History of Wauneta

 

          Wauneta: Named after a song called "Juanita," but since there already was a town within the state of Nebraska named that, the spelling was modified.

 

hist1.jpg (16714 bytes)WAUNETA -- CHASE COUNTY

Wauneta, a small town of some 700 residents, is located in southeast Chase County, sprawling on both sides of the Frenchman River where it curves from west to south.

On the west bank of the river, near a little waterfall, Wauneta's first settlers, George Rowley and his wife, built the first dwelling in 1875. It was a spacious seven-room soddie, with three bedrooms and board floors, and was the birthplace of Chase County's first white child, Earl Champion Rowley. Tragedy was to come to this family some time later when George was killed by marauding Cheyenne Indians when returning home from Ogallala with supplies.

An old-fashioned square piano was a cherished possession of Mrs. Rowley. Visitors to the Rowley home were treated to piano music and songs she sang for trappers, cow-boys, and other settlers in this lonely out-post.

hist2.jpg (17526 bytes)A frequent request was for the Spanish love song "Juanita." When the town site was surveyed in 1887, the post office given the name Juanita, spelled "Wauneta," to distinguish it from the Nebraska town of Juniata in Adams County.

This small settlement, with a grist mill, hotel, livery stable and general store, quickly grew into a bustling, frontier town -- a "melting pot" of English, French, Irish, Czech, German and Spanish business people whose descendants still live here. Wauneta's only black resident was a Civil War veteran, a barber by profession.

hist3.jpg (16548 bytes)The first term of high school in 1887 was held in a building that also doubled as a church. There were three graduates that first year. The present brick school was built in 1953 after years of "making do" with inadequate space. It is a fully accredited K-12 school and serves an area covering 253 square miles.

The first and only newspaper, "The Wauneta Breeze," was founded by John Hann in 1887, and has had seven other publishers in its 100 years of continuous publication.

The Burlington Railroad reached Wauneta in 1892.

Two devastating floods ravaged Wauneta. The first, in 1940, caused $200,000 damage in the business and residential districts. The second in 1956 was much less destructive due to better flood control. Both were results of cloudbursts on the Frenchman River. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but the beautiful falls, so much a part of the town's history, were destroyed by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1951 as a part of the flood control dam near Enders.

Wauneta has five well-attended churches, a large nursing home, an excellent swimming pool, and a beautiful park with many recreational facilities. The Masonic and Oddfellows Lodges, American Legion, Commercial Club, church organizations and the various social clubs keep the citizens busy.

hist4.jpg (17585 bytes)Huge grain elevators cluster near the railroad tracks, for the area around the town is productive as well as beautiful. Thousands of acres of wheatland pour a golden flood of grain into these towers each year. Giant pivot irrigation systems give fields the "tall-corn" harvests of eastern states and the rolling pasturelands of the Frenchman Valley graze immense herds of cattle.

Waunetans live in attractive, well-kept homes on tree-lined, paved streets. Its people are, for the most part, hard-working and law abiding.

Since it is an agricultural community, the depressed farm prices of the past few years have taken their toll. Several empty buildings now sit forlornly on Main Street, and there are fewer shoppers and theater-goers on Saturday nights. Since the town has no factories or industries, its young people tend to seek greener pastures, and a large part of the present population are retirees.

But the old-timers say, "Wauneta will survive, and good times will come again. They always have!"

by Gladys Hummel, Local, Wauneta 69045

 

Wauneta Timeline

June 19, 1877

Post office at ranch house with Lyman Rowley as postmaster.

October 19, 1882

Post office discontinued and mail sent to Estell as postmaster

August 27, 1886

Post office re-established with Charles A. Fisher as postmaster.

Summer of 1886

Town beginning to form.  As early as 1886, Wauneta had a general store,

McNaul & Wisner Store

June 17, 1886

First issue of the Wauneta Breeze printed.

August 16-17, 1887

W.S. (Deak) Fisher, who owned the land on which Wauneta was built, had the site surveyed

and platted into 18 blocks.  Anselmo B. Smith surveyed the plat.   For development purposes,

some of the lots were transferred to Lincoln Land Co.

Year of 1887

First flour mill (100 barrel roller) was built by Mr. Blair and D.E. Polly.  It was located on the

east side of the falls and was water-powered.

January 28, 1892

The railroad came through town.

Year of 1892

Wauneta housed 2 banks, 3 general stores, 2 lumber yards, 2 hardware stores, 2 hotels,

1 restaurant, 1 drug store, 1 blacksmith and wagon shop, 2 agricultural implement dealers,

1 newspaper office, 1 livery & feed stable, 2 barber shops, 1 millinery store (makes/sells hats),

1 meat market, 1 doctor, 1 attorney, 1 grain elevator, 1 public school, and 1 church.

Year of 1905

Flour mill destroyed by fire

Year of 1907

Flour mill rebuilt for operation.