I would like to record that Mom and Dad sat us oldest four down and said something like, “We’ve had a tough time this past year and there isn’t much money. In order to keep the farm, we’re moving into town for a while. It’ll be hard, but kind of fun, don’t you think?”
Since they didn’t really tell us what was going on, I doubt they gave us much preparation. An adage practiced at that time, in my life anyway, was that children were supposed to be seen but not heard. I took that to mean that we weren’t worth talking to. But we watched, we listened, and we moved off the farm.
In the spring of my fourth grade, Mom and Dad went to work as managers of the Hilltop Café in Neligh to help pay the mortgage as a result of failed crops. The cafe sat just off Highway 275, north of Antelope Memorial Hospital. It was a terrific time for eating—no more farm eggs, chicken, ham, butter, and steak. We feasted on cheeseburgers, fries, and malts most every night. I have no memories of visiting the farm while we lived in town.
I’m sure Dad worked the fields as well, I cannot imagine the land laying fallow, but I have no one to verify what happened on the farm while we lived in town.
We settled into a two-story red brick house (painted whitish gray later) with a garage/carriage house at the end of the drive on 8th Street between Main and “N.” It may have first belonged to a miller, a bricklayer from one of the brick factories, or even to a teacher at Gates Academy. I entertained a mystery surrounding the house and garage with a loft above. I daydreamed about the young girls who had dwelled with their families there long before. Were their fathers Neligh founders?
Neligh is unique from the standpoint that no other city in the United States shares its name. The town rests in the scenic Elkhorn valley. John Neligh is the town’s namesake and the founder of Neligh Mills. Since 1970 the Neligh Mills has been a State Historical Site, the only nineteenth-century mill in the state with its original equipment. The restored Mill Bridge nearby clicks the imagination back to horse-drawn carriages as cars now clunk over the wide boards.
I didn’t appreciate that bridge as a child and teen. The swinging bridge over the Elkhorn River in Riverside Park held the greatest appeal to me. I was thrilled and fearful at the same time as I swayed across to the other side of the river. Unfortunately, a flood in June, 2010 wiped out the bridge.
Lore assumes that before white settlers staked their claims, Elkhorn valley travelers reported two Indian tribes living where Neligh exists now. One tribe lived south of the depot and the other in Riverside Park. An Indian maiden from one tribe was promised to a warrior from the other tribe when the maiden ran off with a French trapper. The tribes joined forces to get her back and ended up becoming one tribe which relocated. These historical tidbits came alive as my world expanded.
I’ll tell about my favorite part of town living next time.