After stopping to admire the abandoned gas stations and storefronts of Roscoe, Nebraska, I continued east along the Lincoln Highway. With the windows rolled down, I breathed in the fresh country air and felt the warm glow of the sun against my skin. Verdant farm fields blanketed the landscape as far as the eye could see.
If the rickety old grain elevator along the railroad tracks had not caught my eye, I would have driven right past Willow Island without even realizing it. Naturally, I had to stop to take a closer look.
Sheets of aluminum siding hung from the exterior of the weathered old tower like peeling paint.
A fading orange Ford truck sat among the weeds.
Tons of grain from local fields once passed through the old wooden structure before it was loaded onto train cars on the adjacent tracks and transported to market.
The place now stands empty, a reminder of simpler times, replaced by larger modern facilities just down the road.
Rotting cloth sacks hung along the wall.
Signs remind long-gone workers against the danger of smoking. Large amounts of grain dust, when mixed with air, become very flammable and can react explosively when exposed to heat.
A large section of roof has caved in over the years. The skeletal beams reach down like bony fingers.
Willow Island, named for a nearby island covered in willow trees, was first settled in 1873. Like many of the towns in the area, it began as a stop along the Union Pacific Railway as it extended further westward.
The community never saw major growth. Over the years it has been home to a handful of homes, the old grain elevator and the new facilities that replaced it, a church, a general store, and the old railway depot.
Willow Island's historic railway depot was relocated years ago to the Dawson County Historical Museum in Lexington to be preserved and appreciated for generations to come.
With my curiosity satisfied, I got back on the road and drove a few miles east to Cozad to explore an incredibly eerie and fascinating abandoned slaughterhouse and meat packing plant. You definitely won't want to miss this one!
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