Thursday, June 25, 2009

Historic Dorchester Home For Sale

One of Dorchester's most historic -- and largest -- homes is for sale.

The 3,000 sq. ft. home, built in 1901 by Dorchester pioneer Colonel W.J. Thompson, sits on the corner of 10th and Lincoln Ave. and is an intriguing piece of Nebraska's past. It was also the site of Dorchester's famous Elmwood Pony Farm.

According to sources, the home is being offered by Turkey Creek Realty and lists for what seems to be a very reasonable $125,000. A recent news story noted that restored historic homes have fetched more than $10 million in Lincoln.

In 2007, the Times named the structure one of our "favorite old homes" in Dorchester, calling it "a diamond in the rough" with the potential to "be a crown jewel for the entire region."

The realtor's description of the property reads: "This historic Victorian Mansion was the home of Colonel W.J. Thompson, who operated the Elmwood Pony Farm. He raised Shetland Ponies and each year herded them overland to the Nebraska State Fair and offered rides to fair-goers as well as competing in various competitions with his ponies. Colonel Thompson's son, Wallace, started the Thompson Rodeo."

To see the online advertisement for the home, click here. (UPDATE 6/25: A friend of the Times tells us that tax incentives may be available for the purchase of historic homes. Contact the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Kathy McKillip at 402-471-1558 or kathy.mckillip@nebraska.gov for more information.)

For our readers who may be unfamiliar, the Elmwood Pony Farm sat on present day 10th Street, between Lincoln and Fulton Avenues. Dating back to the 1890s, it was one of the largest pony farms west of the Mississippi River, according to the 1981 Dorchester Centennial history book. By the 1920s, the pony farm was home to more than 300 ponies.

Thompson's pony farm was a popular destination for children from miles around, according to accounts of longtime residents. Children who lived in the country were even permitted to take home a pony and ride it all summer, if they agreed to keep it fed well.

Each September, Colonel Thompson took as many as 35 Shetland ponies to the Nebraska State Fair for rides. He entered many more of the animals in the fair's show contests. All of the ponies were herded overland from Dorchester to Lincoln by Thompson farm employees.

In 1930, Colonel Thompson's son, Wallace, started the Thompson rodeo. It was usually a three-day event held each fall, complete with fighting broncos, cowboys, clowns, trick riders, cowgirls, bull doggers, concessions, rides, dancing and "whoopee."

The Dorchester rodeo attracted many top riders from around the country, as well as local talent. At one time, more than 7,000 spectators were reported in attendance

We are hopeful that the Colonel's home goes to a worthy owner who has the resources to make the residence a "crown jewel" of Dorchester, once again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rains Delay Pipeline Work

This month's unusually wet weather has delayed work on the Keystone petroleum pipeline project, which will run just east of Dorchester. The Times has been told that work in the Dorchester area could now begin around the mid- to late-July time frame. (The accompanying photo shows water standing on a project site near Dorchester.)

According to the Sioux City Journal, work on the 130-mile section from the Platte River to the Kansas border, which began in late May, has reached the point where the welders from a crew of about 350 are connecting 80-foot sections in the David City-Schuyler area. But officials say it may be another week before crews resume lowering the pipe 4 feet into the ground -- "and it may be longer if the wet weather continues." Yesterday, workers west of Seward were trying to pump away standing water.

The $5.2 billion Keystone pipeline will connect the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, with Illinois refineries. As many as 900 construction workers will soon make their way to the Dorchester area, burying the sections of the 30-inch line that will make its way through the eastern portion of the state, including about 1.5 miles east of Dorchester. Dorchester also serves as a storage site for hundreds of section of pipe.

The pipeline will bring "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in property tax revenue to Saline County, according to one local energy expert we interviewed. "Ten times more revenue than any wind farm while doing a lot more to help the nation's energy crunch," the source added.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dorchester Area 30% Wetter This June

Saline County is officially soaked, as evidenced by a swollen Turkey Creek (at right). Compared to the average amount of precipitation experienced in our area during June, Dorchester has received nearly 30 percent more rainfall this month, with still more than a week to go until the arrival of the traditionally-dry month of July.

