In the early 1870s, pioneer families with the names of Bailey and Burdic settled in northern Washington County. As the area started to grow, railroad tracks were laid from Omaha. Aboard that first train was a conductor whose name was Samuel Hermann.At that time, the post office, was using the name “Cuming City.” The people felt that a better name was in order, since the office was near, but not in Cuming County. Remembering the conductor, Samuel Hermann, it was decided to call the town “Hermann.” [At some later date, the second “n” was dropped from the end, and the official name became “Herman.”]
The early downtown consisted of the train station, a grocery store, a newspaper office, “The Herman Independent,” a hardware store, a lumberyard, a hotel, and a bank.
The first school was District 22, located on the Charles Burdic farm southeast of Herman. Burdic rented the building for a few dollars a month. Desks were handmade of green cottonwood, the seats of cottonwood logs with the sawed side up and rough bark underneath. With the fast-burning cottonwood fuel in the box stove — no happy medium for warmth could be met. If you stood too close, it singed your clothing, and if you moved too far away, you froze. The first teacher was a German schoolmaster whose English was so poor that the students could hardly understand him.
The village quickly took shape so that by the summer of 1899, a full array of businesses lined the main street. Then, with little or no warning of the impending danger, a “cyclone” swept down upon the town on June 13th and nearly blew it away. The downtown was completely demolished, 13 people lost their lives.
Although only a few homes and businesses were left standing the people stayed, and immediately started to pick up the pieces and build anew. Herman lived on. New business houses flourished and Herman soon boasted “the largest department store for a town of its size” in Nebraska. A conservative bank emerged, along with one of the largest retail implement businesses in the state. New and bigger clothing, millinery, and grocery stores also appeared. In addition to a pool hall, restaurant, meat market, and drug store, there was also a doctor, a dentist, a veterinarian, and the Grange Hall.
The telephone company of Herman was organized in 1901 by businessmen and farmers in the area. It consisted of two lines to which all phones were connected. This simple system has grown to a company with nearly 2,000 miles of line and subscribers from a large portion of the county.
A Methodist Church was organized in 1876. Its building, dedicated in 1880, was one of the few structures left standing after the tornado. Zion Baptist’s Church, organized in 1879, was totally destroyed by the storm. A new building was dedicated in 1901. In 1947 the Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches from Hill Creek combined, forming the Herman Federated Church. One Christian program is now offered under the leadership of one pastor.
After spending two years in the old log schoolhouse, a 12 by 24-foot school was built just south of town. The town’s third school was built on the town site and when it was out-grown in 1912, a brick building was put up for a cost of $35,000. Later, a wing was added to the west side.
In 1959-60 more space was again needed. Built a few steps away from the old building, it had a combination gym and auditorium, a domestic science room, science labs, a shop, bringing together in one location many activities that had formerly been located in separate spaces. That building cost $125,000.
In 1969, after increasing problems in meeting state curriculum standards and finding qualified teachers, it was decided to merge the Herman junior and senior high school with the Tekamah school system. K-6 students still attend classes in Herman.
Herman’s peak population of 427 residents was reached in 1940. Currently home to 340, Herman has a lovely city park and an active volunteer fire department.
Centennial activities, held August 19-21, 1971, marked the 100th year with a busy three-day birthday party.
By LeMara Eicke, Box 973, Washington, NE 68068
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Washington County History, published by Taylor Publishing Co, 1980.