[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 19: US 6 in Nebraska (Holdrege to Hastings; Phelps, Kearney and Adams Counties)

Go to: Part 18 | Main US 6 page | Part 20

We start this part in Holdrege, the county seat of Phelps county and its largest population centre at 5,439 [2017]. Established in 1883 when the railroad was extended through it, it was named for official George W. Holdrege and became the county seat in 1884. Its biggest attraction, which unfortunately isn't along US 6 and we won't see here, is the Nebraska Prairie Museum with extensive exhibits of prairie history ranging from antique farm machinery and genealogy to a scale recreation of POW Camp Atlanta, as we talked about in the last Part. Similarly, we saw the Becton-Dickinson plant on the outskirts of town at the very end of that Part, probably its largest local employer and the subject of nearly $350 million in investment.

US 6/US 34

Entering town at the NE 23 junction, its eastern terminus here after its 160-mile trek from the Colorado state line.
US 6/34 are also the Emergency Snow Route.
Junction with US 183, the second of our US 83 spurs (as discussed in Part 18), and what was historically US 383.
US 183 was the last U.S. highway to be completely paved; the section through Loup county to the north wasn't paved until 1967. It runs through relatively rural sections of the midwest except for the Austin, TX region (and, to a lesser extent, Hays, KS), with its termini at US 77 in Refugio, TX to the south and I-90 in Presho, SD to the north. Its current length is 1,250 miles. The Prairie Museum is north about a mile or so from here on US 183.

The junction here is also the historic junction with US 83's final spur, US 383. During US 383's initial existence the entirety of the route in Nebraska was cosigned with US 183 with the two highways separating in northern Kansas near Woodruff, KS. At that time US 383's north terminus was at US 30 in Elm Creek, NE, only 175 miles in length; US 183 continued from there, a fairly egregious example of a useless multiplex. In 1964 the north end of US 383 was truncated to Alma, NE and everything north became solely US 183 including the alignment we cross here. However, even in Kansas substantial portions of its routing were cosigned with its parent US 83, so it was logical to decommission it in 1982. A fair section of the alignment it formerly controlled remains as KS 383 ("K-383"). The termini have moved over the years, as Dale Sanderson elegantly chronicles.

The historic downtown.
Distance signage leaving town.
Mile 163.
Entering (and pretty much immediately leaving) Funk.
A whimsical name had a mundane origin, from early settler Phillip C. Funk. First platted by the railroad in 1887, it was incorporated as a village in 1913. Its current population is 185 [2017].
Kearney county line.
Kearney County, Nebraska

Kearney county's name comes from the famous Camp Kearny named in honour of General Stephen W. Kearny, best known for his exploits in the Mexican-American War. (Another Camp Kearny exists in San Diego along old US Highway 395.) This camp dates from earlier in his career, when then-Col. Kearny frequently ordered his forces to escort travelers along the Oregon Trail as a defense against Native American raids. The fort was built in response in 1846 along Table Creek near modern-day Nebraska City, but the Army realized quickly that few emigrants passed through that specific location and moved the fort south to the Platte River in 1848. It became a major trail stop with over 4,000 wagons passing through by June 1849 and an organizing point for the Indian Wars until the railroad passing through made the trail obsolete. It was decommissioned in 1871.

This was all irrelevant to Kearny, though, because by 1846 he had been ordered as a brigadier general to raise his famous Army of the West. He easily took control of New Mexico and, despite Kearny's embarrassing defeat at the hands of Andrés Pico and his mounted Californio Lancers, Commodore Robert F. Stockton gained control with his Marine and bluejacket Navy forces and their combined attacks secured the capitulation of the Californios and the Treaty of Cahuenga in 1847. Kearny eventually asserted military control of the state (to the great ire of John C. Frémont and Commodore Stockton, his backer) and was later appointed governor of Veracruz and eventually Mexico City. This didn't last long, as he contracted yellow fever in Veracruz and retired to St. Louis to die in 1848 at the age of 54.

The excess 'e' was a late add to the Nebraska fort, and eventually to some but not all of the other geographic and man-made features to bear his name, by postal workers who were apparently unable to consistently spell it. This later rendering was then applied to the county when it was organized in 1860. A small county of 6,530 [2017] residents, its county seat is Minden, which we will reach shortly in this Part.

Junction NE 44, which will join us until between Axtell and Minden.

US 6/US 34/NE 44

Starting in Kearney (another one) to the north at US 30, N-44 crosses I-80 and the Platte River near the site of the Fort to its corouting with us, and then south to NE 4 for a distance of 32 miles. Interestingly, the NHRPLB shows its ref posts starting at 20+00, suggesting an extension further south was at least contemplated though no obvious routing exists.

