The History of the Town of Pender, Thurston County
Painting of Pender by Don Trimble. Courthouse in the background. [Photo by Puckett Studio]
Downtown Pender, 1990. [City of Pender]
In the treaty of 1854, a 300,000 acre tract of land, known as "Blackbird County," was set aside for the Omaha Indians. In the mid-1860s the Omahas agreed to share part of their land with the Winnebago tribe. In 1882 after years of declining Indian population, a bill was passed by the Congress providing for the sale of 50,000 acres of reservation land.
Said to be "a time of intense excitement," hundreds of eager land-seekers arrived, hoping to secure land in this fertile region. A nearly-endless procession of teams and wagons, resembling a city on wheels, assembled. Some had built panels for a temporary dwelling, ready to assemble when a location was secured, while others brought a small "shanty," complete and ready for occupancy as soon as it could be unloaded.
The laws opening the land to settlement forbade entrance "until 12-noon of the appointed day." On April 30, 1884, the signal was given by firing a gun, at which time people rushed out onto the land. When an unoccupied marker was reached, a plow was unloaded and used to mark a fence line. Another member of the family hurried back to Bancroft to file the claim.
W.E.Pebbles, a store owner from Oakland, visited the reservation in 1883. He was certain that when the land was opened, an important town would spring up along the railroad, so he took steps to secure a favorable location. In the land-rush, he successfully claimed the land he thought would be the town site. To further insure his choice, he named it for a director of the Chicago, St.Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad Company, John Pender.
Prior to all this, in 1872, a small schoolhouse had been built at this location for about 15 pupils. It was replaced by a two-story frame building as the town developed. Pender's first public schoolhouse was built in 1891, with a second division added almost immediately. By 1922 a larger building was needed. The new schoolhouse was completed and the move made during the Christmas vacation. This building is still in use. In 1970 the Pender and Thurston schools consolidated. Children from our schools continue to receive a good education. They do well whether they go on to college or make their mark in the community right out of high school. Many graduates return to Pender for the alumni banquet held each June.
The churches in Pender are the United Church (Methodist and Presbyterian), Catholic, Convenant, Assembly of God, and Lutheran. There are also two rural Lutheran Churches. The Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran congregations have all celebrated their centennials.
The first known burial at Rose Hill Cemetery was in 1859, long before the town was formed. Since it was already established, "the Hill" was made the town's designated cemetery.
With this unique beginning, a progressive little village has grown into a town of 1,318. Pender was named the county seat of the new "Thurston County" that emerged, and as such supports a newspaper, and other official businesses.
A fire department was formed in 1894, with the first fire hall built in 1916, and a new one completed in 1964. The rescue unit, formed in 1969, was one of the first units in northeast Nebraska to complete the emergency medical technician ambulance course.
A landing strip was established northwest of Pender many years ago. The new Pender Municipal Airport was officially opened July 6, 1971. Additional construction, which included runway lighting, was completed in 1984, and marked the opening of a fine, all-weather airport.
Pender also serves as a medical center for the county, with its hospital and three doctors. A 24-bed hospital was built in the 1950s, with an expansion in 1971 that more than doubled the facilities. The Pender Care Center is a 62-bed facility for the elderly and disabled.
Softball adds to the summer activities of the community. Pender's lovely park, complete with a swimming pool built in 1938, is a busy place. Tennis courts were added in the 1970s.
The library, formed in 1904, is now housed in a beautiful House Memorial Library and Craven Cultural Center. The newest addition to Pender is the Heritage Museum of Thurston County, opened in 1988. Another soft ball field and a new golf course will be ready for use in 1991.