According to official reports published by the Nebraska Rainfall Assessment and Information Network (NeRAIN), the Dorchester area had received 5.23 inches of rain as of this morning, after about 1.30" fell on Dorchester Saturday night.

The average June brings the Dorchester area about 4.25" of precipitation. This month, the wettest Saline County location is DeWitt, which has received more than 8" since June 1. The Friend area has seen nearly 6.5". The city of Wilber, meanwhile, has only received 2.5". This week's forecast calls for hot temperatures and heat indices over 100 degrees, with a 20% chance of rain Wednesday night and this weekend.

Elvis Returns At June 28 Tabor Event

The king is back! The members of Tabor Lodge are hosting a creative fundraiser for the restoration of their building. Area residents are urged to dress in their best 50s, 60s, or 70s attire and participate in a fabulous evening of great music performed by Elvis tribute artist Joseph Hall.

The concert is set for this Sunday, June 28, from 5-7 p.m. Doors will open at 3 p.m. for first-come seating. Food and drink will be available for purchase.

Tickets are $20 each. Children 10 and under are available to the first 50 requests at $10 each. Tickets may be purchased by contacting any of the following individuals:
  • Judy Daniel: 826-5550
  • Marilyn Clark: 826-5312
  • Marlene Stehlik: 826-2595
  • Pam Fuller: 946-4051
  • Laura Sysel: 946-6961
  • Loren or Judy Vyhnalek: 946-4011
For those unable to attend, contributions for the Tabor Hall renovation can be mailed to:

Gaylen Sysel
Tabor Lodge treasurer
985 State Hwy 15
Dorchester, NE 68343

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UNL Journalists Post More Dorchester Observations


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalists who are spending time in Dorchester continue to document how Nebraskans are being affected by the economic downturn.

The photojournalists have published two new posts on their blog. One of the posts features an interview with Dorchester Grocery owner John Bruha.

UNL journalist Patrick Breen writes, "One of the things that small communities do well is support each other. Or at least that is what we were finding in other towns. The only difference here in Dorchester was that there was a Wal-Mart nearby in Crete."

Breen's blog post continued: "(Bruha) said people would drive the extra time and use about $5 in gas, which might make-up the difference in their bill. He is right. Wal-Mart brings down small businesses like his. He said that times are tough, but he hopes it gets better."


UNL journalist Kyle Bruggeman noted that his crew enjoyed their time at Joe's Place.

He wrote: "Small town bars have a much different attitude than those of larger cities. In Lincoln, for example, one must usually wait in a line just to get in. Once you've finally made it to the bar your battling another line of people to get a drink. 

"Joe's Place is not anything like the situation described above. Here you can get in easily and the bartender asks you if you need anything before you get to the counter. It's a friendly place where the entire family is welcome and price of a cold beer on tap is only a dollar. A great price during these economic times. The lyrics to the old television show Cheers describes it best: where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came."

To see the UNL photojournalists' new reports on Dorchester, click here and here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June Shaping Up To Be A Wet One

And the precipitation keeps coming.

According to official rainfall reports published by the Nebraska Rainfall Assessment and Information Network (NeRAIN), most portions of the Dorchester area received anywhere from 0.95" and 1.50" last night.

In the first half of the month, the area has already received between 3.28" and 6.45". Typically, May is the wettest month for our area, averaging 4.23" of precipitation. The forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms through Friday, with a 50% chance of rain Thursday night. The weekend is expected to be dry.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Photojournalists Report Their Dorchester Experience

Last week, we reported on a group of University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism students spending time in Dorchester to document how Nebraskans are being affected by the "Great Recession." (Some doom-and-gloom forecasters are tagging the economic downturn as the immanent "Greater Depression.")

According to NET Radio, "the tiny town of Dorchester" is providing the photojournalists "a few leads" as they compile a photo essay to record how Nebraskans work, live and have fun during economically challenging times, and to see "what, if any, extent" the downturn is having on our state.

