Nebraska September 30, 2016
Step Inside This Quaint Nebraska Town With Only One Traffic Light
Close enough to Lincoln and Omaha to be a bedroom community, yet far enough away to feel like a rural small town, is Wahoo. This little Saunders County town is home to just over 4,500 people and has a lot more to offer than its size may imply.
In a state where 89 percent of towns have 3,000 or fewer residents, it's not hard at all to find a town with just one traffic light - or even none at all. But you know that saying about someone from small-town Nebraska, "They come from a one-stoplight town"? It's literally true of Wahoovians.
You'll find it at this intersection, outside of the Saunders County Courthouse at 5th and Chestnut. But the one traffic light far from defines this vibrant community. It may be small, but Wahoo has a lot going for it.
That courthouse is one of the many examples of fine architecture in Wahoo. The Renaissance Revival-style building has been standing tall since 1904.
This touching memorial to the USS Wahoo - said to have been the most famous submarine of WWII - stands in front of the courthouse. The memorial is just one example of the kind of heart you'll find in Wahoo. Residents here care not only about themselves, but about each other; this a community where you know your neighbors.
The main street is one of those quintessential Nebraska sights, where old storefronts have been updated multiple times with new signage and new decorations. But under it all, you can see a town that is proud to hold onto its history.
Wahoo offers most of the conveniences you'll find in a larger city. Residents aren't lacking for choices when it comes to dining out, and retail stores offer just about everything they need.
There are also plenty of places here for history lovers. The Hanson House, below, was once the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Howard Hanson. It's now a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Hanson and several other Wahoo natives.
The beautifully preserved Kirchman house is on the National Register of Historic Places as an outstanding example of Queen Anne architecture. You can't tour it, but you can admire it every time you pass by.
The Wahoo Burlington Depot is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The well-maintained example of a late 19th century train depot was originally built by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.
This old restored caboose, part of the Saunders County Historical Museum, is another callback to the town's railroad history.
But as any fan of the former David Letterman's
Late Show knows, the town's real claim to fame (other than the five famous men named on this sign) was its role as the show's "home office."
The town campaigned hard to get Letterman to name their little town his new headquarters. They made him an admiral in Nebraska's Navy, promised him endless free gifts should he ever visit, and sent him memorable trinkets. The campaigning reached its peak when the town sent Letterman a Ford Pinto with a sofa attached, and two of Wahoo's teenage boys.
They won the comic over, and this little one-traffic-light town gained national attention. That excitement has since died down, and today you’ll find a peaceful, lovely little town where kids still play in the streets and neighbors still know one another’s names.
There are hundreds of other towns in Nebraska where life is so slow that they don’t need more than one traffic light. Which one is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.