County Courthouse of Brown County, Nebraska

But all these matters faded into insignificance before two great questions, namely, county division, and the building of a courthouse. As early as October, 1883 residents of the eastern part of the county petitioned for an election to vote on county division, the new county to be called Elkhorn. A year later, October 14, 1884, a petition was presented, signed by Ralph Lewis, John A. Plympton and 243 other voters asking that the question of detaching a portion of Brown county and erecting the same into a new county to be known as Keya Paha county, be submitted to a vote of the people at the next general election. The new county was to include all that part of Brown lying north of the center of the channel of the Niobrara River, and containing 25,471 acres, the petition was granted and at the general election on November 4, a majority of voters favored the division.

Twice in 1886 and again in 1887 petitions were before the commissioners asking that an election be called to vote on the question of making the eastern portion of Brown into a new county to be called Elkhorn. On August 1,1888, a petition was presented, asking that the question of county division be submitted at the general election in November. The new county was to be called Rock and the boundaries were defined as they now stand.

It took 37,352 acres from what remained of Brown, leaving 40,491. The election was called and the majority of voters favored the division. Then began a long drawn out controversy between the two counties as to the division of the property held in common, such as safes, steel jail cells, limber, coal, wood, county records, and even the grounds on which the court house stood. For two years the matter remained unsettled, and though the commissioners of the two counties held many joint sessions an agreement was not reached until 1890, and all points in dispute were settled except the right of Rock county to hold an interest in the court house site. This matter was taken into district court and then carried to the supreme court with the result that Rock county won her contention.

The other vexed question was the permanent location of the county seat and the building of the courthouse. Ainsworth had been named as the temporary county seat, but before the division of the county into Rock and Brown Long Pine was much nearer the geographical center, east and west.

In January, 1884, Mrs. Osborn deeded to Brown county the block of ground where the court house now stands on the condition that it be used for a court house site. This gift materially strengthened Ainsworth’s claim to become the permanent county seat. Meanwhile the commissioners had found Reed’s hall ill adapted to use as a courthouse. In June 1884, the main hall of the Ainsworth opera house, later the Osborn hotel, was rented for $25 per month till Brown county should build a courthouse. The rent was later reduced to $20 per month.

In 1886 a building on the east side of Main Street, then a skating rink locally known as the “bustle buster,” was purchased by the commissioners for $1200 from J. W. Alden, who with Henry Woodward, P. D. McAndrew, Leroy Hall, L. K. Alder and S. P. Hart bound themselves to move the building to the southeast corner of the court house square and fit up four public offices in it without expense to the county. This contract was cancelled a few months later, and Brown County was still without a court house.

On August 31, 1886, the first decided step was taken toward building a courthouse. It was plain to be seen that it would be impossible to carry an election by the necessary two-thirds majority to bond the county for a building. A petition was signed by more than fifty residents of Ainsworth precinct asking the commissioners to call an election for the purpose of voting precinct bonds in the sum of $10,000 for building a court house on the court house square, Ainsworth, was presented to the commissioners and granted. Accompanying the petition was a bond pledging the cost of the said election if the required two-thirds majority could not be obtained. Two elections were held, the second being necessary on account of an irregularity. The majority favored the bonds which were issued by the commissioners.

Plans and specifications for the building were prepared by W. D. Vanatta and Co., and the usual procedure of asking for bids was followed. The contract was let on October 3, 1887, to Wm. Whitticar, Frank Whitticar, W. D. Vanatta, J, B. Finney and Lew Williams, for the sum of $9,750. In payment they took bonds issued by Ainsworth precinct. The bond given by the contractors for the faithful fulfillment of the contract was signed by S. Backey, R. S. Rising, Altschuler and Rippey, and Ed T. Cook. A. Rathburn was employed by the county as superintendent of construction. He was succeeded later by W. H. Baldwin. West Point brick were used for the building at a cost of $13 per thousand. It was completed and formally accepted by the board of commissioners on November 22, 1888. The following year $1,000 was set aside to purchase furniture for it.

In July 1889, it was struck by lightning and as a result some repairs were necessary. From time to time a few repairs and changes have been made but in the main the building stands practically as it was built. A small sum of money derived from renting it was set aside in April, 189.0, to purchase trees for the courthouse square, an enterprise which we highly appreciate today.

While the work of erecting the courthouse was in progress a petition was presented signed by 1228 voters asking that the county seat be relocated. As this number was more than three fifths of all the voters in the county, the petition was granted and the election called for July 10, 1888. On the same date an election was held to decide the question of issuing bonds in the sum of $18,000 to be used in paying off the indebtedness of the county, which had been accumulating since its formation. Strenuous efforts had been made to collect the delinquent taxes but the debt steadily increased. The election resulted in the issue of the bonds and the county seat remaining at Ainsworth.


Brown County NE,

Jones, Lillian L. Days of Yore: Early History of Brown County, Nebraska. Ainsworth, Nebraska. November, 1937.

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