As a follow up to our original post, the photojournalists at UNL have now posted their Dorchester experience on UNL's photojournalism blog. We were especially intrigued by the students' observations of patriotism in small town Nebraska. We here at the Times' headquarters have had similar thoughts.

To see the UNL photojournalists' report on Dorchester, click here. You will see plenty of familiar names and faces.

Looking Back: The Paving Debate of 1979, Part II

This is part two of our look back at paving debate of 1979 thirty years later. The following story was published in The Lincoln Star on July 3, 1979 -- a few days after the story we published on Friday. (Friday's posting garned several comments. Click here to see them. Further commentary can be found here.)

Paving is Hot Topic in Dorchester

DORCHESTER, Neb. – What, in a town of 630 on a warm summer’s evening, does it take to get 120 people to a village board meeting? Paving.

That was about the only thing decided here Monday night as folks got together to discuss the only topic in town hotter than the temperature inside the community center. With the group apparently split about 2-to-1 against paving, emotions soared during the two-hour session. Yet, almost like a family spat, nobody was called anything worse than his first name – which happened repeatedly.

Technically the session was called for the routine creation of three districts involving only four blocks of paving. But most of the argument centered on the “gap paving” that Mayor Bill Moser says they board probably will order in later.

The mayor says even the gap total probably will not exceed four or five blocks, but opponents fear it will eventually checkerboard most of the town. They contend numerous older people as well as young home owners will lose their properties if the paved segments are put in.

“I lived on a farm and walked in both dirt and manure and it didn’t hurt me,” said Belva Johnson, cafe owner and outspoken opponent of the $21-per-front-foot paving. “If it wasn’t for dirt, how many farmers could have come to town and retired?”

That was one of several comments drawing applause. But so did a remark by proponent and retired farmer Hans Weber that “dirt streets don’t bring people into town.” Paving is “good for the town,” he continued. "Name me one little town around here that doesn’t have paving.”

Several others echoed Weber’s sentiments, saying it should be within their rights to have paving if desired. Approximately 30 to 40 persons stood up when asked how many persons present favor surfacing.

Two young wives, Cindy Meyers and Sally Danekas, said their families would not have moved to Dorchester had they known paving – which would be the town’s first since the 1930s – would be contemplated. This brought a retort from businessman Dick Sehnert who asked, “Where exactly would you have moved? There’s paving in Friend and Wilber and Crete, too...”

Attorney Merritt James of Lincoln, representing the Walton Construction Co., which has the paving contract, said the firm had been “unfairly chastised” by published remarks critical of the firm’s work. Both Mrs. Johnson and Sidy Bruha said they had received requests by letter but refused to change their opinion.

“The company feels that never in 40 years of doing business has it been so unfairly attacked,” continued James. He insisted that the complaints actually derived from job specifications to which the contractor is complying.

The board unanimously approved two of the three small districts, both created by at least the 60 percent of affected property owners required by law. Because of a legal description error, the third district will have to be re-advertised.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Looking Back: The Paving Debate Of 1979

The following article appeared three decades ago in The Lincoln Star, on June 29, 1979. We run this article to mark the 30-year anniversary of the village's paving debate.

Paving Draws Protests From Some in Dorchester

DORCHESTER, Neb. – Putting in its first pavement since Main Street (Washington Street) was done in the 1930s, this community is deeper in controversy than concrete.

Anti-paving picketers have been walking the business district. Normally quiet village board meetings have drawn 40 to 50 spectators, both pros and cons. Protest signs have sprung up in at least three dozen yards. And the biggest confrontation yet appears certain at next Monday night’s board meeting.

At this point only eight blocks of paving are actually scheduled and four others are just a step from formal approval. The main issue actually is the other 50 to 60 blocks of graveled streets and what the village board has in mind for them.

State law permits the creation of “gap paving,” mostly two block segments connecting other surfaced streets, so some property owners fear that virtually the entire town will be covered. They say many residents, especially the elderly on fixed incomes, can’t afford the improvements.

