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Hooker County: Then and now

Pure Nebraska
Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 11:32 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - During a visit to Mullen, we talked with a 100-year-old historian on how the area has changed through the years.

Frank Harding has lived in the Mullen area his entire life, except for four years when he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He is a member of the Hooker County Historical Society. At 100, you might say he’s an expert on local history.

“Ranching is big at the present time,” Harding said. “There’s very little farming. We have some irrigation wells that help raise some alfalfa, but it’s practically all grass, so no real farming. When the railroad came through in the 1800′s, people started coming to claim a homestead. They would come this far to the rail station. But then, they’d go north across the Middle Loup River to settle, because south between here and the Dismal River, surface water is much lower. You go north of here, and you find lakes, ponds and surface water. It took some time to settle the area.”

Harding was born in 1922. He says the country was much different then than it is now. “In 1904 with the Kincaid Act, you could get 640 acres. People came in, and we had someone practically living on every section. But, they brought their plows with them, and they tore up the land. The farming didn’t last very long. Then we had the Great Depression, so that led to people turning to all cattle on the grasslands.”

“There have been many changes over the years,” Harding said. “Some of the first things I remember is the town of Hecla. They shipped cattle from there. More cattle went out of Hecla, Nebraska in the 1920′s than the whole state of Wyoming.” The town of Hecla no longer exists, but people still know its original location. “After World War II, we had one of our biggest changes in living conditions,” Harding said. “This was pretty primitive here before World War II. Most people did not have running water in their house, they did not have indoor plumbing, even at that time. Most other places did. When electricity came here, this area changed enormously. The town had it’s biggest population in the 1920′s. We had a boom after World War II, but it’s settled down a bit since then.”

Now, the community of Mullen is quite modern, with many conveniences. There are a number of attractions in town, including the local grocery store. You’ll want to consider a stop at the Hooker County Historical Museum on Main Street. It’s housed inside a former historic hotel. And, you can purchase some local art and other local products when you pay a visit to the Mullen Arts Center across the street from the museum.

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