In many ways, the Village of Wilcox, located in the southeast corner of Kearney County, is a paradox. Although new businesses, homes, and municipal services, combined with the high-tech advances in agriculture, have brought many changes over the years, it remains much the same as the small farming community first established in 1886.
Wilcox is made up of families spanning three and four generations. All are tied to agriculture, either through the direct production of grain and livestock or through ag-related businesses and industries in Wilcox or nearby towns.
Like many Nebraska towns, Wilcox owes its existence to the coming of the railroad. The first settler was Charles Walker, who in 1872 established Walker’s Ranch as a station on the government mail route from Kearney City to the Republican Valley. It was located east and north of the current town site. A year later, it was purchased by Deputy U.S. Marshal Ball, who homesteaded the quarter section on which the ranch was located. It grew to include a post office in 1874, school in 1877, and store in 1879.
The current town of Wilcox was established by Henry Wilcox, a businessman and lawyer in Alma. He and his partner, W.R. Sapp, bought the 240-acre town site shortly before the railroad arrived.
The Bank of Wilcox opened in June 1886 with $10,000 in capital, the Keene Post Office moved to this location and by 1887 the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad had completed construction of its Wilcox line.
Other businesses that helped to make Wilcox a complete town included: general stores, a hardware, furniture and drug store, lumber companies, farm implement dealers, a newspaper (“Wilcox Beacon”), grain elevator, brick yard, flour mill, and the railroad offices for the Kansas City & Omaha line.
The first village windmill was set up in 1888, board sidewalks were installed, and other city services were added.
A unique attraction, built in 1893, was a horse racing track just north of town. It covered 85 acres. A trotter association was organized in 1894 and before the track closed in the early 1900s, greyhound races were also held.
The fire department was called to major fires in 1900 and 1901, plus 1911, when the opera house was destroyed. That led to the construction of a water system. A power and light franchise started in 1916. Members of the Eastern Star established the first library in 1922.
A school was established in the late 1870s. Classes were held at the local store until 1888. A new building was constructed in 1909 and bus service began in 1921. A fire destroyed the school building in 1949, so classes were held at various locations around town until a new brick building was completed in 1950. Wilcox maintains a K-12 school.
Although the last train traveled through Wilcox in the mid-1980s, other services have expanded over the years. The town has a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, a city park, use of the town hall, a Lions Hall, and the continued service of one rural and three town churches. There is also a bank and many businesses that provide the basic services, plus a number of specialty shops operated out of individuals’ homes.
Recreation, outdoor and entertainment activities, are centered around high school sports, music, and drama events. In addition to steam, craft and hobby shows, and work at the Sacramento-Wilcox Game Management Area west of town, Wilcox has hosted a number of special events during its history. The Farmers Institute met at Bradford Hall in 1897 to promote better farming methods and a bandstand was built that same year for a visit by politician William Jennings Bryan. Chautauquas were held in the early 1900s and movies were shown at the town hall for many years.
Wilcox residents have been very civic-minded. Five representatives to the state legislature have come from the community. Wilcox also has hosted visits by Speaker of the House Carl Albert, Senator Edward Zorinsky, and seven governors.