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Celebrating Lincoln County Courthouse’s 100th anniversary

The Lincoln County Courthouse celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 10:44 PM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - A Lincoln County landmark has stood as the center of county government for a century.

The Lincoln County Courthouse was built in 1922. On Wednesday afternoon, a celebration was held to mark its 100th anniversary.

However, building the first courthouse was a struggle. The Union Pacific had an injunction placed on the $30,000 bond issue approved by the voters in either 1874 or 1875 (presumably because of tax increases on their property to pay for the courthouse). The issue was again brought before the voters in 1875, proposing $40,000 this time. This proposal was defeated and so a few months later a $20,000 bond issue was set before voters of Lincoln County. This time it passed.

The first courthouse was designed by O.J. King of Iowa. It was built by A.H. Gillett and C.D. Strong in 1875 for $18,000.

During World War I, four different Liberty Loans drives raised funds to fight the war. In Lincoln County, everyone was expected to buy these bonds to the limit of their ability. If a person didn’t give or the local loan committee decided that person hadn’t given enough they would visit with them and if the person ignored the drive committee and the newspaper publication of their name, the Home Guard would visit the party’s home in the evening to ask, with much vigor, for the donation. Most paid but those that didn’t were dragged off to jail and the judge would order these “slackers” to buy the bonds and swear allegiance to the United States in the public square of the courthouse.

On May, 8, 1897 the first telephone was installed in the courthouse clerk’s office.

In 1914, the courthouse was examined by city leaders and found to be crumbling. An effort was put forward to build a new courthouse but nothing came of the drive. The idea seemed to be talked about by the public, occasionally appearing in the local newspapers. New courthouses built by other counties were mentioned in the papers.

In 1919, the voters of Lincoln County passed a 5-year bond to build the courthouse. The architect, George Berlinghof, of Lincoln, Nebraska was chosen to design the new courthouse in 1921. He designed the courthouse in the Beaux Arts style.

The cornerstone was laid on June 22, 1922 for the new courthouse by the local Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F).

Because of an appendicitis, Lincoln County Clerk A.S. Allen was not in his office when a letter from the Omaha Printing Company came to him about over payment (sometime in early December 1922). His staff looked into it and found he had issued over $2,000.00 in unauthorized warrants. Allen confessed to embezzling the funds and funneling the money through an employee of the Omaha Printing Company.

Many people of Lincoln County began to demand to see if all county books were in order and if funds for building the new courthouse had been used properly.

The auditing firm of Ernst & Ernst, of Ohio, was selected to begin auditing the books of county officials on April 30, 1923.

According to records, the old Lincoln County Courthouse, which was built in 1875 for $18,000, was set on fire at around 1 a.m. on April 30, 1923. Quick action by the North Platte Fire Department brought the fire quickly under control saving most records.

It was discovered that records from the County Treasurer’s office were missing and some had been torn from their bindings and soaked in oil.

On May 2, 1923 Lincoln County Treasurer Samuel Souder was arrested and charged with the burning of the courthouse. Souder was convicted of arson and sentenced to 15-20 years in the Nebraska state penitentiary.

According to the “Evening Telegraph” of April 9, 1928, the cost of the courthouse design the commissioners chose in 1921 cost more than the 1919 5-year bond voters approved. When the embezzlement by the clerk and treasurer and burning of the old courthouse by the treasurer happened shortly after building of the new courthouse began, many in the public began to assume that graft was involved in the building of the new courthouse. According to the newspaper, that was not the case, it was a county commissioners starting a building they publicly stated they didn’t have the funds to complete. Their hope was that voters would approve the needed funds later to finish the courthouse.

In all, it took ten years to complete. The courthouse is now on the National Historic Register.

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