How good is your memory? The town of Oshkosh NE was lucky to have a resident with a great memory and willingness to document and share what she remembered. In June of 1984 someone from the Garden County News office contacted Helen M. Robinson asking her to write about her personal memories of different business in Oshkosh beginning in 1920. After thinking it over Helen agreed but with one condition. “That condition is, that it would also become a community project, to attempt to get a written record of the Oshkosh businesses from 1920 to the present time – 1984.” (Chapter 1; Page 1) I don’t know if she realize when she agreed how large of a project this would turn into. Her articles appeared in the Garden Count News from June 14, 1984 to December 4, 1986.
In 1985 Helen’s children decided that their mom’s newspaper articles should be placed in a more permanent form. After the last article was printed in 1986 they began working on compiling the articles into a book. For continuity and ease of reading they combined the articles and created chapters. The completed book was finished in July 1987 which also happened to be about the same time Helen celebrated her 80th birthday.
Today everyone can read and enjoy Helen M. Robinson’s Recollections. In 2014 the Garden County Historical Society, along with the Oshkosh Public Library, worked with the Library Commission to digitize the book and make it available in the Nebraska Memories. The book can be found at: http://memories.nebraska.gov/cdm/landingpage/collection/gchs
Reading the book I learn that Oshkosh has supported a wide variety of businesses over the years including barbers, shoe & harness repair, department stores, flower & gift shops, bakeries, cream stations, sales barns, cafes, manufacturing, morticians, cleaning establishments, ice cream parlors, hotels, hardware stores and filling stations. The amount of information Helen provides about each business is amazing. Many of these businesses changed locations over time and she documented all of their different locations, the names of the owners and employees.
Here is just a small portion of what I learned just about the banks in Oshkosh. In 1917 a second bank opened in town and was named the Oshkosh State Bank. It was located in a small building on the east side of Main Street until a two-story brick building was completed on the southwest corner of Main and Avenue C. The picture at the right shows the building during construction. In 1924 the Oshkosh State Bank and the Nebraska State Bank merged under the name Nebraska State Bank. The Nebraska State Bank moved its offices from their building which was located a block north to the brick building built by the Oshkosh State Bank. The newly formed bank was managed by Mr. Farrell.
My short paragraph is far from the complete history of the banks in Oshkosh. There is almost 60 more years’ worth of information in the book just about the banks. The information includes the names of many of the owners and employees starting in 1904 and continues on until the early 1980’s. Helen even provided the maiden names for many of the female employees. More information about the banks can be found in Chapter 10 of the book.
On a side note I do wonder what type of negotiations took place in 1924 when the banks merged. How did they decide to go with the name Nebraska State Bank yet at the same time locate their business in a brick building that had the name Oshkosh State Bank written in stone above the door? Looking at Google Map’s Street View you can see that the bank building is still standing 97 years later with the name Oshkosh State Bank still visible.
Reading through the book I was happy to see that Helen got her wish and her columns did turn into a community project. Throughout the book there are multiple references to what other folks remembered. Helen also included letters other folks sent her. One letter that I enjoyed was from Betty (Brennan) Beam. Betty’s letter talked about the first tea house in Oshkosh. She described it as “dark and without paint. Within was the odor of burning coals and soot.” As you read you realize the tea house she was describing was actually Jim Monshan’s blacksmith shop where the farmers would gather for a cup of tea. Betty said “Jim Monahan was English enough to make the tea and Irish enough to be blessed with quick wit and a ready answer.” (Chapter 7; Page 25)
I hope my comments about the book Helen M. Robinson’s Recollections have piqued your interest. The book is over 300 pages long. There are a lot of great memories of businesses and business people of Oshkosh. If you don’t have time to read the book cover to cover you can always search the book for specific name, business or any piece of information you think maybe included in the book.
Visit Nebraska Memories to search for or browse through many more historical images digitized from photographs, negatives, postcards, maps, lantern slides, books and other materials.
Nebraska Memories is a cooperative project to digitize Nebraska-related historical and cultural heritage materials and make them available to researchers of all ages via the Internet. Nebraska Memories is brought to you by the Nebraska Library Commission. If your institution is interested in participating in Nebraska Memories, see http://nlc.nebraska.gov/nebraskamemories/participation.aspx for more information, or contact Beth Goble, Historical Projects Librarian, or Devra Dragos, Technology & Access Services Director.