Central City, Nebraska

Central City is a city and the county seat of Merrick County, Nebraska, United States.[4] It is part of the Grand Island metropolitan area. The population was 3,039 at the 2020 census.[3]

Central City, Nebraska
Downtown Central City: G Street
Downtown Central City: G Street
Location in Merrick County and the state of Nebraska
Location in Merrick County and the state of Nebraska
Coordinates: 41°06′49″N 97°59′26″W / 41.11361°N 97.99056°W / 41.11361; -97.99056
CountryUnited States
Current name1875
 • Total2.42 sq mi (6.27 km2)
 • Land2.42 sq mi (6.27 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation1,696 ft (517 m)
 • Total3,039
 • Density1,254.75/sq mi (484.43/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code308
FIPS code31-08535
GNIS feature ID837913[2]



Early inhabitants


The inhabitants just prior to the establishment of Lone Tree (Central City) were the Pawnee people. In the late 1700s, the Chaui (Cáwiiʾi) had a village on the current location of Central City. An account that an old Chaui man gave to Major Frank North in 1875 about a battle that took place between two divisions of the Pawnee (the Chaui, Pitahauerit, and Kitkehahki, jointly known as the Southern Pawnee, on one side; and the Skidi on the other) in the late 1700s illustrates the political complexities of the early inhabitants of what would come to be Central City.[5]

There had been considerable rivalry between the Chaui and the Skidi, which eventually led to an unprovoked attack by the Skidi on a group of Chaui hunting buffalo. It was estimated that 200 Chaui were killed. All were men from the Chaui village, which was near Lone Tree and where Central City is now located. The surviving Chaui returned to their village (this was thought to have occurred during winter). The Chaui did not believe they were strong enough to attack the Skidi, so they held councils with two other Southern Pawnee bands and told them what happened. The Pitahauerit and Kitkehahki decided to help the Chaui against the Skidi.[5]

The men of the three villages crossed the Platte River and made a night march to the Skidi village. Some of the men dressed as buffaloes in order to entice the Skidi out of their village to hunt buffalo. The rest of the men hid along the river and behind the ridge of sandhills next to the river. The Skidi charged between the men hiding along the river and behind the sandhill ridge thinking that they were chasing buffalo; the Southern Pawnees attacked them there.[5]

All of the Skidi men who had not gone out to hunt the buffaloes came out of the village and joined buffalo hunters who had initially escaped, preparing to make a last stand. Grinnell's Chaui informant estimated that more than 400 Skidi men were killed. The Chaui and the Pitahauerat wanted to exterminate the Skidi, but the Kitkehaki disagreed, arguing that the Skidi were the same people as they and should not be eradicated. The three bands argued for some time, but the Kitkehaki won the argument. They told the Skidi that they wanted to talk and Skidi subsequently agreed to their terms. The Southern Pawnees took much of the Skidi property, including many horses. Many of the Skidi women were forced to marry into the other villages to establish family ties among villages of Pawnee.[5]

Founding of Lone Tree


The first pioneers passed through the area on the Mormon Trail in 1847 and later on the Oregon Trail and the California Trail. This location was close to a huge cottonwood tree, called Lone Tree, that the pioneers used on these trails as a landmark. In 1858, the Nebraska Territorial Legislature established Merrick County, naming it after Elvira Merrick, the wife of a Dodge County territorial legislator who introduced the bill creating Merrick County. A yet to be established county seat was called "Elvira" and was said to be located under Lone Tree.[6]

The actual county seat was created in 1866 near the planned location of Elvira and renamed "Lone Tree". It was established as the Union Pacific Railroad was laying tracks through Merrick County. In 1868, J.H. Berryman built the first substantial building, which functioned as a general store, hotel, bar, courthouse,[7] revival meeting hall, and his home. The first courthouse was built in 1871 and was replaced by the current court house in 1912.[6][8][9][10]

Nebraska Christian High school main building, formerly Nebraska Central College main building[8]

Name change


In 1875 a petition was presented to the Merrick County Court requesting a name change for Lone Tree to "Central City". Proponents of change argued that the name "Lone Tree" gave the impression that the area was desolate and the inhabitants were poor and uncivilized, which would not bring in new settlers and thereby limit the growth of the area. Opponents to change countered that "Lone Tree" portrayed a "beautiful spot and is a name dear to the pioneers." The proponents of change won out and on July 1, 1875, the name was officially changed to Central City.[8][9][10] The new name was meant to designate the city's key location within the state's agricultural belt.[11]

