Highway 2 through the Sandhills is one of Nebraska’s most scenic drives. Deep in the Sandhills lakes country, near the tiny town of Antioch, stand desolate, oddly-shaped concrete ruins visible from the highway—as if Antioch had once been a much larger city, or home to some inexplicably large enterprise. And that’s pretty much what happened during World War I when Antioch became a potash boomtown.
In 1888, H. D. Watson established the historic Watson Ranch, at one time containing 8,000 acres, reaching from the fertile Platte Valley on the south to the rolling hills on the north and from downtown Kearney to a point five miles west. During its existence, the ranching operations were devoted to grains, poultry, vegetables, and a 250-acre fruit orchard, primarily of cherry, peach, plum, and apple trees.
The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed the manufacture and sale of liquor nationwide, but statewide prohibition was already in effect in Iowa and Nebraska. In 1916 Iowa went dry and Nebraska voters adopted a prohibitory amendment to their state constitution that took effect in May 1917. Enterprising individuals soon learned how to profit by flouting the law.