Washington County, Nebraska Government

Washington County like other Nebraska counties has had various kinds of county governments-the precinct and later the township organization form-first one and then the other. The offices of county commissioners and the county supervisors are in reality about the same.

As a general rule the affairs of Washington County have been well managed by representative citizens who had held local offices for the best interests of the tax-paying citizens. No great political or office holding scandals have blackened the pages of its history of more than three score years. One thing is noticeable here, that when men possessed the right qualifications for offices to which they have been elected, they have been allowed to remain in office so long as they did their official duties, and not changed for new men simply because it was some other man's turn to hold office, which has too frequently been the case in other sections of the state.

County Buildings

Washington County's first courthouse was erected at Fort Calhoun in 1856, of cottonwood lumber. It was built by subscription, and some declare it was also used for school purposes, but others dispute this claim. Governor L. Crounse once stated his experiences, when he was judge of the State Supreme Court and rode the circuit. Fort Calhoun was one of his stations and he held court here for the first time after his election. It was also in this building that the famous Senator Paddock was admitted to the bar. The building above mentioned served as seat of justice until the county seat was removed (by force) to De Soto, five miles north of Fort Calhoun, in 1858. The county seat remained at De Soto until the autumn of 1866, but no regular courthouse was erected by the county at De Soto. From there the county seat was returned to Fort Calhoun, where it remained until 1869, then went to Blair.

A courthouse was built at Blair. This building, however, was erected by a firm of contractors for school purposes, as a private speculation, but the school authorities failed to purchase it from the builders, hence when the county seat was moved to Blair, bought by the county and was used as the first courthouse there and continued in use as the home of the various county offices and courtroom until the present magnificent structure was built in 1889, an account of which follows:

Present Courthouse

June 14, 1889, the question of building a new courthouse was submitted to the tax-payers of Washington County and the result was 1,263 for bonding the county for $35,000, and the number of votes against the proposition was 874.

About the same time the City of Blair voted on a proposition to give $5,000 toward the courthouse building, in case a suitable structure was erected. The vote at that special city election stood 236 for and only 7 against the measure.

The first committee on courthouse building was composed of the chairman of the board, the clerk and Thomas Wilkinson, whose duty it was to have properly printed and registered the several bonds which were to be floated upon the market.

The county board ordered that the new courthouse should be erected on block No. 75, in the City of Blair, the so called "Jail Block."

The regular building committee was composed of the chairman of the board, E. M. Cook, of Lincoln Township; P. J. Gossard, of Sheridan Township. The chairman was then L. C. Weber, member of the board. A local man named Lou Vaughan was appointed by the board as superintendent of construction. Bids were advertised for and the following were received and acted upon: Julius Schlup, $37,954; Robert McHale, $41,000; H. B. Dexter, $38,165; M. T. Murphy, $40,700; George Sutherland, $39,999; Fred Mingadodt, $37,439; Richards & Company, $35,842; Seeley & Son, $41,879; Lyone & Sweet, $36,900. Richards & Company were awarded the contract at $35,842. The building was constructed of St. Louis pressed brick, trimmed with Warrenburg stone.

At the session of the county board held September 11, 1889, the site for the building was staked off and decided upon. The county surveyor was ordered to set the stakes. At the same session it was ordered that the numerous shade trees upon the courthouse square should be "boxed" in order to protect them from being bruised while building operations were going on. The people of Blair have always been passionately fond of shade trees and used much care to get them well started.

The architect employed by the county to draw plans and carry forward the same was O. H. Placey, who, after the building was partly built, became offended and resigned, as is shown by the following clause in the record-book of the court board: (Date was November, 1889.) "And now comes O. H. Placey, architect, and announces to the board in open session, that from this time on, he positively refuses to have anything to do, in and about the further work and completion of the new courthouse, and bid the board good-bye and took his hat and passed out."

The contract called for the completion of the building January, 1891, but for various good reasons it was not turned over to the county until March 24, that year. A long statement concerning the acceptance of the building is found recorded on page 220 of Book No. 3, Supervisors Records.

The old courthouse was sold to F. H. Matthiesen February 3, 1891, for $725.

County Jail Buildings

No matter how good a community may be, there is at times use for a jail. If it is not by reason of unruly citizens of the county in which it is situated, it is for some act of an unlawful character committed by persons coming in from outside communities, who must needs be punished and it is but wisdom to have provided some safe, secure place in which to confine such unruly persons until tried, or till a penalty has been paid for their illegal acts.

