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Culture means many things. It is the rootstuff in which our lives are imbedded. It is the habits, the mores, the customs and language, the attitudes and the folk-ways of a people. Anything which establishes those habits or conditions the attitudes, is a cultural influence. Traveling minstrels, were such an influence in Medieval Europe. Television is one in twentieth century America.

But, like everything else which concerns the great mass of people, culture takes its cue from the majority of those who live in a country, a province or vicinity --- even a sect. In Platte County, we have a culture that is the amalgamation of many lands, many peoples, and a great many original ways-of-life. It has taken many years for this to solidify into the society which we accept as typically American middle west. As one historian has said, "The roots of the present lie deep in the past." Now we will see just how deep.

Like California and the great Southwest, the Middle West in the Platte Valley was originally inhabited by what later became a minority group. The Pawnee Indians, supreme in their tribal pomp and the conquest of their lands, were not unlike the early Mexican dons with their vast rolling ranchos and unchallenged right of domain. Both went down in an expansion move that reached to the tag-ends of the continent and emphasized speed and efficiency over ritual or graciousness. But both left their mark on the new world.

The culture of Platte County had its roots in the early Indian villages and was nurtured in the rich jargon of traders, missionaries, soldiers, buffalo hunters, railroad builders, speculators, cow punchers, and squatters, who were the first to grow into a majority class. And although the early settler was far removed from art galleries or concert halls, he evolved his own medium of expression out of the wilderness. First, he sought a location for his new home. After this was built, he fashioned implements and other objects which were both individual and functional.

He sang as he worked and his songs were the ballads of soil and weather, danger and drought.

Later, as the region grew up, the settler found himself with neighbors --- frequently people from a foreign land who spoke a strange tongue and dressed in a different way. His own customs, inherited from his background, together with those of his neighbors, were welded together there on the plains in a joint culture for the common good.

As Edgar Howard wrote in his famous editorial, Why Did They Organize: "They did not organize for the purpose of harming somebody, but for the purpose of protecting themselves from the ravage of wolves with four feet and wolves with two feet."

Only the bold and hardy survived the early days in Nebraska. The timid, the weak and contented, remained at home. But the immigration of new life-blood was constant. In the 1860's a group of thirty-five German-Americans, fleeing as a result of the 1848 political upheavals which had struck all central Europe, made their way from Schleswig-Holstein to America, traversed the country to Davenport, Iowa, then to where they crossed the Missouri River at Omaha to reach Columbus, a settlement of eighteen cabins, and continued on as far as the Wood River.

That was in the 1860's. In the early 1870's Platte County counted its citizenry by the nationality settlements which dotted it. The Swiss moved in around Duncan and southwest of Columbus; the Scandinavians possessed the upper Looking Glass; the Irish claimed Shell Creek, near Platte Center, while the Germans were in the lower Shell Creek Valley; and the Poles settled around Tarnov, near Duncan in Butler Township, and along the banks of the Loup.

Soon the church socials and the singing societies sprang up, for this was the golden age of the frontier theatre when settlers and Indians, alike, joined in the pageant of a restless, driving people who turned to one another for recreation and entertainment, rather than to the mechan-


ized products of later, more stereotyped, imaginations.

One of the earliest community rituals in Columbus, revealing a pride in home and love of beauty, was the custom of tree planting as established on the first Arbor Day, in 1872. Herman Kersenbrock, son of an early Columbus citizen, described this practice as it had been explained to him by Chris Gisen, one of the first coopers at the Columbus Brewery (a cooper was a skilled woodworker who built the oak kegs and hogsheads used in lagering of beer).

Three of the groves in and around Columbus were planted previous to the establishment of Arbor Day and were known, as the Kummer, Higgins, and Stauffer groves. All bordered what is now Twelfth Avenue between Sixth and Eighth Streets. They were planted on the same day.

Platte County offered bonuses to those who planted the most trees by a designated day. The Kummer Grove consisted of four square blocks, twenty-four rows deep on all four sides of the four-square blocks in the tract. Later known as the Kopetsky Grove, it was located between Eighth and Sixth Streets on Twelfth Avenue, and consisted of several thousand ash, elm, cottonwood and black walnut trees. It was planted by Vincent Kummer, one of the original founders of Columbus.

