Bern, KS   History                                                        Nemaha County
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Bern, KS


  Bern was founded during the winter of 1886-1887 on the newly-built Rock Island branch of the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway. The early history of the Bern area is closely associated with an imported emigration trail - the St. Joseph and California Road - which led from St. Joseph, Missouri to a connection with the Oregon Trail west of Marysville, Kansas. The trail passed directly over the Bern town site, and its deep-worn tracks were still visible when the town site was laid out. The trail crossed Main Street somewhere between the lumber yard and the bank, then continued on a northwesterly direction to a crossing of Four Mile Creek.

        The first settlers of Nemaha County in 1854 and 1855 included five families of Swiss emigrants who began the settlement of the Bern area. The first pioneer families to settle in the Bern area were the Meshings, Blauers, Mingers, Lehmans and Springs, all of whom settled along Four Mile Creek north and east of Bern, but had not known each other in Switzerland. The families all followed the Swiss customs and farmed the land.

        Several Indian bands traveled through the Bern site, Otoes, Kickapoos, Kanzas, Osages, Pawnees, Pottawatomie, Iowas, Sac and Fox, all friendly.

        Colonel Henry Baker, founder of Bern helped Washington Township approve the Rock Island bond issue on July 13, 1886 where followed the construction of a depot. The First train went through Bern on April 3, 1887 and the last trip was made on January 25, 1967.

Col. Baker named the town "Bern" which he used on the town plat he filed at the Nemaha County courthouse on March 3, 1887. A controversy over two names - Bern and Basel - for the city continued but the name Bern survived. Bern was incorporated as a city of the third class on July 6, 1910. The town prospered. The Bern Turnverein (Turner) Hall built in 1892 became the center for physical fitness and served as Bern's entertainment center for more than 50 years. The first Fall Festivals were sponsored in the early 1900's by the Bern Commercial Club. These early festivals were expanded in 1917 by the Community Club, which advertised them each year as "The Bern Corn Show." These annual Corn Shows were held each fall about from 1912 to 1925. The Club also sponsored free picture shows in Bern, starting a tradition that would continue for more than 50 years. The movies were held in the Opera House during the winter and outside during the summer. In the 40's, 50's, and 60's movies were only shown during the summer on Wednesday nights. In 1998 the Bern Community Library Board reinstated the out door free picture shows along with an ice cream social in August. Bern Turnverein Hall, Bern, KS

picture of indian The Corn Shows came to an end in the 1920's, but the idea was revived in the 1970's when Bern began holding its annual Fall Festival, or Bern Day, the first being in 1975. The city enjoyed celebrating its 100th year in 1987, with a two hour parade and musical review, having visitors from Bern, Switzerland lead the parade. Nearly 1,000 people lined the streets to view and participate in the festivities of the biggest Bern Day Ever. During the 1990's Bern Day activites evolved into a Community Theatre production for the community.

        In 1918 a tornado damaged Bern a great deal but the people rebuilt the town. The citizens of Bern were always looking for ways to improve their town and their roads. The City of Bern adopted a resolution in 1935 to sponsor a WPA project for improving the town's streets and alleys. The Bern-Sabetha road was rocked for the first time in 1936 and the Bern-Oneida-Goff road was improved by the county in 1934. In the 1980's the Bern-Sabetha road was paved and the Bern-Seneca K-71 Highway from Bern to U.S. 63 was completely rebuilt in the 1950's. In 1958 the first streets were oiled in Bern, new street lights were installed in 1954 but were replaced in the 1960's.

         A brick school building consisting of five classrooms for grade school and high school students was constructed in 1916 to replace an earlier school built in 1889. This building was demolished in 1972 when the present elementary school building was constructed. A new high school was built by District 92 in 1951-52. School unification became an issue resulting in the formation of a new school district in 1965, USD 488. A high school addition was completed in 1976.

        In 1954 the city approved a $50,000 waterworks system, in 1953 the American Legion donated lots for the present City Park, and in 1967 The Rock Island railroad abandoned its railroad line through Bern. In the 1960's construction of a sewage system began. The City agreed to assist in the development of Rural Water District No. 1 in 1956. In 1967 the Lortscher Addition added to the city, first since 1910. In 1964 Bern became part of the Fire District No. 4. Work began on the new Methodist Church in1968 dedicated in 1974. A new Apostolic Christian Church building, located five miles southeast of the city, was dedicated in 1972.

        One important addition to the Bern business community was Bern Extrusion Inc., a pet food manufacturing plant started in 1975 and grew to a multi-million dollar business by 1979. In later years it changed hands several times, became  Doane Pet Care closed in 2001 and another business developed K-9 Rations Pet Food which moved to Sabetha, KS in 2001.

        Two major fires occurred in 1970's. The grain elevator at Lortscher Agri Service was destroyed by fire in 1977, and the loading dock and warehouse facilities at Bern Extrusion were damaged extensively by fire in 1979. The structures were rebuilt or repaired.

        A Swiss delegation visited Bern from Berne, Switzerland representing Loeb Department Store in Berne planning their 100th anniversary of the store, and wished to honor all the cities in the U.S. named in honor of their city. They purchased one square yard in the Bern Park which they sold by the inch to interested Swiss - the money given to Bern, Kansas. This money was used to remodel the Bern City Hall in 1981. A large bronze plaque was received by the city which list the donors displayed in the City Hall.

        Despite not having a railroad going through Bern anymore Bern is a growing and thriving agricultural town for its size of 200. AHRS Construction Company Inc. started in Bern now is a major Construction Company that serves a 100 mile radius and is one of the major area employers as well as CJ foods and Lortscher Agri Service.

        Bern also has a new computerized Public Library started in 1990 and dedicated May 27, 1995. With help from the hard working people in Bern this is a wonderful place to raise children. A ball field was built by the citizens in Bern in 1989-92 meeting to the another of the needs of the community.

        In summary, the Bern community is a unique community. It is the little town with a big heart, located smack in the heartland! We invite you to come and spend time with us.


City Clerk
402 Main St. / Box 123 / Bern, KS 66408

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August 24, 2005 / Sheila Huls / Bern , Kansas /

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