Today, it has a few businesses that are keeping its heart beating such as a dog groomer, Thompson Seed Potato Inc., and Simplot Growers.
HISTORY by Kenneth Von Bargen
Berea, Nebaska, once a small unincorporated Box Butte county village having only 23 residents in 1950, is located between Alliance and Hemingford on Nebraska Highway 2. The earliest reference I have found is 1890, when the printing equipment from a Hemingford newspaper was transferred to Berea. Only twelve issues of the Berea Tribune were printed. In 1899, the train of the famous courthouse move from Hemingford to Alliance stopped overnight. Travel of the train was slowed because several railway cuts had to be widened for the courthouse (44 x 45 feet) to clear the roadside.
A depot was once maintained by the Chicago, Burling and Quincy, (CB&Q) railroad. At one time, trains probably stopped for passengers, but by the 1930’s it was only a point for mail collection and drop-off. As the mail car passed the depot, a bag of mail was tossed out on the ground. A special rack alongside the track held the pick-up bag. As the train passed, a hook grabbed this bag and pulled it into the mail car. The dropped mail bag was taken to the Nelson store where there were post office boxes. The depot was demolished years ago.
The main feature of Berea was the Spic and Span country store operated by Henry Nelson, but most people just called it Nelson’s Store. It was a typical country store with groceries and all kinds of merchandise, and farm families traded eggs for groceries. With many changes, among them better cars and improved roads, the farm families began driving a few more miles to Alliance or Hemingford for shopping.
The original Berea school building burned, and a new school was constructed in 1922. It was a two story building with brick veneer. The story goes that a mild earthquake in Western Nebraska caused a crack in the east brick wall. In 1923, two years of high school were added. In 1961, District 10 consolidated with Berea, District 12, and the two-year high school was dropped. A new one-story school house was built on the same school grounds at the time of the merger. Later the old building was demolished.
A community church was established in Berea in the 1920’s. For many years the building was not used; but a few years later a group began to hold services there.
In 1923, a grain elevator was constructed east of the railroad and highway by the Deaver family. Now it was possible for area farmers to half their grain to Berea and save the long trip to either Alliance or Hemingford. The Deavers also operated a bulk-fuel delivery business. In the early 1960’s, the elevator was a pick-up point for safflower seed for growers. This elevator remains in 2004, but it is now only a secondary elevator and is no longer owned by the Deavers. On the CB&Q rail siding by the elevator, produce railroad were dropped off for growers to ship their potatoes.
Modern agri-business came to Berea because it is centrally located in Box Butte County. A large Simplot fertilizer dealership, a potato storage facility owned by Thompson Farms and a bulk-fuel delivery business are situated east of the railroad.
A significant change occurred when U.S. Highway 385 was rerouted to pass just to the east of Berea. Immediately to the south, an overpass was constructed over Hwy 2 and the railroad tracks. Because about fifty coal trains, each over 100 cars long, pass by daily, a non-stop crossing became a necessity for Hwy 385. Fill material for constructing the east ramp of the overpass came from Hashman Farm. With the new highway, the old main railroad and highway crossing just north of the elevator was closed. It was a dangerous crossing.
Berea was a busy rural village prior to the 1930’s. Now very few people live there. It would be a ghost town if it were not for the several rural businesses.
*4-15-04 written by Ken Von Bargen
*History from Knight Museum & Sandhills Center