GHOST TOWNS OF LANCASTER COUNTY
Are there any ghost towns left in Lancaster County? Depending on what definition is used for "ghost town" it can be said both yes or no. While people travel throughout the Rocky Mountains and western deserts they see many locations which would meet all definitions of "ghost town". As for Nebraska there would be many more towns that could have been called "ghost towns" over the years, but evidence of those locations has completely disappeared with the need for more land to farm and the march of time. As for Lancaster County there are many towns that were planned on paper or even surveyed which never came to be. There are also towns that were never more than a building used as a post office or a train station at their peak. There are many towns whose names are known, but nothing else is remembered of them. The county has only a few possible ghost towns where evidence of their existence can still be seen and there is a real history connected to them. The only real "ghost" of these towns is the spirit of those who once lived in these towns of the past. As with most prairie towns the main reason for their demise is the railroads, automobile, and nature.
In the 1880’s Lancaster County had around 70 towns of all sizes. That was a town for almost every ten square miles of the county. Many of the early settlements quickly disappeared when they were not located near a railroad. Later many of the towns created by the railroads lost their importance with the coming of the automobile and the ability to travel farther in a shorter period of time. The fact that many towns were located near creeks, the potential site of regular flooding also brought on their demise. The following are a few short stories of possible "ghost towns" that are part of Lancaster County’s history and one that survived into modern time.
Some of Lancaster County’s first white settlers made their home near two of these towns of the past. In 1856 the Prey family settled along the Salt Creek, a couple miles east of the future CENTERVILLE and about the same distance south of SALTILLO. Both possible ghost towns were located south of what is now the city of Lincoln. The area, which actually was part of the old Clay County, would soon be one of the most populous areas in Lancaster County.
Soon after the government surveyors laid out the lines to divide up Lancaster County and its townships in early 1860’s the town of CENTERVILLE appeared. It was located in the center of the township which took the same name. An Indian trail going north and south crossed the location. The area had fertile soil, many springs for water, and was close to the Salt Creek with its timber. The well- traveled Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cut-Off was a few miles to the north. In 1866 the town received the fifth earliest post office in the county. George Crozier was named the first postmaster. By 1869 the farmers of mostly German descent had a church, school, trading post, and cemetery at or near the "Centerville Corner" which is now Nebraska 33 and SW 14
th Street. The early post offices and schools seemed to rotate between the Irishman Crozier and a German named Henry Spellman. It is possible that each ethnic group had their own school. The most recent school was built in 1901. The first documented building at Centerville was the German Methodist Church built in 1869. The post office never had its own building. Centerville’s status as the "center" of activity in the late 1800’s ended with the laying of two railroads. To the southeast the Missouri Pacific Railroad was built in 1888 and to northwest the Rock Island in 1893. The current communities of Sprague and Martell quickly sprang up and overtook the earlier town of Centerville nearby. Sprague received most of Centerville’s population and its post office in 1888. The Centerville School, which people thought looked like a church, closed in 1956 and was torn down in 2007. Its church was torn down soon after it was closed in 1928. Into the 1990’s the Centerville Station served as a gas station, store, restaurant, bar, and a tackle shop. As Lancaster County’s best example of a "ghost town", the closed gas station, the church parsonage, and a cattle barn still stand. The town of Centerville may be gone, but many of the people who once lived there and moved away chose to be buried in the Centerville Cemetery.
Located where the corners of the townships of Grant, Yankee Hill, Centerville, and Saltillo meet one of Lancaster County’s old towns, SALTILLO, began. With the settlement of the area in the late 1850’s a
settlement called Olathe was planned. In 1862 a local settler, John Cadman, built a "ranche" at one of the few crossing of the Salt Creek for the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cut-Off. The name Saltillo began to be used. By 1865 it received Lancaster County’s fourth post office. There was also a stage coach line using the crossing. Cadman’s Saltillo Station was the business center of the area. Traffic on the trail dropped considerably with the building of the transcontinental railroad in 1865. The Atchison & Nebraska and the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroads went close by Saltillo in 1872 and 1883. At its peak Saltillo had a post office, general store, two saloons, hotel, school house, doctor’s office, grain elevator, and a train depot. Its population reached a high of around 50 with 35 farmers listed as living nearby. There was a plat for the town showing a half a dozen streets filed. Being in the middle of the Salt Creek flood plain the area had frequent floods and the town seemed to change location as the Salt Creek changed its route. After the 1900’s the town began to disappear because of flooding and nearness to the city of Lincoln. In 1906 the post office was closed. When the grain elevator was finally torn down in 1953 the last of Saltillo was gone. There is cemetery, but at a different location. Over the years many businesses have come and gone in the area. Recently there was "The Acreage" which sold crafts and farm produce. In the late 1990’s the area was being used for Halloween hayrack rides. Another smaller settlement to the west, JAMAICA, was a station on the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad. It has been replaced by many current businesses along Highway 77. The only evidence left of Saltillo is Nebraska City-Fort Kearny Cut-Off crossing of the Salt Creek just north of Saltillo Road. The area along the Salt Creek is still treeless from all the trail traffic after over one-hundred fifty years. The name Jamaica has been assigned to a bicycle/hiking trail on the abandoned railroad track that had a station called Jamaica.
Since 2003 there has been a marker in Area 6 of Branched Oak Lake in the West Oak Township in northwest Lancaster County. It marks the spot where the small town of CROUNSE once stood. After having school in a house for three years it built its first school in 1873. The same year it received a post office. In 1887 a Methodist Church was built. The town also had a general store and a creamery. The post office was discontinued in 1901 and the school closed in 1962. In 1966 everyone living in the town of less than one hundred people had to leave their home to make way for the building of Branched Oak Lake. The lake built to keep the city of Lincoln from flooding was built over 18 months in 1967 and 1968. Now located in the town of Malcolm to the south we can find some of the buildings which once were at Crounse, including the old church parsonage. This may not be a true "ghost town", but to the many people who lived there it may seem that way.
Are there other possible ghost towns in Lancaster County? Pella, Highland and Oak Creek have their cemeteries. Berk still has a train interchange and a few homes. Several other communities have become very small.
John Belz 2012