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Overview – What’s in a name?

Alvin, the original town name, was designated by the railroad April 23, 1877 but the name only lasted four years. When the postal department opened an office at the railroad depot, February 15, 1877, the name was officially designated as Saunders. But even that name did not stick. On August 4, 1880, the postal officials changed the name of the post office to Mead. Reports differ as to whether the name means “meadow” or if the town is named after Charles W. Mead, Assistant Railroad General Superintendent.

1876, Union Pacific Railroad

During the 1800’s it was customary for the Union Pacific Railroad to build a station every few miles and plat a town around it. During the summer of 1876, a 16 square block area was set aside to become for the village. By Christmas 1876, railroad tracks were laid in the area and the line through town became a part of the Omaha and Republican Valley Railroad, Beatrice Branch. Building commenced in early 1877.

Early Settlers

Joseph Sturdevant, the railroad agent, was the first resident, sharing his time between his farm 3 miles to the north and the railroad depot. He was joined in early 1877 by Charles Ostenberg and Cyrus Truman Condit, the first of several businessmen to set up shop in Mead. Condit, a carpenter, originated in Ohio. Ostenberg, a native of Germany, opened the first store and was later joined by his fourth son, Thomas.
Charles Ostenberg, Cyrus Condit and Joseph Sturdevant bunked in the depot’s living quarters. These entrepreneurs built the first grain elevator and lumber yard. Condit was the first home builder in Mead and his home still stands today at the corner of 4th and Elm Street. Henry Ostenberg, the youngest son of Charles, built the home next door to the south of Condit.

Today, the depot is located at the Village Park

Sturdevant moved into town and became the postmaster. The post office was located in the depot. The railroad opened the area to marketing activity for grain and livestock. By year’s end, five businesses, four homes and a town water pump were in place. Mead flourished.

Community Development

In 1879, the town had a new hotel and a second general store. The June 1880 census indicated that there were forty three people in Alvin, 27 adults, 16 children. Of the adults, 21 were under 40 years old. Fifteen were born in this country, seven in Canada, two in Germany and one each in England, Scotland and Sweden. Shortly after the census was taken, the name was changed to Mead. When the next census was taken in 1885, population had quadrupled and about 30 vocations could be counted. A significant shift in nationalities had occurred. Of the 99 adults in Mead, 43 had been born in the U.S., 38 in Sweden, 14 in Germany, 2 in Canada and 1 in England. By the end of 1885, the population swelled to 200. In early 1886, a formal governing body was formed.

Aerial photo taken about 1915, white building is the former school which was located in what is now the Mead Park

With any growth comes a few problems. The first capital improvement to conquer was sidewalks, wooden, of course. By 1890, the village had reached its full growth in population and business. A town hall had been constructed about 1882, a new school in 1886, a new post office in 1890. A variety of businesses and trades were firmly established in the village. Four congregations had built new churches in Mead in the 1880’s and a fifth came in 1891. A new century brought electric lights and a water system. Even though the electricity and water was installed in 1914, gas was unavailable until 1954. The sanitary sewer system was installed in 1955 and paved roads followed in 1963.

The War Years, Nebraska Ordnance Plant

The 1940’s brought the Nebraska Ordnance Plant located just south of Mead. The new plant forced many farmers to relocate to other communities and also disrupted the lives of residents. New people with new interests arrived in far greater numbers than the community could accommodate. Many of the single family homes were open to boarders or divided into apartments to accommodate the war workers. Housing needs were greatest at this time. Anything served as shelter, a chicken coop, even a barn haymow.

For the school system, the bomb plant presented a greater challenge. The tax base was reduced by one sixth due to 17,000 acres of prime farm land being removed from the tax roles. Additionally, plant workers brought their children into the school system, requiring additional teachers and resources. When the war ended, many returned home but some remained as part of the community. When construction was completed, the plant was community offering water, sewer, paved streets, railroad station, dormitories, and twelve residences in addition to the equipment and structures required to operate a community.

Mead Reading Club and the Library

The Mead Public Library was organized by the Mead Reading Club in 1937. The first library was quartered in an unheated building on the main street. This served the needs of the community until cold weather forced finding new accommodations. The library moved two more times until in 1975, the town board designated a library board and provided the old fire barn as the library. The public library was dedicated Nov. 17, 1975.

Mead Library 1940 – 1975, this building was the Ostenberg Store Salt House