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Jim McKee: Bronco Lake, beer and Alliance

January 13, 2019

Although Alliance is known nationally, partially due to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” for picking up the Box Butte County courthouse and physically moving it from Hemingford by railroad, it also has a brief tie to Coors Brewery and tangentially to Lincoln’s Northwestern Metal Company.

In 1886 Box Butte County, named for a natural rock formation, was calved from Dawes County and the county seat arbitrarily placed at a site near the geographic center named Nonpareil. Several miles northwest of today’s Alliance a post office was created named Bronco Lake the same year. A year later the Lincoln Land Co., a division of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, purchased four 40-acre tracts for $40 to $43 an ace in anticipation of the railroad’s arrival. Bronco Lake became Grand Lake as a railroad camp was established there and developed quickly claiming banks, hotels and even two newspapers mostly housed in tents or tarpaper shacks.

When the railroad arrived in 1888 the Burlington’s George Holdrege caused the village to be platted and began selling city lots from their 160-acre site. When the U. S. Post Office turned down the name Grand Lake in February fearing it would too easily be confused with Grand Island, Holdrege suggested the name Alliance. Alliance was considered acceptable as it was at the beginning of the alphabet, was about the merger point of two railroads and some suggested it was also the railroad’s civil engineer J.N. Paul’s home city of Alliance, Ohio. That summer Alliance was incorporated by the county and within two months “250 buildings were built, mostly of wood and tarpaper.”

One of the first buyers of the Lincoln Land Company property was Chenia Newberry who was born in Michigan, moved to Prairie Center, Nebraska, and then Ravenna where he worked in a hardware store. One of the first things he did in Alliance was to establish a tin shop which expanded into the manufacture of saddles, bridles and farm machinery. In 1914 he built a three-story masonry building for retail sales, a warehouse and manufacturing plant. Newberry also established a wholesale business through Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

C. A. Newberry was also instrumental in the establishment of the Alliance Creamery in 1907 which, while manufacturing 500,000 pounds of butter a year in addition to ice cream, later sold to Fairmont Dairy in 1930 but transferred into the poultry business in 1932. With the retirement of Newberry’s grandson F. B. Girard in 1968 the retail store, the last remnant of the manufacturing concern, closed becoming an Ace Hardware store.

In 1907 Adolph Coors constructed a building for beer distribution and announced plans for a brewery. When he abandoned the brewery concept the building was sold to J. M. Miller, becoming the Alliance Hotel.

In 1898 the idea of moving the county seat from Hemingford, the second county seat location, to Alliance was decided in a special election held Oct. 11 with 835 voting for Alliance, 430 for Hemingford. The actual move has several varying accounts but the most reliable comes from the extensive newspaper research of Russ Reno. The records, safe and furniture were first shipped to the Opera House in Alliance which would become the temporary courthouse. Then in June, the Hemingford building was moved, with the help of a railroad bridge engineer, across log-like rollers to the railroad where two steam locomotives took the 40-foot tall, 100,000-pound building on its 10 miles per hour trip to Alliance where it was placed on a new stone foundation. The building was again moved in 1914 but only a few feet so that the new courthouse could be built on the old site.

Alliance continued to grow, reaching 829 in 1890, 2,535 in 1900 and 3,105 in 1910. One observer says that Dan and Nathan Hill arrived in Alliance in 1907 as scrap dealers but this seems unlikely as in 1909 Daniel and Nathan show up in the Lincoln City Directory as Zolot & Hill Scrap Metal Co. at 331 North Ninth St., and the following year as Hill Brothers Northwestern Metal Co. About 1920 they acquired an abandoned Lincoln school building at 901 T St., ultimately ending up on a 30-acre tract with three railroad spurs and a 60,000 square foot plant north of Lincoln. It is known that after World War I the Hill brothers headquartered briefly in Alliance when they salvaged the abandoned potash plant at Antioch a few miles east of Alliance.

Still considered a railroad town, though the last passenger train left Alliance in 1969, the current population is about 8,500. The three-story Newberry Hardware building at 40 Box Elder Ave. is extant as a key part of the downtown historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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