Phelps Helps Newsletter Winter 1996

Phelps Helps


Vol. 5-4
Winter 1996

The Holdrege Area Genealogy Club meets at the Phelps County Historical Museum on the first Monday of the month at 2:00 PM. The public is welcome!



The Christmas season is a good time to remember all our special friends and family. A time to say thank you for all the special things each one of you do to make life special. If you are a genealogist, family extends out to all the generations that have preceded us. Their life here on earth is not forgotten and very much appreciated by those of us that research the past.

I want to personally thank all the member's in Holdrege Area Genealogy for all the things you have done to make our Genealogy Club an active successful organization. Our long distance members have worked on projects for our local area. They have donated numerous historical and genealogical data that only they would know and now can be shared with other genealogists for years to come.

Next year will be another exciting year for us. September 13, 1997, we will be hosting a "Heritage Quest Road Show Genealogy Workshop". Leland K. Meitzler will be our speaker. He is an outstanding teacher and lecturer. Be sure to mark this date on your calendar. More information will be in the coming issues of our newsletter.

Sandra Slater


We are pleased to have a new volunteer, Ardella Brand in our library. She lives in Holdrege, NE but is knowledgeable about the Oxford, Nebraska area. She is currently working our Library Shelf List.

Chris Reinke is coming in five days a week to input the Library Shelf list on the computer. Chris's work has been such a big help. A card file will created from the data imputed in the computer. We can not thank Chris enough for the hours he is putting in.

Other volunteers in the Library are Betty Rae Whitlock, Ada Hinson, Ben Boehl and Sandra Slater.


~New on Our Bookshelf~

Donated by DICK DYAS

Donated by DON LINDGREN:




Donated by RETHA DAVID:


Heritage Quest Road Show

Genealogy Workshop

September 13, 1997


We will be hosting a Heritage Quest Road Show Genealogy Workshop. Leland K. Meitzler will be our speaker. He is an outstanding teacher and lecturer. Be sure to mark this date on your calendar! More information will be in the coming issues of our newsletter.

This Issues Feature:


Our first parsonage was located on Lincoln and Seventh Avenue. Built 1886, replaced 1903.

Our former parsonage, located on West Avenue, built in 1925 Below: Our second place of worship. Dedicated, August 23, 1885. Burned, Dec. 18, 1896.


This cemetery is located on the northeast 1/4 section 31 of Divide Township just southeast of Holdrege, NE. Early newspaper accounts called this cemetery Chapel Cemetery.

The original Bethel Lutheran Church, now located at 704 West Avenue in Holdrege, NE was originally located near this cemetery.

The first sod church building was con- structed in 1879. The earliest legible markers show burials as early as 1881 and as recent as 1916. there are about 58 known graves here.

The cemetery is maintained by the Bethel Lutheran Church.

The following is from the Bethel Lutheran Church 75th Anniversary Book, 1877-1947.


In looking back upon the pioneer period, we are constrained to use the Biblical phrase: And there were giants in the earth in those days (Gen.6.4). And truly they were giants, because none but the strongest and most courageous could endure the hardships inherent in conquering the wilderness. Those who can trace their ancestors to any one of the early pioneers may well be proud.

Of those pioneers, we must make special note of one, namely Olof Hedlund. not because he was the only one - far from it, but he was certainly one of the most outstanding and was used of God for a blessing during a long life that spanned almost a century.

Olof Hedlund was born in Katrineberg congregation, Bollnas parish, Sweden, on January 13, 1827. With his bride of about a year, he arrived in American in September, 1857. The ocean voyage had consumed 65 days. The Hedlund family lived in four different communities in Illinois; Victoria, Knoxville, Altona, and Wataga, before coming to Nebraska in the spring of 1876. Mr. Hedlund was a blacksmith in Sweden and plied his trade in Illinois and in the early years in Nebraska. In later years he devoted more time to farming.