The father of Andrew Higgins, Judge J. G. Higgins, planted the second grove, with fruit trees bordered by forest trees, consisting of two square blocks between Fourth and Sixth Streets; and Stauffer's Grove was the result of the effort of the former Platte County treasurer, John Stauffer. It consisted of three square blocks of forest and orchard trees.,

Trees at either side of the Lover's Lane Road were planted at the same time. This avenue of trees that stretched southeast of Columbus has gradually disappeared. Today, we find only a trace of these groves.

It was 1878 before the people of Columbus paused long enough in their daily occupation of history-making to gain some perspective on the record of the years. A public meeting then was held at the Presbyterian Church for the purpose of, organizing a Library Association. Payment of one dollar entitled members to borrow books from the reading rooms and "have a voice in the association."


Columbus Library

The early group, however, led a precarious existence, dependent upon donations from private collections, until 1900, when the Woman's Club pressured the City Council into creating the Columbus Public Library.

The first Columbus library was housed in the City Hall, located on the second floor of the Gray Building, at the southwest corner of Thirteenth and North Streets. There William Becker, the first city librarian, combined the library duties with his official work of city clerk.

Mrs. M. Brugger, a life-long sponsor and patron of the library, with others on the board, guided it through forty-five years of cultural advancement. From its early days of grudging support when a bill for one hundred dollars for new books "brought forth wrath and indignation of some of the city's prominent citizens," the library has progressed to its present record of over twenty-five thousand books and periodicals. Approximately five hundred volumes are added annually.

In 1915, the donation of a lot by Betty Weaver Gerrard, as a memorial to her husband, Leander Gerrard, and the grant of thirteen thousand dollars from the Carnegie Library Foundation, enabled the city to erect its present public library building. For several years, each semester, one member of the library science class at Kramer High School has been selected to act as assistant to the city librarian.

Many Columbus people are interested in painting, and in the early 1920's, St. Francis Academy had a department of that branch of art under the Venerable Sister M. Rufina. Among the local artists are: Mary Abts Dodendorf, Miss Clara Reeder and Godfried J. Schiltz. Another artist who formerly lived in Platte County was Alma Gertsch, who later

The History of Platte County Nebraska


The Old Opera House

moved to California, where she gave individual exhibitions of her work.

A mural depicting the early history of Columbus covers the north wall in the Director's room of the Loup River Public Power District Building. It was Harold Kramer's interest in early local history that inspired the idea behind the mural -- the idea of linking the past with the most modern building in the city. The mural was painted by Terence Duren, an artist of international fame, who comes from the neighboring town of Shelby, Nebraska.

It was in the elegant 1880's that incorporation papers were filed in the County Clerk's office for the Columbus Opera House Company.

Earlier the Columbus Music Hall Association had been organized by W. H. Hunneman, C. A. Speice, J. E. North, Israel Gluck, Vincent Kummer, Rosa Kummer, Michael Schram, F. Brodfeuhrer, Charles Schroeder, E. W. Toncray, A. N. Briggs, Alfred E. Heinz and Francis G. Becher, with a capital stock of five thousand dollars.

When completed, the first Opera House was located near the present intersection of Tenth Street and Twenty-third Avenue. It later became the Orpheus Hall and now is the Eagles Hall. The Opera House had a seating capacity of five hundred and the first cost exceeded four thousand dollars.

Another early move toward music appreciation was an outgrowth of the nationality development of Columbus. The Maennerchor Society, "for the purpose of entertainment and musical culture," came into being September 2, 1879, with thirty-eight members and a schedule of semi-weekly meetings. That year the society gave regular concerts throughout the winter season under the administration of the following officers: Emil Pohl, leader; John Stauffer, president; David Schupbach, secretary; and Herman Oehlrich, treasurer.

