[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 18: US 6 in Nebraska (McCook to Holdrege; Red Willow, Furnas, Harlan and Phelps Counties)

Go to: Part 17 | Main US 6 page | Part 19

In this Part we continue on from McCook, the county seat of Red Willow county. McCook was named for Union Brigadier General Alexander McDowell Cook despite no direct connection (and a relatively undistinguished career). Originally established as Fairview, a tiny riverside settlement, the later name was applied by the Lincoln Land Company when it was platted for the local railroad in 1882. Growing rapidly, it wrested county seat status from nearby Indianola in 1892 after a protracted court battle. Always a railroad town at its heart despite the brief existence of the McCook Army Air Base from 1942 to 1945, the old steam locomotives were phased out for longer range diesel engines that didn't need to stop, starving the town until a minor oil boom in 1956. Today agribusiness and light industry are the present-day foundations of the city's economy. Its present population is 7,698 [2010].

Almost all of this Part parallels the Republican River, running south of the highway from the High Plains of Colorado to the Smoky Hill River at Junction City, KS for a length of 453 miles with a maximum discharge of 33,300 cubic feet/second. Their confluence becomes the Kansas River; the Kansas is the southwestern portion of the Missouri River drainage, which is itself the northwestern portion of the great Mississippi. The low-lying river communities US 6/34 cross through were, and despite modern flood control measures still somewhat are, at risk for severe flooding and several great historical floods altered some of these towns irrevocably. Nebraska's deadliest flood of 1935, triggered by a torrential nine inches of rain in two days, deluged everything from the Frenchman Creek to the Republican. Water measured up to 20 feet in depth and the 10-foot crest washed away structures en masse in McCook. 113 people died in the deep waters; the tens of thousands of cattle corpses rendered roads impassible and almost 75,000 acres of farmland were inundated. Some of the communities in this Part never recovered.

US 6/US 34

Immediately upon entering McCook we intersect US 83 for a brief co-routing.
US 83 is one of the longest north-south highways in the country -- only four are longer -- at 1,885 miles, and still goes border to border with its Mexican continuations as MX 101/180 (from Brownsville, TX) and Canadian as MB 83 (from Westhope, ND). Its survival is largely due to not being substantially part of any current or future Interstate corridor. As it has few concurrencies with Interstate highways and none of are significant length, it has not been decommissioned or greatly re-routed in any of its states. US 6 also intercepts both of its surviving spurs (US 183 and US 283), and historically former US 383 as well. More about that as we reach them.
Entering town.
If we wind back a bit before the junction, however, we see a turn-off signed as "Old Hwy 6." Let's have a quick look.

Old Highway 6 in McCook

This appears to be the original alignment on the west side of town, and was probably part of the OLD/DLD and US 38 as well.

It isn't clear to me when this minor old alignment was bypassed, but it appears to still travel on older concrete slab instead of asphalt.
At least one sign seems to indicate US 34 was also carried on this alignment as well.
Traveling along in the early morning sun.
Coming to a stop just shy of the west US 83 junction.

US 6/US 34/US 83

Continuing through downtown McCook.
US 83 leaves town to the south after our brief co-routing.

US 6/US 34

EB US 6/EB US 34.
Distance signage leaving town at Mile 88.
Over the rolling hills.
Entering Indianola.
The original county seat of Red Willow County was established on the homestead of one E. S. Hill by D. N. Smith, a surveyor for the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad. Ostensibly he relied on his friend Hill's holdings after local bickering made the original location unattractive, and named the new town after his original hometown in Iowa. Even with the railroad it never gained sufficient population to eclipse McCook, however, which replaced it as county seat, and the current population today still numbers only 552 [2017].
A number of picturesque old buildings still remain along the main drag.
A town park.
Mile 98.
Distance signage leaving town.
More fields.
Entering Bartley.
Bartley was platted on the holdings of Rev. Allen Bartley, the original owner, when the railroad came through in 1886. Its low lying regions were similarly subject to devastating floods from the Republican River until it was serviced by the first total watershed control system in the United States as a demonstration project. Although agriculture and oil dominate the regional economy, booze does not, as Bartley remains one of the historic "dry towns" in the region. Its current population is 269 [2017].
Through Bartley.
Distance signage leaving town.
Furnas county line.
Furnas County, Nebraska

Established in 1872 and named for Nebraska's second state governor, Robert W. Furnas, the county has 4,780 [2017] residents with its county seat at Beaver City.