Mrs. Mary Berquist, daughter of Olof Hedlund, and still and active member of Bethel in the summer of 1947, tells some interesting incidents of those pioneer days. Her oldest brother, Peter Olaf, was quite a musician. When a lad of about 15, he was organist in the church t Altona, Illinois, when the great Patriarch of the Augustana Synod, Rev. T. N. Hasselquist, was preaching. Hasselquist was a good man and a great preachers, but evidently had the same effect upon Peter Olof as St. Paul had with young Eutychus. When he announced the post-sermon hymn, the youthful organist was discovered fast asleep!

Mr. Hedlund was Sunday-school superintendent for several years in one of the Illinois congregations and when he left, he received a large, gilt-edged Bible as a gift.

The Hedlund family came as far as Kearney on the railroad, and then drove horses hitched to a lumber wagon from there. The first night they stopped at the John Smith home. Mary was thirsty and asked for a drink. They had no water but offered her some sour milk! She preferred to wait until the men returned with water!

Before and after the organization of Bethel, Olof Hedlund was an acknowledged spiritual leader of the little flock. When on pastor was available (and that was many of the Sundays in the early years) he conducted worship and did the preaching. Those who knew him having nothing but the highest regard for the effectiveness of his preaching and for the radiant power of his sincere Christian life. He has the distinction of being the first lay-preacher in Nebraska, having been so licensed by the President of the Synod in 1877. The Kansas Conference even recommended him for ordination in 1883, but he never applied, and remained a layman. There was scarcely a church in the Kearney District where he did not preach at one time or another.

Besides his religious interests, Mr. Hedlund was a also active in community affairs. In the early day s he served as treasurer of Phelps County, and fulfilled his duties in office to his own credit and to the credit of the county. Hedlund was ever the pioneer, daring to try new things. As he approached the age of 80, he bought an 80 near Hershey, Nebraska, and tried irrigation farming. There he became a charter member, deacon, and lay preacher of the Maria Lutheran Church which was organized on April 26, 1906. he lived in Hershey about seven years, after which he spent the closing years of his life in Holdrege. He passed from this life on November 27, 1925.

The following is from the Bethel Lutheran Church 75th Anniversary Book, 1877-1947.


For the first year and a half after the organization of Bethel, the congregation met in the homes of the members. On the 11th day of March, 1879, the congregation assembled at a special session and resolved to build its first church building. It was to be of sod, 20 by 36 by 9 feet. It had three windows on either side. The roof of the building was to be of shingles and the gables of fit lumber. The building committee consisted of Frank Johnson, C.A. Hanson, and August Oberg (and perhaps one other person whose name has been lost). The building was begun in May and declared ready for use in June of the same year. The total cost is cash outlay was $200.76. It was located on a plot of ground donated by Matthias Hedlund, located in the N.W. quarter of Section 31, township 6, range 17, Phelps County.

An interesting sidelight gleaned from the records of those early days is that shingles and nails to the amount of $13.65 were sold to John Smith and he was given until September 1, to pay for the same. Another matter of interest is the report that twice in the first year the benches in the church had to be repaired! As one historian observes: Bethel must have had some real heavyweights in those days! On June 30, 1879, another special meeting was called to plaster the interior of the church.

No good picture of either the interior or exterior of this old sod church seems to be in existence; at least the writer has never been able to locate nay. The picture in this volume seems to have been originally a sketch or drawing of some kind.

While Bethelites worshipped in the sod church they also buried their loved one in the "God's Acre" which lay to the south of the church. After the church moved into town, this practice gradually ceased, and now has stopped entirely. A number of the old pioneers still rest out there, and in some cases the graves are well-marked. On the whole, the old cemetery presents a deserted and uncared-for appearance. Some better plan and better care should be devised and carried out for this sacred spot.

Our first church, the old Soddy, built during May and June, 1879.

The following is from a newspaper article found in the Phelps County Museums Library. I believe it is from an article in 1967 as the article mentions the centennial.

New Atlas Shows Phelps County Mostly Wilderness


By Jim Rippey

A (new) atlas put on sale this month includes a map of Nebraska which shows Phelps County as mostly wilderness.

