooke Smith - senior setter on DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPION volleyball team.
Dakota Chan - freshman middlefielder for soccer team
Have any good Husker Harvest Days stories? Some fond memories of an old hit ‘n miss puttering by some seed corn hybrid exhibit? Still mad the State Fair isn’t in Lincoln? Tell us about it in the comments!