Embracing Heritage: Life in Rural Nebraska
Tilden is a small town situated in Madison and Antelope Counties in Nebraska. Founded in 1880, it was named after Samuel J. Tilden, a prominent figure in American politics during that era. Initially established as a railroad town, Tilden experienced rapid growth as settlers flocked to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the railroad.
The town was initially named Burnett from 1870 to 1887. Due to ongoing mail mix-ups with a town named Bennett, the U.S. Post Office officially changed the village's name to Tilden in honor of the presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. Mr. Tilden had contested the presidency against Rutherford B. Hayes, who ultimately won the election. Older residents continued using the name Burnett until the town council enforced the name change through an ordinance.
The earliest settlers arrived in the Tilden area in the fall of 1868, with ten additional families following in the spring. As the settlement expanded, the railroad extended westward along the Elkhorn River. When a depot was constructed in Antelope County in 1880, just across the Madison County line, the village of Burnett was established, straddling the boundary between the two counties. In October 1885, incorporation was finalized with an official census reporting a population of 218 people.
Tilden is located in both Madison and Antelope County. This divide dated back to at least 1885 when The Village of Burnett was incorporated. The first corporate limits did not include territory in Antelope County. This split left about 1/3 of the population free from city tax and city ordinances. This was unusual in that public peace could be disturbed on the Antelope side of Tilden, and those offending could not be arrested by the Burnett Marshal under city laws. This condition was remedied in1894 when the Antelope side of Tilden was annexed.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tilden underwent significant expansion and developed into a thriving agricultural community. Agriculture, particularly farming and livestock, played a vital role in the local economy. The town gained recognition for its creamery, which processed dairy products sourced from the surrounding farms. Like many rural communities, Tilden faced challenges such as the Great Depression and the decline of small-scale farming over the years. Nevertheless, it has preserved its identity as an agricultural center and a tightly-knit community. Presently, Tilden continues to serve as an agricultural hub in the region, focusing primarily on crops like corn and soybeans.
By 1918, Tilden's population had surpassed 1,000 people, leading the town to attain the status of a second-class city. Since then, the population has remained relatively stable.
Tilden is situated along the Cowboy line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Although the rail line was abandoned in 1992, it has since been converted into the Cowboy Trail, offering a range of recreational uses. The Cowboy Trail spans 321 miles from Norfolk to Valentine.
As part of this website project for the City of Tilden, we will continue building on this history section of the site. Working closely with the library staff and community members to curate a collection of stories and information that help express and share authentic nature of our heritage.
There is a wonderful 120+ page type-written manuscript with hand-written corrections was compiled by Violet E. Garrison of Tilden for the Tilden Woman’s Club project. The manuscripts paint a picture of what life in Nebraska was like in the late 1800’s. If you'd like to explore this piece of history, visit the local library or access it online: “Tilden Woman’s Club Project”