Boom town


By the 1880s, Central City was a boomtown after the arrival of a second railroad, the Burlington & Missouri River. During this time of peak growth, three banks were built, in addition to a hardware store, a roller mill, two newspapers, three lumberyards, a cracker factory, a cigar factory, a new brick school, nine churches, and Nebraska Central College, a Methodist institution which opened in 1885.[8][9][10][12]

The first newspaper in Central City was The Merrick County News, which published its first edition on March 21, 1872; it would become the Courier in 1874. Several attempts were made to establish a second paper, starting with the Sentinel, a "railroad" paper, on April 10, 1873; it lasted only a short time. In 1880, the Merrick County Item was first published, but lasted only until 1881. In 1882, the Nonpareil opened and Central City again had two newspapers.[13][14]

By the 1890s, economic growth had slowed. The Courier closed in 1890, and Nebraska Central College closed in 1891. A flood washed out both the Union Pacific and Burlington railroad tracks. By the mid-1890s, economic conditions were improving. Two new newspapers opened: the Record in 1895 (which would close in 1908) and the Republican in 1896 (which would merge with the Nonpareil to form the current Republican-Nonpareil in 1953).[14] The Society of Friends (Quakers) reopened Nebraska Central College in 1899.[6][8][9][10]

The early 1900s saw the construction of a new courthouse (1911–1913), the historic Martha Ellen Auditorium (1916, earlier an opera house), and a new high school.[15] Economic growth was aided in the 1920s by the opening of a branch of Omaha Cold Storage in 1927, allowing farmers to sell their poultry and eggs locally at better prices. Perhaps the most notable citizen of Central City, Wright Morris, lived here from 1910 to 1919.[8][9][10]

1930s to the present


A library was built just before the Great Depression, but little construction took place during the 1930s. In the 1940s, construction resumed when a hospital was built and a gymnasium was added for the high school. In the 1950s, Nebraska Central College closed (1953), but a new hospital was built in 1959. In 1975, an explosion and fire destroyed an entire city block, but Central City still reached its largest population to date at 3,083 people in 1980. Central City's population has declined slightly since then.[8][9][10]

Historic places and buildings


National Register of Historic Places


Six places in or near Central City are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[6] To qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, a place (e.g., building, landmark, or location) must be at least 50 years old and have one or more of the following characteristics or associations: historic events, notable people, and/or architecture.

[16] Name on the Register Image Date listed[17] Location City or town Description
1 Martha Ellen Auditorium
Martha Ellen Auditorium
September 28, 1988
706 C Ave.
41°06′53″N 98°00′09″W / 41.114722°N 98.0025°W / 41.114722; -98.0025 (Martha Ellen Auditorium)
Central City
2 Heber Hord House
Heber Hord House
December 7, 1987
1505 16th St.
41°06′58″N 97°59′18″W / 41.116111°N 97.988333°W / 41.116111; -97.988333 (Heber Hord House)
Central City
3 Wright Morris Boyhood House
Wright Morris Boyhood House
October 22, 1980
304 D St.
41°07′02″N 98°01′38″W / 41.117222°N 98.027222°W / 41.117222; -98.027222 (Wright Morris Boyhood House)
Central City
4 Nelson Farm
Nelson Farm
August 26, 2009
1139 M Rd.
41°06′22″N 98°05′27″W / 41.106111°N 98.090833°W / 41.106111; -98.090833 (Nelson Farm)
Central City
5 Patterson Law Office
Patterson Law Office
March 13, 1979
1517 18th St.
41°06′51″N 97°59′57″W / 41.114167°N 97.999167°W / 41.114167; -97.999167 (Patterson Law Office)
Central City
6 Riverside Park Dance Pavilion
Riverside Park Dance Pavilion
December 31, 1998
Riverside Rd. in Riverside Park
41°05′57″N 97°57′58″W / 41.099167°N 97.966111°W / 41.099167; -97.966111 (Riverside Park Dance Pavilion)
Central City

Former listing

[16] Name on the Register Image Date listedDate removed Location City or town Description
1 Merrick County Courthouse
Merrick County Courthouse
January 10, 1990
January 2, 2014 18th St. between 15th and 16th Aves.
41°06′50″N 97°59′57″W / 41.113889°N 97.999167°W / 41.113889; -97.999167 (Merrick County Courthouse)
Central City

Nebraska State Historic Places


A number of significant events, people, places, sites, movements, and traditions in Nebraska history are marked by the Nebraska State Historical Society. By law, a marker cannot be erected without permission of the Nebraska State Historical Society.[18] There are currently two such locations marked in Central City: Lone Tree and the Mormon Trail, which passed near the historical location of Lone Tree.

