Wood Lake looks pretty much the same today, population 63 as of last census.
Wood Lake wasn't too far from where my 16 coupelet resided for 25 odd years. Very possible that it could have driven through this town or even used this garage.
Could this be a Ford dealership?
I looked at this place on Google Earth. No lake in sight.....
The picture on the right has really got my curiosity going. Wood Lake was a cattle town in the early 1900's with stock yards and loading chutes to take cattle to market. From where the original owner of my car lived to Wood Lake is seventy miles and he was a rancher. It's quite possible he frequented the town either on horse or in our coupelet.
I found a village website for Wood Lake and emailed them a note along with the picture to see if they have any info on "Heath's Garage".
If you had enough cattle together you will usually have a lake... of sorts.
Wood Lake is known as the oldest town in Cherry County. In 1882 the Fremont, Elkhorn
and Missouri Valley Railroad had bent its way westward from O'Neill to a small lake
surrounded by cottonwood trees. The name "Cottonwood Lake" soon afterwards
became "Wood Lake". Wood Lake has many very old cottonwood trees and
a small lake still remains on the West edge of the village.
It was not long afterwards that Wood Lake became the largest cattle shipping town on the
railroad line that later became the Chicago & North Western Transportation Company.
Wood Lake is located about 20 miles south of the Niobrara River with it's formidable canyons,
the low-rolling hills covered with native grass made it ideal cattle-raising country.
Located central and to the east side of Wood Lake, a large stockyard with loading chutes
was built by the railroad. Cattle were driven from the ranches and loaded onto trains
bound for Omaha. During cattle shipping time, one could hear the lowing of cattle, the
whistles and noise of the cowboys, and the bell of the trains could be heard day and night.
It was in the late 1940's closer markets, paved highways, and semi-trucks changed much
of the past. Shipping of cattle soon by rail was abandoned in the early 1950's, and the
stock yards were torn down. About the only stock yard items that can be found is the
cement watering tanks located in mid-town. In the mid 1950"s ranchers established and
maintained truck weighing scales and loading chutes. They were located south and to the
north of Wood Lake. Today, only the chutes remain and are utilized by local ranchers.
Wood Lake School District No 7 was organized in a one-room building built in 1883. Soon
after a two-story frame school was built in 1895. In 1929 a brick building was erected and
is still used today. Today around 10 to 15 children attend the Wood Lake School. Wood Lake
high school closed in 1963 and the rural schools joined with Wood Lake to form a
consolidated K-8 school. In 1988 there were 28 students, three teachers, 3 buses and
Wood Lake was easy accessible with Highway 20 running adjacent on the south edge of
town. Trade came from miles around this local area. By 1900 there were several general
merchandise stores, a doctor and pharmacy, newspaper, ice house, grist mill, livery stable,
blacksmith, lumber, grain, and coal business. Wood Lake designated an area east of the
village for a cemetery.
By 1920 Wood Lake population peaked around 500 residents. A municipal electrical plant
was built and produced electricity to around 1948 when Wood Lake elected to join the
REA system. Suddenly windmills gave way to the new water system with its large holding
tank. A local owned independent telephone system established communication to local
residence, coupled with long distance calling available for users.
In 1883, the Union Church was organized and a building was erected in 1901. On December
6, 1964 this church burned down. Services then were held in the Assembly of God building.
In 1965 the local hardware store closed and was acquired and remodeled into the church
that is used today. The Catholic Church was built in 1915 on the west side of Wood Lake
closed in 1987.
In 1929 the town of Wood Lake was hit hard when the stock marked crashed. Businesses
were closed, however, the bank survived. During the "dust bowl days" and draught, many
ranchers ceased business, forcing people to seek economic security elsewhere. Only
a few 100 year old ranches remain in the same family. The "Reyman" ranch located about
12 miles northwest of Wood Lake was homesteaded around 1893 and is owned by the
third family generation.
In addition, "progress" was also changing the local trade in this area. By the middle 1930's
Highway 20 was completed. Automobiles and trucks made it easier to travel to the larger
towns with more variety and competitive prices.
During World War II many were drafted from the Wood Lake area to serve during the
war time. Some of the Wood Lake residence moved to work in war-related factory jobs.
Many did not return and several were killed in action.
Wood Lake remained alive and well for many activities during 1950's. Main Street was used
for the 4-H baby-beef sale and many other events of local interest. It was during this time
that The Bank of Wood Lake moved to Valentine in 1965. More businesses closed which
left only one general store, and it burned down in 1974.
In 1988 the population of Wood Lake was 90. In addition to the school, the Federal Post
Office remained opened, a service station, small engine repair shop, a church, Masonic
Lodge #221, a rural fire protection district, and a small park with RV hookups. Having
an oiled main street helps with dust and traffic through Wood Lake is very small. On
occasion, a free barbecue and street dance is held in July.
Every five years a school reunion brings back many old friends and neighbors. Wood Lake
remains and still is "home" to many people around the country who remember the good
ol' days and growing up in the wide-open spaces of Cherry County where cattle graze on
the native grasses.
Today, Wood Lake's population is about 50 residents. Most of the residence are retired,
yet some work in Valentine, Ainsworth, and local ranches. A good majority of the residents
are 65 years and older and most enjoy good health in the retirement years. Remaining in
Wood Lake is the local school, the post office, church and, and the Wood Lake Cafe. This cafe
is the focal point for some of the ranchers. Generally you will find 10-15 ranchers sipping
on coffee early in the morning before they get started on the ranch work. The Wood Lake
cafe is owned by Delbert and Elsie Mundorf and if you desire "home cooking", this
is the place to visit. Some would say that the Wood Lake Cafe is where "rumors and stories"
get started and are told by many. It's just a great place to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. On
Friday evenings the special is a fish fry and on Sunday you can eat all the "home" made
chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables from the garden and a great desert. You will always
go back for "seconds" for sure! On the West edge of the village located adjacent to
Highway 20 you will find a service station. Normally, it is open three days a week throughout
On September 23, 1862, United States troops, led by Colonel Henry Sibley, defeated Taoyateduta (Little Crow III)'s Dakota force at the Battle of Wood Lake. The battle marked the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.