Since 1947, the Columbus Apollo Club, made up of business and professional men, has grown up under the direction of Kenneth A. Johnson, and annual concerts are given in the city auditorium, at which both classical and semi-classical works and folk selections are sung.

Also active in contemporary cultural circles is the organization, Friends of Music, affiliated with other concert music branches in Nebraska and numerous midwestern states. The group, which was organized in 1945 under the leadership of Harold Kramer, has sponsored a series of community concerts with the talent supplied for one concert each season by a local instrumentalist or singer and for the others by such internationally known artists as James Melton and other leading musical personages of the concert stage.


The first Board of Directors for the Friends of Music was elected, on a staggered basis, for one, two and three-year periods. Beginning in 1946, new members were elected annually to the board for a three-year term.


1945-1946 (One Year Term)

J. R. Bitner, Carl Hoge, Mrs. I. E. Levine, Louis Rambour, Reverend J. H. Shiery, Mrs. Otto. Walter.

1945-1947 (Two Year Term)

Mrs. J. D. Grant, E. T. Miessler, Noyce Rogers, Mrs. A. B. Trowbridge, Elsie Griffith, Mrs. M. L. Daniel.

1945-1948 (Three Year Term)

R. O. Burman, Mrs. Leonard Miller, Mrs. Lester Carrig, R. F. Kennedy, R. C. Ellefson, Harold Kramer.

1946-1949 (Three Year Term)

Walter Behlen, Mrs. E. H. Lohr, Kenneth Johnson, Mrs. Howard Welch, Margaret Curry, Mrs. C. T. Dougherty.

1947-1950 (Three Year Term)

Forrest Corn, Isabelle Micek, H. F. Ehlers, Mrs. J. North Evans, Mrs. Frank G. Rohde, Laird Loomis.

1948-1951 (Three Year Term)

Mary Walter, C. B. Fricke, E. F. Jenkins, J. O. Peck, Otto Walter, Mrs. Lyman Mead.

In 1949, Walter Behlen, Mrs. C. T. Dougherty, Mrs. B. H. Lohr, Kenneth Johnson, Mrs. Howard Welch, and Margaret Curry were replaced on the board by six new members.

Columbus has always had its share of music lovers eager to affiliate with quartets and choral groups. In 1875, the local press announced a concert "of thirty voices, under the directorship of Professor C. W. Halleck," given at the Court House.

A boys' choir, under the direction of Reverend and Mrs. Tallmadge, was organized in the early 1930's as a community service to provide an opportunity, for boys with musical ability to train their voices. The group continued active for many years. Gertrude Betterton and Mrs. Frank G. Rohde assisted Reverend Tallmadge with this work.

Back in the early years around 1870, the Columbus City Band was formed by music-loving settlers under John Stauffer and William Becker. The latter played the bass drums with the group. Later known as the Columbus Cornet Band, the organization disbanded in 1873.

As the community grew, the custom of regular weekly concerts was established, although no financial assistance was forthcoming from the city for some years. Instead, the local musicians were forced to depend upon contributions from merchants and other enthusiastic patrons. G. W. Phillips, Emil Pohl, C. A. Newman, E. J. Ernst, John Stovicek and "Bun" Turner were all members of the original band.

One of the early customs was the serenading of various candidates during political campaigns -- a practice which resulted in contributions from the grateful contenders. The first band, which was later reorganized with the addition of new members, was discontinued during the Spanish-American War and the present Columbus City Band was later established. A concert schedule was set up which proved a drawing card for other communities, and the latter organization played at Fourth of July celebrations, fairs, parades and rallies of all types.

When the state of Nebraska passed a law authorizing cities to levy taxes for public entertainment purposes, the era of personal subscriptions passed and the band became a more firmly integrated part of Platte County's cultural life. In 1936, the city of Columbus appropriated two thousand dollars annually, a sum sufficient to maintain the band's musical library, buy new instruments and pay each member a nominal sum for his services. Approximately one hundred and fifty people play in the band.

