Our Town Harvard: History and a spirit of giving

Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 10:06 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - There is plenty of history to be experienced in the community of Harvard. But just as important, is the generosity people there have displayed over the years.

We visited with Dr. Don Gerlach, who is a Harvard native. He spent a good portion of his life as a history professor at the University of Akron in Ohio. Although he lived away from home for years, he always wanted to come back to this special place. The home he lives in, is one of the oldest in Harvard. “This house was built in 1919,” Gerlach said. “After the original builders died rather early, my grandparents retiring from the farm to make way for my mother and father, bought this house, and it’s been in the family ever since.”

Gerlach says the town of Harvard got its start when the Burlington railroad reached Harvard in December of 1871. “It was a part of those alphabetical towns that ran west of Crete,” Gerlach said. “Crete, Dorchester, Exeter and so on. When they got to “H”, the construction engineer said let’s name this for my alma mater, Harvard. The town was then laid out in 1872.” Gerlach says along with his home, some of the oldest houses that are still standing date back to 1872 and 1873. “This town prospered as a stop on the Burlington, and became a farm community,” Gerlach said.

Harvard was the site for an Army Air Base during World War II. Of course, there were other bases around the area, including one at Bruning and one at Fairmont. “In 1944, this area was the scene of a terrible collision when the pilots in training of some B-17 bombers came back in the evening from a day’s flight, and they ran into one another,” Gerlach said. “One managed to land safely, but the others crashed in mid-air.”

There seems to be a long history of giving in the Harvard community. For example, the town has a community foundation. “I bequeathed my house to them,” Gerlach said. He hopes his house could be used as the community foundation’s headquarters, or as a museum. “We had a couple who came to Harvard in the 1870′s from the east, by the name of W.A. Farmer. He and his wife were both stricken with consumption,” Gerlach said. “They both died early. When they did, he bequeathed about 400 acres of land, which was handed over to a trust. The Farmers’ trust still exists today with three members. They are charged with using the income from the farm to pave the streets of Harvard.”

While several of the old buildings on main street have disappeared over time, many still remain. The community lost its grocery store earlier this year, and community leaders are hoping to get someone to open it again. There is also progress happening. Harvard is in the middle of building a new fire station. If you are looking for a fun afternoon, consider a drive to Harvard, where you can see six historical markers in the town, and that’s half of all the markers in the county.

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