Nebraska State Historical Sites in Central City
Mormon Trail Marker, Central City



Central City is in east-central Merrick County, 2 miles (3 km) northwest of the Platte River. U.S. Route 30, passes through the city as G Street and 16th Street; the highway leads southwest 22 miles (35 km) to Grand Island and northeast 41 miles (66 km) to Columbus. Nebraska Highway 14 passes through the center of town as 17th Avenue, leading north 18 miles (29 km) to Fullerton and south 17 miles (27 km) to Aurora.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Central City has a total area of 2.44 square miles (6.32 km2), all land.[1]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[19]
2012 Estimate[20]

2010 census


As of the census[21] of 2010, there were 2,934 people, 1,240 households, and 762 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,264.7 inhabitants per square mile (488.3/km2). There were 1,419 housing units at an average density of 611.6 per square mile (236.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.5% white, 0.1% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 1.2% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.5% of the population.

There were 1,240 households, of which 28.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.9% were married couples living together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.5% were non-families. 33.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.94.

The median age in the city was 42.4 years. 24% of residents were under the age of 18; 7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22.3% were from 25 to 44; 25.7% were from 45 to 64; and 20.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.9% male and 53.1% female.

2000 census


As of the census of 2000, there were 2,998 people, 1,212 households, and 812 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,507.1 inhabitants per square mile (581.9/km2). There were 1,352 housing units at an average density of 679.6 per square mile (262.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 98.20% white, 0.40% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.50% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.27% from other races, and 0.50% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.30% of the population.

There were 1,212 households, out of which 31.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.9% were married couples living together, 8.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were non-families. 30.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 2.96.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 26.5% under the age of 18, 6.7% from 18 to 24, 23.2% from 25 to 44, 22.4% from 45 to 64, and 21.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85 males.

As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $50,000 and the median income for a family was $39,118. Males had a median income of $27,250 versus $19,750 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,943. About 6.3% of families and 8.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.2% of those under age 18 and 11.9% of those age 65 or over.

Notable people



  1. ^ a b "2023 U.S. Gazetteer Files: Nebraska". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Central City, Nebraska
  3. ^ a b "P1. Race – Central City city, Nebraska: 2020 DEC Redistricting Data (PL 94-171)". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  4. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Grinnell, George Bird (April–June 1920). "Grinnell writes about the Pawnee". Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days. III (2).
  6. ^ a b c d Kay, John, Lonnie Dickson, Robert Kay, and Kathleen Fimple (1992). "Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey Reconnaissance Survey Final Report of Merrick County, Nebraska" (PDF). Nebraska State Historical Society: State Historic Preservation Office. Archived from the original on November 16, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ "Nebraska national Register Sites in Merrick County". Archived from the original on April 9, 2000.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson, Nancy B. "Central City -- Merrick County".
  9. ^ a b c d e f Merrick County Historical Society (1981). History of Merrick County, Dallas. Dallas, TX: Taylor publishing Company.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Merrick County Historical Society. History of Merrick County-Volume II. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company.
  11. ^ Fitzpatrick, Lillian L. (1960). Nebraska Place-Names. University of Nebraska Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-8032-5060-6. A 1925 edition is available for download at University of Nebraska—Lincoln Digital Commons.
  12. ^ The Nebraska State Historical Society (1939). Nebraska: A Guide to the Cornhusker State (WPA Guide). The Viking Press: New York. p. 424.
  13. ^ Andreas, A. T. (1882). History of the State of Nebraska. Chicago: The Western Historical Company. Archived from the original on October 29, 2002.
  14. ^ a b "Merrick County Lookups". Archived from the original on March 14, 2013.
  15. ^ Nebraska State Gazetteer and Business Directory, Vol. XVI. Omaha, Nebraska: Polk-McAvoy Directory Co. 1917.
  16. ^ a b Numbers represent an alphabetical ordering by significant words. Various colorings, defined here, differentiate National Historic Landmarks and historic districts from other NRHP buildings, structures, sites or objects.
  17. ^ The eight-digit number below each date is the number assigned to each location in the National Register Information System database, which can be viewed by clicking the number.
  18. ^ "Nebraska Historical Marker Program". Archived from the original on February 9, 1999. Retrieved January 21, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  20. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  21. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 24, 2012.