An early picture of Manley, photographed from a pile of railroad ties. N.D. [Nebraska State Historical Society]
Located within a stone's throw of the geographic center of Cass County is the little town of Manley, first known as "Summit" for the breathtaking view in all directions. In early days there were three ranchers in the vicinity by the name of Manley, and the town was probably named for one of them.
In 1880 German-born August F. Wendt gained ownership of the land on which present-day Manley is located. Three years later, on April 27th, Wendt was asked to survey and name the town. A post office was established on June 4, 1883. However, as a town, it was a "late bloomer!" The first steps toward organization were taken in 1945, with incorporation not completed until 1954, exactly 100 years after the Territory was opened for settlement.
Manley owes its existence to the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which built its main line from Atchison, KS, to Omaha in 1881-82. This line traversed Cass County south-to-north coming through Avoca, Weeping Water, Manley, and on to Louisville.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church was established in 1881. Its first structure was destroyed by lightning, with a second building -- made from brick -- serving the parish until 1978. The present structure was built at a cost of $350,000, in time for the parish's centennial celebrated in 1981.
School district 96 was formed in Manley in 1888. It still provides school for K-8 students, while secondary students attend in Louisville, Murdock, or Weeping Water.
Manley's main street developed much as other railroad towns. The telephone exchange at Weeping Water and Louisville served Manley from 1915 until 1957, when all phones in town became part of the Louisville exchange. Although electricity came to Manley in 1927, street lights were not installed until November 11, 1954. On that day a large crowd gathered to enjoy a pancake and sausage feed sponsored by area merchants to celebrate the occasion.
As the railroad era started to fade, Manley's location one mile east of Highway 50 placed it at a disadvantage. Work on a spur road from the highway into downtown began in 1961, and the streets were blacktopped in 1970.
A number of famous people claim Manley as their home:
-- Glen Fleischmann (1909-85), artist and author, was born and raised in Manley, son of Frederick and Sarah Taylor Fleischmann. He graduated from Louisville High in 1926, and became a prominent illustrator for national magazines including Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Collier's, and Woman's Home Companion. Fleischmann wrote While Rivers Flow in 1963, The Cherokee Removal in 1971, and The Artist: His Markets and World in 1971.
-- Sophus Keith Winther (1893-1983) a noted writer, was born in Denmark to Anton and Sena Winther, but grew up and attended schools in Manley and Weeping Water. He was Professor of History at the University of Washington and the author of the trilogy: Take All to Nebraska, Mortgage Your Heart, and This Passion Never Dies.
-- Oscar Winther, a younger brother, also attended school at Manley. He became Professor of History at Stanford University and Associate Dean of Students at Indiana University. Oscar was the author of many history books and edited a number of journals.
A special landmark in the area is the beautiful Schliefert Iris Gardens one mile northwest of Manley, started by Arnold and Esther Schliefert in 1935. Another landmark one mile southwest of town, the Hi Vu Restaurant, has been a thriving truck stop for the past 25 years.
The population of the town has fluctuated with the times. In 1940 the population reached 249. In 1980 there were 124 residents. The 1990 census shows a population increase to 170, a good sign as residents enjoy small-town living and the convenient distance to the metro-cities of Omaha and Lincoln.
By Don Hill, Cass County Historical Society, 646 Main Street, Plattsmouth, NE 68048, with additional notes by Irene Puls, great-granddaughter of August Wendt.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Centennial history of Manley, 1983.