Ruth Ulrich of rural Steinauer as a student at the UNL School of Journalism wrote the following story in 1973. Ruth Ulrich Beethe now lives at rural Tecumseh.
Around 1900 a small town was founded in southeastern Nebraska. Within 30 years it was dead.
Though never incorporated, the village actually consisted of three tiny establishments—Gartner, Mayberry, and Bennett’s Addition to Mayberry, according to records found in the Pawnee County Courthouse. Throughout the years, however, the entire area, consisting of about 13 blocks, became known as Mayberry.
Located one mile north and four miles west of Steinauer, the land is now owned by three local farmers, Otto and Edwin Ulrich and Edwin Bredemeier.
What causes a town to thrive and die within such a short period of time? According to Otto Ulrich, who along with his wife is the only remaining resident within the "city limits," the chief cause was the automobile.
"The main people who remained in the village of Mayberry were old retired persons," he said, "and they all died."
His brother, Edwin Ulrich, agreed that the town began to die when automobile travel started to replace horses and the railroad, and roads to larger towns and cities were improved.
Edwin, who lives a few yards west of the city limits, seemed to think that another contributing factor was the failure of Mayberry’s industry—a brick factory. Located on the west edge of town, it turned out "number one bricks" for many years.
"Some of these same bricks can still be found in some of the older buildings in and around town," he said. He attributed the industry’s failure to "lack of interest to keep the product perfect."
Casey Lindquist, 81, lived in Mayberry from 1914 to 1923, during its heyday, serving as depot agent for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad, which continued to run through the town until several years ago.
Now living in Pawnee City, Lindquist said, "I remember all of that land, and I love it." Many of his dearest memories are from his years spent in Mayberry.
His reasons for leaving the town were similar to those of many others during the depression years—more money. "I made a better bid on a larger station," he explained.
He described the people who lived in Mayberry as "settled and satisfied." They went to Steinauer once in a while, but usually they just gathered on the front porch of the store to talk and smoke.
"The automobile ended that," Lindquist said. People were able to go beyond the "front porch" for entertainment. He noted another cause for people leaving Mayberry—farmers buying land to improve their own farms pushed out the small farmers.
Genevieve Mayberry Fiehtner, who lives in Summerfield, KS, is one of the surviving family members of the man from whom the town derived its name. The youngest of the family, her reason for leaving was probably similar to that of many young female residents of Mayberry—she left "to be a farmer’s wife." Mrs. Fiehtner told of a fire in 1917 which destroyed the buildings on the entire east side of Main Street, which included two stores, a barn, the lumber yard, several dwellings and part of the railroad station platform.
She commented that Mayberry’s school offered only eight grades. Many of the older residents died, she said, and their children had no interest in remaining in the town. Only a few farmers stayed.
Resulting from these numerous causes, the town faded back into the farming community from which it had evolved. All that remained were broken-down buildings and rutted alleys.
The alleys were overgrown with grass and weeds, and bit-by-bit the farmers are tearing down the buildings to leave only a faint memory that Mayberry ever existed.
Remains of Mayberry Hotel