Holdrege, Funk, Loomis and Bertrand aren't even shown. There is an Atlanta listed but its in Saline county southwest of Crete.

The towns that are listed in Phelps County, are Hodson, Williamsburg and Hopeville along the Platte River, and Rock Falls in the southwest corner.

All are listed as population, 25. In fact, the great majority of the towns in the state are listed as population, 25.

The atlas is called the Pioneer Atlas of the American West, a reissue of the maps originally published in the Rand McNally Business Atlas of 1876.

Courthouse Burned

At that time, Williamsburg was the county seat of Phelps. It was located just across the river south and slightly east of Overton. The courthouse there burned in 1878 and the new town of Phelps Center became the county seat.

Phelps Center, which is not on the 1876 map, was at almost the exact center of the county, six miles north and three west of Holdrege. Holdrege was not founded until 1883 and became the county seat in 1884.

Orleans and Republican City are the giants of the era, each with 150 population listed. Plum Creek, now Lexington, boasted 325 and Kearney Junction had 750 population, half again as much as Hastings, 475.

Just east of Kearney Junction is a town listed as Kearney, population 25. Just across the river south are Ft. Kearny, 25; Kearney City, 50, and Centoria, 25. Kearney Junction seems to be the one nearest the present day Kearney location.

Town of Scandinavia

Just across the line in Harlan County, south of Sacramento, was a town named Scandinavia. Other Harlan County towns shown are Grandview, Watson, Melrose, Alma, Bainbridge, Graf and Barber. They are all listed at 35 population each, except Melrose, which shows 100. It was between Alma and Orleans.

In Furnas County, Beaver City is listed at 125 population. Gosper shows only the towns of Daviesville and Judson, both 25. North of the Platte, Elm Creek boasts 50 and Overton, the standard 25.

One of the oddities of the old atlas is the listing of new post offices, location not definitely known. Fredricksburgh in Kearney County fell into the class, was listed on the roster of towns, but not shown on the map.

17-State Area

Dale L. Morgan, a contemporary authority on the West's history, and cartography, has written a 30,000 word text for the new publication, covering the 17 states and territories that comprise the 1876 West.

Here is how he opens his story on Nebraska:

The river called by Indians Nebraska, by Frenchmen Platte, and by Spaniards Chato, in all languages has meant the she same - Flat or Shallow River.

Calm and unhurried, winding its way through Nebraska in vast, sweeping curves, the river expresses much of the character of the land, and is striking in contrast to the greater river into which it flows.

The 54-page Pioneer Atlas, in giant folio size - 15 by 21 inches - is part of Rand McNallys centennial celebration this year.

The firm decided to publish the atlas after a nationwide survey revealed that only a few copies of the original Business Atlas of 1876 were available to students and historians of the Old West.

The reborn 19th century atlas shows trading posts and military forts, emigrant trails and military routes, wagon road and stage coach lines, mining camps and mineral districts.

Also, completed and projected railroads, original stations along transcontinental lines, Indian reservations and battle sites, hot springs, lava beds, big trees and volcanoes, and the pioneer towns, cities and counties.

Platte Discovered

Morgan reports that no one is known to have reached the Platte ahead of the Frenchman Etienne Veniard de Bourgmond in 1814.

The first trading posts appeared in 1795, when James Mackey of the Missouri Company erected two posts, one near the mouth of the Platte, and the other Fort Charles, near what is now Homer. Neither post survived.

Morgan reports that the flatness of much of the Platte's valley, extending nearly to the edge of the sight, has its unique place in the memory of American watering.

In 1924, he writes, American fur traders began the advance upon the Rockies which was to open up the West, and trails up the Platte and North Platte became the standard avenue of approach to the War West.

The north-bank route became known as the Mormon Trail, which the route which came up out of Kansas to strike the Platte near Fort Kearny was called the Oregon Trail. Fort Kearney itself was founded in 1848, largely to protect the trails.

Price of the new atlas (in 1967) was $25.

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