Shortly after the county line, we enter Cambridge.
Cambridge is a town of many historic names. Homesteader Hiram Doing took holdings in 1871 and called it Northwood, which didn't stick; the Post Office tried again, naming it Medicine Creek in 1874 after the tributary of the Republican River that runs through it, and also failed. Doing sold out to J. W. Pickle in 1876 who renamed the town "Pickeltown," with a similar and in this case fortunate lack of success. Eventually the railroad came through in 1880 and the station agent gave it the modern name, presumably from either of the localities in Massachusetts or England. Similarly prone to flooding as poor Bartley to the west, its continued higher population is due in large part not only to the fertile soil but its local medical services. In the present day the city's population numbers 1,040 [2017].
Through town.
Junction NE 47.
N-47 exists in two parts; this is the roughly 12 mile southern section starting at NE 89 to the south. The NHRPLB then has a curious notation ("N-47 STOPS. RESUMES APPROXIMATELY 34 MILES NORTH") linking to the northern segment in Dawson county at ref post 47+08/mile 46.45. From there it proceeds for another 40 miles to terminate at NE 40 in Custer county. No single traversable routing connects the two halves, nor does it appear NDOT has any plans to make one.
Leaving town at Mile 117.
Entering Holbrook.
In the frontier days Isaac Burton had a settlement along a bend in the Republican River which was a well-known local trading post. Established in 1870 and known to locals as Burton's Bend, neither Burton nor his partner H. Dice had interest in being the county seat when the county was organized. The railroad came through in 1880 and named its stop Holbrook after a station official, which gradually eclipsed Burton's business after they abandoned it in 1883. Badly afflicted by the Great Depression and the 1935 flood, the town never grew further. Its population today is 198 [2017].
"Downtown," at that time torn up for a resurfacing project.
Distance signage leaving Holbrook.
EB US 6/34.
Entering Arapahoe.
The Arapaho tribe were early inhabitants in antiquity; though forcibly relocated to reservations in Wyoming and Oklahoma by 1878, the town was named in their honour. It was originally platted by the Arapahoe Town Company for the purposes of establishing a river settlement and officially surveyed in 1871. When Furnas county was organized, Arapahoe briefly became the county seat until Beaver City challenged, filed suit and ultimately prevailed in 1876. Similarly besieged by floods, the town survives on the strength of the local agriculture. Its present-day population is 992 [2017].
Junction US 283 in town.
The first of the US 83 spurs we will encounter, US 283 runs from US 87 in Brady, TX to US 30 in Lexington, NE for a total length of 731 miles. Much of its routing is highly rural.
Leaving town.
Advance signage for US 136.
Junction US 136, its western terminus.
END US 136 at the junction, an odd situation for an east-west route to terminate at another east-west route. It runs for 804 miles to Speedway, IN where it terminates just shy of US 36 at I-74/I-465; a proposal to extend it to US 36 via the Interstate was never implemented. Its routing is also similarly notable for the less than four miles it spends in Iowa, just crossing the state's southern tip, while in Missouri it hits every county seat in the nine counties it passes through.
Distance signage leaving the junction.
Advance signage for NE 46.
Harlan county line.
Harlan County, Nebraska

After the Battle of Summit Springs drove out the Sioux and other tribes from this portion of the Republican River valley in 1869, various settlements sprung up in the region including one near Alma, the present-day county seat, led by settler Thomas Harlan in 1871. The county was either named after him or James Harlan, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Andrew Johnson, but we'll see almost none of it here. The present population is 3,443 [2017].

Junction NE 46.
N-46 is a minor 12-mile arterial between NE 89 at the south and this location, running nearly directly on the county line to its northern terminus here.
Advance signage for NE 4.
Junction NE 4.
From this point, its western terminus, N-4 is a major farmland highway serving much of southeastern Nebraska to US 75 near Dawson, 205 miles distant.
We divert northeast.
Mile 147.
Phelps county line.
Phelps County, Nebraska

Formed in 1873, the county was named for William Phelps, an early settler in the region. We'll travel through the southeastern triangle of it including to its county seat of Holdrege. The county's current population is 9,060 [2017].

Entering Atlanta.
Likely named for Atlanta, Illinois, the town was platted in 1883 and incorporated in 1908. Another "temperance town," it has never had a saloon. The modern village population is 131 [2017].
Cornhusker country, indeed.
Distance signage leaving town.
Historical marker signage for nearby POW Camp Atlanta, which during World War II had more Nazi prisoners than the town ever had people. Between its three compounds the camp complex held nearly 3,000 people until it was phased out by 1946.
EB US 6/EB US 34.
Holdrege city limits.
Continue to Part 19
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