Bookwalter, a Model Farm Community

The former town of Bookwalter, Pawnee County, was named for John W. Bookwalter, a self-educated scholar, inventor, businessman, writer, politician, and world traveler. Bookwalter by 1891 owned some fifteen thousand acres of land in southeast Nebraska, chiefly in Pawnee and Gage counties. Interviewed July 3, 1891, by a reporter from the Nebraska State Journal, he confided his plans for using part of his land to promote the formation of an ideal farmers’ community modeled on those found in France:

“I have long been impressed with the desirability if not the necessity of making farm life more attractive, . . . I spent twenty-four years on a farm, and know something of its monotony, the lack of social pleasures and the obstacles offered by the life to the proper organization of the agricultural classes. There is always a rush of the young men toward the towns. . . . This tendency must be stopped, and to keep the farmers from going to towns you must carry the comforts, conveniences, and social pleasure of the town to the farms. That is what I propose doing on my property in Pawnee County.

“The land lies in a single body. It is intersected by the Kansas City, Wyandotte & Northwestern railroad, and in just about the middle of the tract the station of Bookwalter has been established. There is to be located the only farmers’ village that I know of in the United States. The town has already been platted and all the [tenant] farmers who worked my land in that township are expected to live at Bookwalter. Instead of building a house on every farm for the tenant, I will build the house in town. Every farm will have its corresponding house and will go with the farm without additional rent. About half a block of ground has been allotted to each, and a comfortable stable will also be built. The farmer will have his garden and a place for his horses and a cow or two and chickens and a few things like that near his house in town. Everything else will be on the farm.” Bookwalter also promised to build a town hall for use as a meeting place, theater, library, and reading room.

How Bookwalter, a native of Indiana, became interested in establishing such a model farm community in Nebraska is not clear. His brother, William, had come to this area in 1877 or 1878. John began purchasing land in Pawnee County in 1879, but did not immediately implement his plans for a model community. Bookwalter was not platted until 1889, a year after the Kansas City, Wyandotte, and Northwestern Railroad was built through the area.

Bookwalter’s plans proved impractical. His ideal eighty-acre farms soon gave way to quarter sections, with dwellings on the sections rather than in the town of Bookwalter. Bookwalter no longer exists, but the name still evokes memories of its founder and his dream of an ideal farm community. 

(December 2007)




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