Distance signage.
Entering Axtell.
Settled in the mid 1870s by Swedish immigrants to the region, the town name traditionally comes from the first railroad engineer who came through on the first engine in 1885. The village was incorporated the same year, and has a population of 743 [2017].
Most of the town is north of the highway, shown here.
Distance signage leaving town.
US 6/34/NE 44.
NE 44 separates here north to US 30.

US 6/US 34

Entering Minden.
Minden is the county seat, named after Minden in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany by the German immigrant Jensen brothers who settled there circa 1875. (This is the same namesake as other Mindens, such as Minden, NV.) Their presence in the region was a function of the railroad to the north, which had taken up most of the "good" holdings around Lowell, then the county seat, and other homesteaders followed suit. In 1876 settlers voted to move the county seat south to the new town even though no suitable building to house the county records existed yet. Officially established that year with a post office, the seat was duly moved despite a desperate attempt by the Lowell county clerk to prevent the records' transfer; he claimed by a notice on the door that his wife was ill with a contagious disease and no one should enter. The notice was ignored. Eventually the railroad reached Minden in 1883 and the city was one of the early boosters of the Kearney County Canal, finally completed in 1941 as the Central Nebraska Irrigation and Public Power District's Tri-County system to provide both hydroelectric power and irrigation. Particularly ravaged by the Dust Bowl, the highest temperature ever recorded in Nebraska was measured in Minden at 118°F on July 24, 1936. The economy continues to be highly agricultural today. The modern city has 2,973 inhabitants [2017].
Junction NE 10 in town.
From its southern terminus at the Kansas state line at KS 8, it takes a mostly due-north route across this point until it reaches Kearney itself, takes a somewhat circuitous co-routed bypass, and then continues on mostly north again to cross the Middle Loup River and end in Loup City after 102 miles.
Oregon, California and Pony Express Trail auto tour signage.
Get liquored up on Route 6!
On the east end of town signage starts appearing for TRUCK NE 74, but this route does not appear in the NHRPLB.
N-74 does exist in town, but doesn't intersect US 6/34. It terminates at N-10 south of the US 6/34/N-10 junction and proceeds east to Tobias and N-15 98 miles distant. We'll ride with NE 15 in the next Part.
Distance signage leaving town.
Turn-off for trucks on 33 Rd, but this doesn't appear in the NHRPLB either.
Mile 187.
Entering (and leaving) Heartwell.
Unlike Kearney, where the excess 'e' was introduced in error, Heartwell was originally named Hartwell. However, the man it was named for was actually James B. Heartwell, a state senator and president of a financial company in Hastings to the east (which we reach at the end of this Part), so the extra 'e' in 1902 was actually correcting an error instead of making one. It was founded in 1883 when the railroad went through. Never a large village, its population has never exceeded 200; indeed, the modern village has 69 inhabitants [2017].
Adams county line.
Adams County, Nebraska

Named for John Adams, the second president of the United States, it was formed in 1867 but not organized until 1871. Its county seat and largest city is Hastings, which we reach at the end of this Part. The modern county has 31,678 residents [2017].

Somewhere between Heartwell and Juniata, the original roadbed of the OLD/DLD diverted from modern US 6 north up an unknown road to proceed parallel and east into Hastings. Map evidence doesn't make it clear where this is, though this reference claims the diversion was roughly five miles west of Juniata. If so, that would probably be either County Rd 11-5W (Bladen Ave) or 12-0W (Overland Ave); no other clear junction would meet that requirement. Much of it is not paved even today and I did not travel it at the time.

Several state highway spurs exist in Adams county; as usual they have nothing to do with their ostensible parents. The first is NE 1A SPUR (SPUR S-1A [NHRPLB]), serving Kenesaw to the north about 3 miles away.
Although a tempting possibility for the old DLD/OLD alignment, SPUR S-1A is almost eight miles west of Juniata, making it unlikely if that sole reference is at all accurate.
Distance signage continuing east.
Historical marker for the Oregon Trail.
Mile 204.
The second spur is NE 1B SPUR (SPUR S-1B [NHRPLB]), serving Juniata, just one mile long.
Finally, NE 1C SPUR (SPUR S-1C [NHRPLB]). This is BUSINESS US 6. Time to fork!
By the way, there is a NE 1D SPUR to the north, but we don't intersect it.

Fork 1: Business US 6 in Hastings

Hastings turnoff, US 6. The exact historical routing in Hastings is not well attested by map evidence, but it is pretty clear the southern routing was a later bypass given how US 6 leaves town. The 2nd Street routing is fairly well documented by historical materials and seems to have been the original alignment of the Omaha-Lincoln-Denver Highway (we'll talk more about the history of the OLD/DLD as we get closer to Lincoln), becoming US 38 as signed in 1928. The bypass routing was a rather early change appearing in references as early as 1930 along the current alignment south of the downtown. Its impetus was federal funding, which regarded the downtown alignment as unacceptably congested and unsuitable for national defense purposes. Most references show it opening around 1931; it may not have had a US 6 shield at that time, so it is quite possible the historic business route wasn't ever signed as US 6 previously. Until 1970 what is now Business US 6 was signed CITY US 6, with a city banner (one of two in Nebraska; the other was in Lincoln).

However, as we mentioned earlier, S-1C isn't how the original US 38 approached town; that former alignment is on the OLD/DLD running parallel to us a quarter mile north and is signed in NAVTEQ as "DLD Road." Leaving Juniata (where S-1B terminates), it becomes W South St to intercept S-1C, makes a very small north jog on S-1C and then joins the modern business route. The relocation of the DLD out of Juniata we previously mentioned appears to have been part of the same realignment.

The last question is how it left town. A superficial analysis would suggest South Street continued on through town and indeed US 6 leaves town to the east on South Street; I think any Roadgap reader will appreciate that local later obliterations of old alignments are not at all unusual. However, the odd jog south on Elm St appears to have been part of the original routing as well and no resource I can consult indicates South St actually within the western city limits was ever part of the DLD, OLD or US 38.

The junction on the postcard depicted at right is undated, probably no later than the 1950s. A US 6 shield is shown clearly and correlates to the turnoff here. The amusing neon gantry has been long since removed.

Turning left (north) onto S-1C, notice that US 34 is not signed here. Distantly in the background as the road curves east we see a old dirt road intersecting us. That is DLD Road.
S-1C ends at 2nd St at Mile 1.15 (reference post 1+23). We turn right.
Hastings city limits.
Hastings was founded as a railroad town through and through, both from its 1872 establishment at the intersection of the Burlington-Missouri River and the St. Joseph-Denver City Railroads and also from its namesake Col. D. T. Hastings, then principal of the St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad and instrumental in its construction through the region. Visited briefly by the doomed Donner party in 1846 on their way to culinary malfeasance in the snows of California, they commented approvingly on the fertile landscape and its suitability to farming. Originally settled by primarily European immigrants, the town grew rapidly, incorporated in 1874, and became county seat (in place of Juniata) in 1878 after the five-year "Great County Seat War." Shortly afterwards, however, a fire in 1879 gutted much of the downtown and the city took over a decade to rebuild, further bruised by widespread drought in the late 1890s that hurt the local economy. Later known for its cigars after the dawn of the 20th century, the Great Depression again sapped the city's fortunes until the Naval Ammunition Depot was constructed in 1942. Military staff and services brought 8,000 new residents to the town, most of whom remained until the early 1950s and the subsequent closure of the Depot by 1966. Today it is still a railroad and agricultural town, much as it was at its beginning, though aided greatly by modern infrastructure and improved farming techniques. The current population is 24,822 [2018].
Entering downtown.
BR US 6 signage, though this alignment is not state highway and appears to be maintained by the City of Hastings (as was probably the case when it was CITY US 6).
Bellevue Avenue, a clock tower and a radio tower.
Junction US 281 and US 34 on their way north on Burlington Avenue from the US 6 junction to the south. More about this momentarily.
Hastings Avenue.
BR US 6.
US 6 then dips south on Elm Ave and east on South Street ...
to intersect mainline US 6 leaving town. Let's rewind back to the modern alignment.

Fork 2: US 6/US 34

Hastings city limits, again.
Advance signage for the junction with US 281.
US 281 is the longest continuous three-digit US highway at 1,875 miles from Business US 77/TX 48 in Brownsville, TX to the Canadian border near Dunseith, ND at ND 3 and MB (PTH) 10, the latter of which the road continues on into Manitoba. A western spur (US 281/TX 600 SPUR) in Texas terminates at International Blvd in Hidalgo, TX and the Mexican border, making it the only continuous 3du to also touch both national borders. Part of US 281's routing in Texas includes the entirety of Interstate 69C, the last suffixed Interstate not to use a cardinal direction, and one of the few suffixed Interstates that remain. At designation in 1931 US 281 only ran between the Dakotas but was extended into Nebraska a year later, and finally connected up to the Texas leg by 1939. Other than its segments in Texas, no portion of US 281 is currently or intended to be substantially any part of any future Interstate corridor, and it is unlikely to be truncated in the foreseeable future. We'll intersect its parent US 81 in the next Part.

US 6/US 34/US 281

EB US 6/EB US 34/NB US 281.
US 34 and US 281 won't be with us long, though, as they turn north on Burlington Ave about a block later to intersect the business routing north of us.

US 6

Mile 212.
Turning up Elm Ave ...
... to intersect BR US 6 and merge our forks.
Distance signage leaving town. Hastings has a US 34/281 bypass routing that intersects near here currently, but that wasn't the case (or at least wasn't signed) in 2006, and it does not appear in the current NHRPLB.
Crossing the railroad tracks.
Clay county line.
Continue to Part 20
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