In about 1884 a surveying crew, riding on horseback, followed the Middle Loup River to lay out boundaries for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad right-of-way. Among the crew was a young man from Lincoln named Halsey Yates. The rails were laid in early 1887, and the station was named “Halsey.” Some early settlers found work with this crew, as the ready cash helped them stay on their homesteads.
A depot was built right on the county line — half in Blaine and half in Thomas County. L.P. Cowell was the agent assigned to this station. A post office, built of sod, was established just to the east of the county line, technically, putting the town in Blaine County. The first postmaster, appointed November 30, 1887, was Richard Emry. The sod school built about that time was also used for church whenever Reverend Lamb, a circuit rider, arrived to preach.
The first general store, built by J.C. Roberts, was located on the west side of Main Street in Thomas County, about a block north of the depot. Several other buildings were built along both sides of Main Street, including a blacksmith shop, saloon, and the “Shady Nook” Hotel.
In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt established the Nebraska National Forest, with headquarters and nursery located a few miles west of Halsey.
Late in 1904 the depot burned. This event brought about a change in the configuration of Halsey, as the new depot was constructed approximately 200 yards to the west, putting it in Thomas County. In a burst of new energy, the town site was then re-surveyed, platted to the west, and a new deed of dedication filed in late 1908. Many new buildings were added to the town. The stores and businesses were both north and south of the highway.
A two-story schoolhouse was built in 1911, burned in 1930, and another larger frame school was built. That building burned to the ground during a blizzard six years later. In 1937 a block schoolhouse was built, and it is still standing today.
In the early days, in addition to church and school activities, there was baseball, fishing, ladies clubs, pie socials, box suppers, and dances. Almost every Saturday night someone would hold a barn dance. (It is said that some folks would dance all night, getting home just in time to do the morning chores.) Occasionally a one-ring circus would come to town with its ponies, monkeys, a shaggy camel, and maybe an elephant or two.
The hotel was a gathering place for young people, as it had a player piano, which was a drawing card. Ranchers from the north country, who hauled their hogs or drove their cattle to town to be shipped to market, or came in for supplies, would always spend the night at the hotel.
The story is told that when a newly-wed couple, spending their honeymoon at the hotel, heard a “shivaree group” coming down the street, (hoping to parade them around the town), they went up to the attic where they spent the night, and escaped the frivolity usually perpetrated on such occasions. Some years later, the lower level of the hotel was cut off and the top story was lowered, which is now the Double “T” Steakhouse and Lounge.
The community has had its bouts with prairie fires, generally started by trains or lightning. They still are a constant threat, especially during the dry season. Blizzards raging through the area have also been disastrous, during which hundreds of livestock have frozen to death and suffocated.
Today, Halsey has a nice community building that is used by many clubs and organizations, a church, school and post office.
The Nebraska National Forest has been a great asset to Halsey, as many citizens have worked there at one time or another. The rise in tourism that has developed has given a much-appreciated stabilizing influence to the town’s economy.
By Pat Keeney