|Litchfield is a village of approximately 300 residents, that have a close-working relationship to the local farm/ranching community. Although its location is mid-America, — 1,733 miles from either coast, it is far from being an isolated town.
Chosen by many Civil War veterans, this location had much to offer: rich, black soil, good water, wild game, fruit, and a season long enough to raise good crops. They homesteaded the level land between the North and South Loup Rivers, with Muddy Creek to the east and Beaver Creek to the west.
Families came from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Vermont. There was no dominant ethnic group; Hollanders, Swiss, Germans, Norwegians, Scotch-Canadians, Irish, and English. Commonality of state nativity was almost as important, with “Hoosiers” the largest group. Descendants of these families still call Litchfield “home.”
The first settlers, James Riley Lang and two brothers, Howard and Francis, came from Sharp’s Mill, Indiana, in 1873-74. Lang built a house, store, and grist mill on West Muddy Creek. A blacksmith shop opened nearby. A cemetery was established in 1874, now the final resting place of 48 Civil War veterans and over 2,000 Litchfieldians.
When the railroad came through in 1886, lots were platted by the Lincoln Land Company a mile east of the first business ventures, and the name “Litchfield” was given to the town. Early businesses sprang up to serve the citizens, which included two newspapers, “The Northwestern,” and “The Monitor.” A druggist opened a pharmacy which included a mortuary with a casket maker. A block was set aside for the Fairview Park. Schools and churches were also important.
A post office was established east of Litchfield at Cedarville. Mail was delivered twice each week from Loup City, the county seat, by a carrier on horseback. Several small post offices operated out of farm homes until rural free delivery was established.
After a time, the grist mill was moved to the creek one mile south of town. The village continued to grow. By 1920 the census recorded nearly 500 residents and boasted some 35 businesses, several doctors and dentists, five churches, and an accredited K-12 school.
During the Depression and the Dirty Thirties, Litchfield, like most Nebraska towns, saw businesses close, farms deserted, schools and churches dwindle, and organizations fold, as residents left the area.
But, the town came back. In 1977 Litchfield won the Nebraska Community Improvement Award as the state’s number one small town! Not only were all houses occupied, but 15 new homes had been built. Other additions included: Lincoln Grain Elevator, a packing plant, a fertilizer plant, a four-building school campus, a new city library with community room attached, ten low-rental housing units, a new fire hall, a state bank, numerous other businesses, a new grocery-hardware-variety store, a new post office building. The town has a strong volunteer fire department with an ambulance and rescue squad.
Husker Farms, with its round barn and carousel, is visited by dairy operators and agri-business groups from around the nation and the world. Diversified farming of corn, wheat, alfalfa, sorghum grains, plus cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses has also made a come-back.
Tourism is promoted by the annual Dads, Lads, and Lassies Hunt each fall. In cooperation with the community and rifle clubs, the town provides bed and breakfast, guides, and hunting dogs as teams from many states and Canada enjoy hunting and hospitality. A “Calcutta” (auction) adds to the fun.
The annual Old Settlers Picnic, held in July, always draws a large crowd. In 1986 after a year-long celebration of the town’s centennial and publication of a history book, the citizens of Litchfield looked back with pride and appreciation at the community’s rich heritage, and forward to the next 100 years.
Unlike the first welcome sign set up by pioneers, “10 miles to water, 30 miles to wood – God bless our homes,” a new 16-foot wind-sculpture featuring an Indian chief and a walking plow now greets and welcomes travelers to our town…Litchfield.
By Thelma Lang, Box 143, Litchfield, NE 68852.