Frank Nather, the first director of the organization,* was succeeded by Edward Hockenberger. Other directors after 1900 were Professor E. A. Garlich, Professor Alvin E. Pool, Martin Schilz, Professor Fritz H. Paul, A. D. Laird, R. A. Gruber, Herbert F. Clark, Professor A. D. Stoddard, A. O. Lieber and Forrest L. Corn. From May tenth to September tenth each year the band gives its regular concerts in Frankfort Square before packed audiences from all over the county.

Also participating for a period in Columbus' musical programs was the Drum and Bugle Corps of Hartman Post, American Legion. This group won many prizes at annual Legion conventions in Nebraska and, along with the Columbus band, proved to be a distinct civic asset.


The first Columbus City Band, a "cornet" band, was begun in 1872, just sixteen years after the founding of the town. The first band met only occasionally. It was in existence about eight years.

It started again around 1881, with Emil PohI as leader, and among its members** was Albert Galley. This second band disbanded during the Spanish-American War.

In 1899, the Columbus band was organized. At first the local merchants helped the members keep the group together by furnishing money. Eventually, the state

*In 1899.
**Around 1890.

The History of Platte County Nebraska


The Columbus City Band of 1900. Top row, left to right: J. A. Turner, Martin Schilz, G. W. Clark, John Stovicek, Henry Gass. Second row: William Kersenbrock, F. R. Gregorius, John 1. Pittman, Joseph Fischer, Edward C. Hockenberger, director. Third row: Edward Long, Herbert F. Clark, Adolph Gores, Emil Von Bergen, Frank Schilz, Herman J. Kersenbrock. Fourth row: R. B. McCray, A. J. Galley.

legislature made it possible for municipalities to levy tax funds for the upkeep of a community band and the city has since provided for this community organization.


Jack Stovicek and F. R. Gregorius were charter members of the band when it was organized in 1899, and were still members in 1949. "Bert" Galley has likewise stayed on the roster through the years.

Since its inception, the Columbus City Band had only eleven directors. First on the list was Frank Nather. His successors were: Ed Hockenberger, Professor E. A. Garlich, Professor E. A. Pool, Martin Schilz, Professor Fritz H. Paul, Doctor A. D. Laird, R. A. Gruber, Herbert F. Clark, Professor A. D. Stoddard, and the stalwart of them all, Doctor A. O. Lieber, who directed the band through twenty-seven seasons, finally being forced to resign his position early in 1946, because of ill health. On February 2, 1946, Forrest L. Corn, who had been a band member for several years, was chosen as director.


For many years, the band has held weekly Thursday-night practices throughout the year, taking only a short "vacation" in the winter seasons. Every summer, too, from about June 1 to September 15, the band presents weekly Friday night concerts in Frankfort Square.


Officers of the band association in 1946 were: Forrest L. Corn, director; Arthur Gerber, president; Doctor H. P. Ziegenbein, vice president; Bert J. Galley, secretary-treasurer, a position which Mr. Galley held continuously since 1906; and F. R. Gregorius and Jack Stovicek, trustees.

The band of 1946 comprised twenty-nine regular and eight associate members. Regular members included:

Director and cornetist --- Forrest L. Corn; Cornet --- F. R. Gregorius, William Albers, Harry E. Grant, Dean Bushnell, Robert Mueller, Harold Cockson, Alden Mastny, Arthur Gerber; Clarinet -- C. M. Pittman, John Hanke; Saxophone -- A. R. Brandenburgh, Lee Jackson; Tuba -- Doctor H. P. Ziegenbein, Otto Stanzel; Trombone -- Jack Stovicek, Louis Maier, Kenneth Maurer; Mellophone -- C. L. Stone, Don Logan, E. N. Shafer; Baritone -- R. C. Ellefson, Lyndal Carter, Ervin Walters; Flute -- Patricia Gerhold; Drums -- Bert J. Galley, Ross Irish, Harold Putnam.

Associate members included: Clarinet -- Robert Drawbaugh, Mary Brown, Mary Fricke, James Uhlman; Flute - Mary Hanke; Trombone -- Frank Starkey; Piccolo -- Alvina Gloor; Drum Edward Gass.

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© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller