LOOKING BACK: Banner chooses a new county seat

Jerry Purvis/Star-Herald Advocate, dated Dec. 31, 1888. When Banner County was first created, Ashford was named as the temporary county seat until an election could be held.

During the early settlement of the area, it was said that a few essentials must be in place before a settlement could be considered a real town. Some of them included a bank, a church, and of course, a newspaper.

In 1888, four new counties were added to the Nebraska Panhandle in an election that broke up the sprawling Cheyenne County that had covered the southern half of the Panhandle.

Residents of one of the new counties had dreams of the railroad passing through. So they named it Banner County.

Citizens at the time said their county would become state’s “banner county” and “the brightest star in the constellation of Nebraska counties.”

An interesting side note: In 1900, Banner County had a larger population than Scotts Bluff, its neighbor to the north.

But in 1888, the new Banner County had to choose a new county seat. A number of new towns started to pop up as each one jockeyed to become the place where the county offices and courts would soon be located.

In the interim, Ashford was chosen as the temporary county seat until voters chose a permanent location.

The growth of Banner County was in part being spurred on by rumors the Burlington Railroad would extend its line west of Bridgeport through the Pumpkin Creek valley, which never happened.

Ashford, the temporary county seat, had a newspaper called the Ashford Advocate, established by J.F. Gay. It was printed at the Courier plant in Gering until the publishers could build their own.

Other towns in contention for the county seat were Banner (at the head of Pumpkin Creek), Harrisburg and Freeport.

No clear winner was determined after the first election and in the second, both Banner and Freeport were eliminated by state law.

Eventually, Ashford threw its support behind Harrisburg, which became the county seat of the new Banner County. But not before some other problems came up.

In the run-up to the county seat election, a rival town was platted next to Harrisburg, one with the name Centropolis. Charles Randall, the postmaster at Harrisburg, launched the Centropolis World newspaper, which was being printed in Harrisburg.

One morning, Harrisburg residents discovered that Randall had moved the post office and newspaper plant to Centropolis. The issue went into the local courts and before anything could be decided, Harrisburg had been named the new county seat.

Randall gave up on the fight when he moved the building back to Harrisburg. He later sold his interests in the newspaper and moved to California.

Freeport, the other contender for the Banner County seat, had its own newspaper — the Freeport Gazette. Publisher J.J. Wilson sold his interests to a new owner, A.F. Snyder, who promptly moved the newspaper to Harrisburg, where it folded.

But Snyder wasn’t finished with the publishing business. He opened another newspaper in Gering, but it was also short-lived.

As for the Ashford Advocate, it passed through several owners before moving to Harrisburg in 1891. During those changes in ownership, it merged with the Centropolis World and became the Harrisburg Early Day.

Then in 1893, the Early Day became the Banner County News, which published until 1955, when it was purchased by the Gering Courier.

Although the citizens had grand hopes, Banner County’s growth was hindered by the absence of railroads. The nearest lines were in Kimball, 11 miles to the south, and Gering, eight miles north.

Another drawback to sizeable growth was the slow development of roads in the county. In 1921, only dirt roads existed.

jpurvis@starherald.com

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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