Mayor Bill Moser says the board does intend to fill all the gaps possible but that the total “wouldn’t be more than four or five blocks.” Of the five board members, only Dwain Tyser is aligned with the anti-paving group.

“People don’t seem to understand that this paving was put in at the request of people within each district,” said Moser, a 45-year-old cafe owner. When 60 percent or more of property owners sign for the front footage, “we’re bound by law to create a district,” he said.

According to Mayor Moser, the controversy has been building up over the pas two or three years. He noted that the board has kept its word by not creating any more districts on its own since trying unsuccessfully to run six blocks of paving from Main Street to the school.

A petition signed by 288 opponents had been presented to the board. Belva Johnson, who incidentally runs a restaurant just one door from Moser’s, has a current petition showing 124 signatures against paving compared to 15 for.

“I counted up 89 people in this town living on Social Security or fixed incomes,” said Mrs. Johnson. “A lot of them will lose their houses unless the paving is stopped.” Her objections were amplified by rural mail carrier Ed Sandburn, Farmland Foods employee Bob Parham and retiree Sidy Bruha. They say an attorney has suggested either an injunction to halt the paving or a recall petition against four of the five village board members.

Parham, 25, said his remodeled house on four lots would be hit by about $5,000 in paving assessments. Taxes also would be raised on property fronting improved streets, he noted.

The objectors also allege “sloppiness” on the few blocks of paving already put in. And they claim the board is wrong in laying pavement without accompanying storm sewers.The board has estimated the paving cost at nearly $21 per front foot. It has also indicated that intersections, to be financed as general tax obligations, would cost about $4,900 each.

“Just because the law says they can put in gap paving doesn’t mean its right,” said Sandburn. “The people should have a say.” Although not as visible as the picketing opponents, spokesmen for a pro-paving group say they also will be out in force for Monday’s meeting.

Businessmen Dick Sehnert and Joe Williams claim a backing of at least 110 citizens. “It’s time somebody comes out in support of the village board,” said Sehnert, an auto body repairman. “The board shouldn’t be unfairly ridiculed and harassed when there are 124 people against paving and 110 for. People who want paving should have rights the same as those who don’t.”

Williams, an electrician, said he believes protesters have exaggerated the situation. “There might be a small percentage of people who would be hit real hard,” he said, “but I don’t feel we should stop progress.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time To Consider A Local Sales Tax?

Raising taxes, or establishing a new one, is an unpopular topic at any time. Especially in the current economic conditions.

But according to the Associated Press, residents of Osceola and Stromsburg "will be paying more sales tax on local purchases." According to the story, "in special all-mail elections, voters in both eastern Nebraska towns approved the increases."

Customers making purchases in either town will now pay the state-maximum 1.5 percent local sales tax. Revenues from the local tax will help pay for a new water plant, a bigger fire station and make repairs to the town swimming pool.

So we ask: Is it time for Dorchester to consider a local sales tax? Could revenues from such a tax make a dent in the cost of paving our streets, building a pool, or making other needed upgrades? It's worth considering, if only for a minute or two.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

UNL Photojournalists Documenting Recession's Effects In Dorchester

NET Radio reports that University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism students are spending time in Dorchester to put a human face on the nation's current economic downturn.

A group of three UNL journalism students and their professor, Bruce Thorson, have already visited Dorchester to document how Nebraskans are being affected by the "Great Recession." According to NET Radio, "the tiny town of Dorchester" is providing the photojournalists "a few leads" as they compile a photo essay to record how Nebraskans work, live and have fun during economically challenging times, and to see "what, if any, extent" the downturn is having on our state.

In the radio report, Professor Thorson told of his visit to Joe's Place, where he spoke with a worker from the Purina plant in Crete. Thorson said the Purina employee of 15 years had never before experienced a widespread national economic recession. Thorson also mentioned a woman who had returned to Dorchester after a failed venture in California as a jeweler.

To hear the NET Radio report, click here. The Dorchester accounts begin at 1:52 on the audio file.