Wednesday, May 28, 2008

From Sinful to Sensational!--Taking Those Forks in the Road

Sidney, NE (population 6,282) in the far western part of the state, started out as a stop on the Oregon Trail, becoming an important strategic location for the first transcontinental Union Pacific. When gold was discovered in the nearby Black Hills virtually all of the supplies and returning gold flowed through Sidney. The town quickly earned the nickname of “Sinful” Sidney when over 80 saloons, numerous gambling houses, brothels and the “World’s First 24-Hour Theatre” sprouted up. The shortage of beds in the town necessitated having the Vaudeville theater open 24/7. I’m starting to make my way through the 688-page history of this wild time entitled “Lynchings, Legends and Lawlessness—the story of historical Sidney, Nebraska.”

From those wild days in the 1860s to 1880s Sidney slowed down into a farming (wheat) and cattle area, developing into a mini-regional town second only to Scottsbluff in the western panhandle of NE. The next big boom occurred during WWII when Sidney was chosen as the site for a massive munitions production and supply depot, The Sioux Army Depot, which eventually had 2,500 employees.

Oil and gas discoveries near Sidney turned the town into an oil boomtown in the early 50s. And, the construction of the Minuteman Missile System in the area in the 60s (37 silos in the county) also added greatly to the economy.

But the Army Depot closed, the oil played out and it doesn’t take many people to maintain missile silos built into the ground. And, Sidney would have probably slowly declined but for a couple of key decisions made by leaders in the community in 1968, which I was there to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of, and in 1988. I’ll have more on those key decisions over the next couple of days.

Today, Sidney has more people working in the town (6,400) than sleep there at night, which is an incredible distinction especially when you consider that the average in the USA is about 64%. I’ve only found about 6 towns in the entire country that can claim such a ratio.

I generally begin each talk citing examples of towns that come to “forks in the road”, make key decisions and then go down one fork or another, and Sidney is a great example of those forks in the road that are either taken or not. Fortunately for the people of Sidney today, leaders in the past decided to go down specific forks and the town prospered as a result.

Here’s a smattering of the things that I saw in this incredible town of 6,282, things that towns two, three and four times its size would love to have. They have a wonderful park system, beginnings of a massive trail system, a wonderful Main Street program, a new fishing pond and even a shooting park. Construction will get underway in June on a new $17 million high school. New subdivisions are being built and a drive through the community shows lots of economic activity.

Tomorrow, more on those key forks in the road that Sidney found and went down.


Aaron said...

I would be curious to hear which 6 towns can claim the sleep/work ratio as Sidney. My family has read your book Boomtown USA and it was a fantastic read and very informative!

BoomtownUSA said...

Aaron: I'm glad that you and your family have enjoyed my book. The response to it has been overwhelming to me and I'm still having a ball traveling around the country sharing some of the messages from the book and also new stories that I'm finding around the USA.

Three of the towns that immediately come to mind (and I'm writing this from home without access to my files) that have more people working in them than sleeping there at night are: Ashley, IN (population 1,010); Nappanee, IN (pop. 6,700) and Teutopolis, IL (pop. 1,559).

Teutopolis, affectionately called T-Town, is where I was born and raised. Nappanee is the only town I've been in that has an industrial park that doesn't have electricity in it. There were about a dozen businesses there that were all run off of generators with phone booths out in front of each business. The Amish manufacturers aren't allowed to use electricity even though they run their machinery with some of the latest in computer technology.