Unless you are in my family circle, I’d bet you a whole nickle, as my grandpa Archie would say, that you’ve never heard of Marsland, much less know where on earth it is. So you might imagine my surprise when during an insomnia induced fit of late night random Googling, I found myself at this page on ghost towns. Even more surprising, I found myself looking at a photo of my own great grandparent’s home.
My great grandparents were James Mundy Tollman and Flora Caroline Maika. They built this home in 1912 of cement blocks made on site. This was their second home in Marsland, the first being on a homestead nearby. This photo was taken just after its completion and the farm eventually expanded to include a large barn, cattle pens, a smoke house, an ice house, huge garden area, silo, and hog pen. A family letter written by one of the children, James Perry Tollman, written in his retirement details life in Marsland and on the family farm in vivid memories. One of the amusing comments is that the neighbors were always stopping by to check on the building progress and they were quite perplexed by the modern bathroom that was being installed…apparently one of the first in the county…especially since there was a perfectly good two holer not far from the kitchen door!
Marsland is located in western Nebraska in Dawes County. It’s pretty remote. In its heyday, the population was about 800, according the the Nebraska Historical Society Virtual Nebraska. The nearest large town is Chadron.
Today, Marsland is just a shadow of itself, perhaps deserving of the ghost town designation to the outside world. Not for me, a woman who hears the whispers of long gone ancestors. And apparently not for the Nebraska Historical Society; shortly after seeing the house on the ghost town site, I came across it again while doing genealogical research on a Tollman aunt. The Nebraska Historical Society has done an excellent job incorporating the internet with their holdings and I found the house listed in a survey of historic buildings in Nebraska, shown as an unknown home. Since it wasn’t identified, I contacted them was not identified, offering details should they be interested.
A very enthusiastic response followed the next day and I’ve sent them several photos and other bits of family information to help them document and preserve this part of Nebraska history. The Tollman family has deep roots in Nebraska and although it is scattered across the USA today, family reunions are still held in western Nebraska and always include a stop at the old house. The old house may not last forever, but it sure feels great to have helped it become a part of Nebraska history.
UPDATE: Another big surprise! The Tollman home was included in a New York Times photo essay in December 2013 called Life Along the 100th Meridian that captures the essence of life in Nebraska’s far west panhandle.