Sherman County, NE

  • Land Area: 566 square miles
  • Population (2010): 3,152
  • County Seat: Loup City
  • Towns and Population (2010): Loup City- 1,029, Litchfield– 262, Ashton– 194, Rockville– 106, Hazard- 70. 
  • Public School Districts: Litchfield Public Schools, Loup City Public Schools.
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Sherman county exemplifies the rich pioneer history of central Nebraska. Early settlement from the South was followed by a variety of ethnicities  from many of the states to the East. The area provided good natural resources including wood, water, clay, and excellent farmland. The county grew steadily until the Depression and the 1930s, at which time climate collapsed much of the local economy. Since then, Sherman County has grown back to provide a home to strong families and many businesses and farms. It still maintains its rural values and mores including hard work, religion, and a willingness to give to communities in the county. All of these features are instantly recognizable to Junk Jaunters, who invariably have great experiences meeting and negotiating with the colorful residents of Sherman County.

History, and the settlement of the County Seat in Loup City:

The idea of the settlement of the Middle Loup Valley, in what is now Sherman County, originated in Grand Island, in the winter of 1872-73, when a little party of less than a score of men, only a few of whom had families, entered the plan of making a settlement in what is now Loup City, and securing the early organization of the county. At the time of their arrival on the present site of Loup City, there was only one small log cabin, 18 X 24 feet in size, occupied by as many as fourteen persons. When the organization of the party was perfected, they selected Loup City as their location, and secured authority from the State government to form a county organization.

At the election on April 1, 1873, only thirteen votes were polled, most of which were by the officers elected. This little band of sturdy pioneers left Grand Island in the winter of l872-73 entering what was then wild and unsettled territory with hopes of making homes and carving out their fortunes. Soon after the organization of the county, bonds were voted for the building of bridges, county buildings and schoolhouses. The amount of this bonded indebtedness was large estimated at about $65,000.

During the severe snowstorm, commencing April 13, 1873, and lasting three days, there was considerable suffering in the small but growing colony. At one point the store, owned by Frank Ingram, had sixty men imprisoned for the three days of the storm. During the storm, about fifty horses perished in the creek or hollow, just south of the store. The incident gave the creek, on which Loup City is located, its name: Dead Horse Run.

The first school in the county was taught by Miss Susan S. Gilbert, at. Loup City, with twenty-five pupils in attendance. Indian scares were common in 1876. Though these rumors were without foundation, they aroused so much terror that a large number of the inhabitants left the county. In the spring of 1877, there was quite a large immigration to the county, engendering tri-weekly mail to Grand Island, and resulting in considerable travel to the Black Hills by this route.

Loup City has had its share of excitement, from the murder of a newspaper editor, to a murder/suicide committed by
a Sheriff — both before 1900. Later, in the “dirty thirties,” Loup City had a Communist Riot and developed a widely renowned cultural center called Jenner’s Park.

Villages of Litchfield, Ashton, Hazard, and Rockville — Sherman County

Litchfield, Nebraska was founded on May 20, 1886. The land was the feature that brought most of the settlers to Litchfield. There are three theories on how the town of Litchfield got its name. Litchfield may be based on the name of a railroad worker from Litchfield, CT, of settlers from Litchfield, MN, or that an early settler had the name of Litchfield. Families came from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Vermont. There was no dominant ethnic group but elements of Dutch, Swiss, German, Norwegian, Scotch-Canadian, Irish, and English were all present.
Litchfield’s first building was a real estate offi ce. This was shortly followed by a Post Offi ce on June 19, 1886, and a railroad stop. The town grew rapidly after that to include a newspaper, businesses, schools and churches. The annual Old Settlers Picnic, held in July, still draws a large crowd.

Ashton was conceived as the Lincoln & Blackhills Railroad (later the B&MR) had stations at Farwell and Loup City and needed another stop midway between for the farmers along the line. It is said the site chosen was a prairie dog town not far from Oak Creek. The Lincoln Townsite Company platted the town, naming it “Ashton” for the hometown of John P. Taylor, from Illinois.

Even before rail service began in 1887, businesses were flourishing. There was a brickyard, lumber yard, real estate dealer, hotel, grain elevator, two general stores, and livery stables. The bank of Ashton began in 1888. That same year the school and post office were moved in from the German settlement of Zeven. Incorporation papers were filed on March 30th, 1889.

The original founders of the town were a blending of ethnic Europeans. When the railroad bypassed the village of Paplin, many Polish businessmen moved to Ashton, creating the preponderance of Poles, still evident today. Ashton continued to grow until the Depression in the 30s caused one of the two banks to fail, and several businesses to close. Train service was discontinued in 1985, and the tracks were removed the next year, so the “Second Chicago” remains a small Nebraska village. St. Francis Catholic Church continues to serve the community.

Rockville began with the arrival of a few families, establishing a post office in 1873, followed by a sod schoolhouse built in 1874. From these beginnings, Rockville was organized in 1886. Early homesteaders were colonial Americans of British and Anglo-Saxon descent. Then Germans settled south of the Middle Loup, Danes to the east, Bohemians and Czechs to the southwest, and the Poles to the northeast in the hills. 

When the Union Pacific Railroad built through the area in 1886, the town site was comprised of four sections of land. It is said that their primary purpose was to ensure incorporation so a license for a saloon could be attained. It was not long until there was one. In addition to the arrival of the railroad, a wooden bridge built over the Middle Loup River in 1886 also strongly influenced the growth of the town, connecting it along what is now Hwy 58 to Ravenna and larger communities to the South. After several weather washouts, major reconstruction began in 1972, which included a concrete bridge and realignment of the highway. The names Laona and Rockford were already taken, so “Rockville” was suggested, and as such the town was incorporated in 1887.

By the turn of the century, there were two grain elevators near the depot, which brought farmers to Rockville to sell their crops. St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1909, followed by The Community Church organized in 1935 and served by ministers from Evangelical and Reformed, and Congregational churches. In 1968 it became the United Church of Christ, and it was rebuilt in 1982.

Hazard, on the Grand Island & Wyoming Central Railroad line, was initially established in 1886. Early pioneers of many nationalities and cultures who moved to this frontier area, lived in dugouts and sod houses, forming a strong community bond that bound them together as they lived through blizzards, tornadoes, hordes of grasshoppers, drought, and dust storms.

Hazard is believed to have gotten its name as a result of a dangerous, swampy area along the tracks at that location. The soft roadbed caused trains to slow down and mark their logs with the word “Hazard” as a caution to other engineers who might be unfamiliar with the route.

Churches and schools were very important to residents. The first school was made of sod and remained with some improvements until 1900, when a frame schoolhouse was built. Today Hazard has three churches: Methodist, Lutheran, and Catholic. The Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized as early as 1882, with services held in various farm homes around the area until the church was built. Although the town is classed as “a quiet farming community,” the citizens feel that Hazard is still alive and well.

Hazard earned worldwide fame in 1992 when Richard Marx recorded his hit song, “Hazard,” based on a fictitious murder.

*Produced in part by a grant from Sherman County Lodging Tax Committee
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