Grand Central Hotel, built by Robert Probert in 1887 was just south of Unganst’s Hardware store, which he had also built, in 1884.  Both buildings were on the corner of the present Custer Hotel lot. A series of folks managed the hotel until it was sold in 1903 to Henry Imboden, who still owned it when it burned down in 1908.  Clyde Maddox and James Duckett bought the burned-out lots to build a tin covered building.

It housed Arnold’s first Opera House on the top floor with an outside stairway on the north side.  The lower floor housed several stores through the years (as many as three at one time): Killian & Priel Clothing (later sold to Archie Robison who added a revolving glass hat-rack display for 200 hats), T.L. Jones Arnold Hardware Co. (1912-1914), Thelan Drug, and Farmer’s Union.  The upper floor was the scene of many social gatherings until 1927 when an early morning fire again destroyed the building on this spot (the second fire in 19 years).

Andy Comer, sleeping above his barber shop located south of Maddox-Duckett, was awakened by the sound of glass shattering and ran to ring the fire bell.  Roy Fraker, sleeping in the rear of the Maddox-Duckett building awakened to find the roof and wall of his bedroom in flames.  The windows of the Arnold State Bank, Wehrley Theater, T.L. Jones Store, Shaw’s Barber shop, and Green Parrot Café across the street to the west, were all damaged by the intense heat.  The American Legion had been meeting on the upper floor and all of their records, guns, and equipment were destroyed.

John Jameson who had ended a partnership with William Conrad, kept his general merchandise store in the “Wall” building (Arnold’s first brick structure) until he built his own Economy Department Store on this site where two fires had destroyed previous buildings.  At that time, he was in a partnership with G.H. Johnson, a former Methodist Minister.  Their new building would be yet another brick structure in town, replacing prior wooden structures and is now the present Custer Hotel.

Farmers Union Store (lower floor) and the Jameson & Johnson building had their opening celebrations at the same time.  (See the inscription “J&J 1928” at the top of the building.)  Willa Phifer (Brummett) won the $10 prize for her “Hotel Custer” entry naming the new building, and Mrs. Lawrence Christensen’s winning store name was “Economy Department”.  John Jameson’s Economy Department store and Hotel Custer were a hit!  Many shoppers were attracted to the penny scales at the front door, and his Piggly Wiggly (food chain) gave shoppers the chance to “help themselves”.  The busy “soda fountain” had to be taken out in 1935 to make room for more groceries, leaving just the ice-cream equipment.   A “Ten Day Sale” in 1929 kept 14 clerks busy each day.

Sometime between 1932-37, the Jameson’s separated and Lillian Jameson bought out G.H. Johnson’s interest in the Economy Department store, while he retained his interest in Hotel Custer.  Lillian sold the Economy Department store to Harry and Marjorie Edgington in 1945.  The Edgingtons ran it for four years selling to Crawford and Julia Pool in 1949.  Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls sold for $2.98 each while Pools ran the department store.

Judge Roy Blixt then took ownership of Custer Hotel until the early 1970’s according to a family source. Blixt rented to Robert and Carolyn Foran in February of 1969.  In May of 1978, Forans turned the department store over to Dott Gast with Dorothy O’dean Beeken as a clerk.  Dot ran the department store for several years, selling the entire building to Rod and Carol Watson who owned it until 1995.

Rod had installed a shooting range and Carol did upholstery and wood repair/restoration on the upper floor.  In the past 50-60 years, other businesses that have been or still are in this building include: Custer Café (bought by Broken Bow Production Credit) became FCO/PCA in 1977 with John McDonald in charge, Watson’s Bakery, Rosentraters’ Bakery (ran by Wanda and Paula), Flower’s by Shavonne, Cutting Crew Beauty Salon, a Preschool, Farmhouse Antiques, Accountant Office, Sennett & Duncan Law Office, Real Estate/Auction Office, and Touch of Grace Massage.

Gail and Karen Coleman (present owners) bought the building from Watsons adding a laundromat and refinishing the upstairs for apartments.  My [Berni Crow] sons Adam, Brandon, and Scott Crow helped me tear down the original tin ceiling metal in the rooms upstairs.  The vintage decorative metal ceiling is now in the dining room of our house.”

(Some information for the markers was taken from the book “One Hundred Years on the South Loup” by Norene Hall Mills.  Written and prepared by Berni Crow 5/18/2020)