An account of the pioneer jail for Washington County was given by an earlier writer of Washington County history, in which he remarked:

"The county jail is located several squares from the courthouse and is, perhaps, less suited for jail purposes than any similar structure on the face of the earth, being small, inconveniently arranged, and the cells dark and unhealthy. It was built soon after the county seat was located at Blair, and cost some $8,000. For this sum an excellent jail building, large enough to supply the wants of the county for a half century, could now be built. It seemed to be an absolute necessity, that counties in the West should pay some very expensive lessons, and Washington County in comparison with some of her neighbors, has passed through this experience at a moderate outlay." (This was written in 1876.) The first jail was situated on the north side of the public square; it was a two-story building and had a jailor's residence in connection. This jail building served until 1904, when the jail was torn down and the present modest brick one-story jail just to the east of the courthouse was built.

It was the jail that was torn down in 1904, in which was placed a murderer from near Fontanelle, early in the nineties, for safe keeping, until he could have his trial for killing his foster father, Mr. Baldwin, in cold blood. Before time for his trial, he succeeded in making his escape by scraping the soft lime stone foundation stones of the jail, in the form of a circular hole large enough for him to crawl out. He was never again seen in this county. The hole in the jail wall was repaired but it ever afterward showed the outline of the hole and was pointed out to hundreds of people, as the place where the murderer made his escape with a table knife.

County Farm

Washington County has always cared well for her unfortunate poor, but never encourages shiftlessness on the part of poor people. The needy cases have been sought out by the county authorities and all who are entitled to aid receive it. Many years ago it was thought the wisest thing to purchase a tract of land which is now known as the "Poor Farm." It consists of eighty acres, just outside the city limits of Blair. The last annual report shows there were only four inmates in the County House-all being men.

The present superintendent and wife are Mr. and Mrs. Henry P. Hansen.

List of County Officers, Past and Present

County Clerks

E. Mathers, 1857
Abraham Castetter, 1861-1869
Peter R. Benner, 1871-1873
E. C. Jackson, 1875
E. C. Jackson, 1877
T. S. Cook, 1879
Thomas P. Lippincott, 1881
Joe S. Cook, 1883
Wesley J. Cook, 1885
C. Rathman, 1887
C. Rathman, 1889
C. Rathman, 1891
C. Rathman 1893
Watt Gauldrie, 1895
Watt Gauldrie. 1897
Watt Gauldrie, 1899
F. W. Kenny, Jr., 1901
George H. Faber, 1903
George H. Faber, 1905
M. R. Lippincott, 1907
Ove T. Anderson, 1909
Ove T. Anderson 1911
Ove T. Anderson, 1914
Ove T. Anderson, 1916
Mary C. Debel, 1918

County Treasurers

George Stevens, 1857
Lewis Tucker, 1858
E. N. Grennell, 1859-1863
Alexander Reed 1863- 1875
J. H. Hungate, 1877-1879
Frank Harriman, 1881
Frank Harriman, 1883
H. C. Chapman. 1885
E. C. Jackson. 1887
E. C. Jackson, 1889
Joe S. Cook, 1891
Joe S. Cook. 1893
James H. Platz, 1895
James H. Platz. 1897
George H. Faber, 1899
George H. Faber. 1901
E. Z. Russell, 1903
E. Z. Russell. 1905
John F. White, 1907
John F. White. 1909
George Bruse, 1911
George Bruse, 1914
R. G. Allen, 1916
R. G. Allen, 1918

County Sheriffs

Orrin Rhodes, 1856
Hugh McNeely, 1856
Hugh McNeely, 1857
Chester Lusk, 1860
Israel Swihart, 1861
Dan Case, 1868
A. T. Chapin, 1869
Rice Arnold, 1871-1873-1875
T. W. Boggs, 1877-1881
W. D. Gross, 1883-1885
H. Schneider, 1885-1888
F. Harriman, 1889-1893
Claus Mencke, 1893-1911
Alf A. Compton, 1911-1916
M. Mehrens, 1916-1918

Probate Judges

Up to the seventies this county had the office of probate judge; these were the persons who served;

James A. Goodrich, 1857
Z. Jackson, 1861
John S. Bowen. 1869-1871
Jesse T. Davis. 1873-1875

County Judges

The following is a list of the county judges for Washington County:

A. Perkins, 1877-81
E. N. Grennell, 1881-83
Alonzo Perkins, 1883-87
E. T. Farnsworth, 1887-89
P. Hammang, 1889-93
E. C. Jackson, 1893-01
G. C. Marshall, 1901-07
Clark O'Hanlon, 1911
I. E. Eller, 1918
E. B. Carrigan, 1918

County Surveyors

Thomas Wilson, 1857-1858
George A. Bingham, 1861
V. C. Lantry, 1869-1871
J. C. W. Kline, 1875
W. H. Hill, 1881-89
W. C. Catherwood, 1889-91
W. H. Hill, 1891-1914
Christ Rohwer, 1914

County School Superintendents

EH Bacon, 1857
D. McLacklin, 1858
Charles G. Bisbee, 1869-1871
Charles Gross. 1873-1875
I. N. Jones, 1877-79
W. V. Miller. 1879-85
J. Henderson, 1885-97
G. C. Marshall, 1897-01
Alfred L. Cook. 1901-05
J. H. Rhoades, 1905-14
N. T. Lund, 1914-18
Mabel Marsh

County Coroners

Jesse T. Davis, 1861
Charles Emerson Tennant, 1869
H. P. Butler, 1871
Dr. S. B. Taylor, 1873
E. C. Pierce, 1875-85
F. Macumber, 1885-87
J. F. Pettegrew, 1887-89
E. G. Pierce, 1891-1914

Clerk of the District Court

Up to 1881 the county clerk was ex-officio clerk of the court.

Thomas P. Lippincott, 1881
E. C. Jackson, 1882
I. C. Filer, 1883-87
C. Schmachtenberg, 1891
Harland Fawcett, 1895-99-02
Theo. Haller, 1903-07
I. C. Filer, 1908-11
F. C. Jackson, 1911-18

County Attorney

Formerly there was the office of district attorney in Nebraska, but the law was changed and now a county attorney obtains instead. Those of Washington County have included these:

L. W. Osborn, 1887
W. E. David, 1893
Clark O'Hanlon, 1894-96
W. C. Walton, 1897
Herman Aye, 1898-1900
Edmund B. Carrigan, 1902-10
Henry Menecke, 1912
George A. Dall, 1914
Henry Menecke, 1916
Grace Ballard, 1918

County Commissioners

The following is a list of the county commissioners who have served in and for Washington County since its organization:

David Franklin, A. Phinney, and John West, 1856
J. B. Wickshire, elected in 1857
E. A. Allen, 1858
E. B. Hamilton, 1859
John Parks, 1860
John Evans and James Stewart, 1861
Silas Masters, 1862
Jacob Carter, 1863
James S. Stewart, re-elected in 1864
John A. Unthank, 1865
W. B. Beals. 1866
Alonzo Perkins, 1867
Thomas Frazier, 1868
Watson Tyson, 1869
Wm. R. Hamilton and David Couchman, 1870
David Couchman re-elected 1871
Wm. R. Hamilton, 1873
H. J. Rohwer, 1874
Charles. Selleck, 1875
1876, W. R. Hamilton, H. J. Rohwer and Charles Selleck
1877, H. J. Rohwer, Charles Selleck and W. P. Viele
1878-same as in 1877
1879-W. P. Viele, H. J. Rohwer and A. M. Bovee
1880-H. J. Rohwer, A. M. Bovee and R. Blaco
1881-R. Blaco, A. M. Bovee and H. J. Rohwer:
1882-R. Blaco, O. N. Unthank and H. O. Morse
1883-O. N. Unthank, H. O. Morse and R. Blaco
1884-G. A. Crannell, Charles S. Griffin, F. E. Hall
1885-John Spencer, M. Cameron and S. C. Rose

At this date a change was made and one supervisor from each precinct in the county became a member of the county board, beginning in 1886 these officers were:

1886-Soren Jensen, Watson Tyson, Lee Johnson, James W. Wild, M. Cameron, J. J. Smith, D. P. Scott, John Klotz, John Spencer, John Patrick, Patrick McCarty, L. C. Weber, C. H. Beckman.

1887-J. W. Gaines, C. H. Beckman, W. R. Hamilton, L. C. Weber, John Patrick, Patrick McCarty, M. Cameron, W. Van Arsdale, W. G. Harrison, Thomas Crouch, John H. Maguire, F. M. Cook, James M. Wild.

1888-E. M. Cook, Frank Jahnel, J. S. Stokes, Henry Osterman, L. C. Weber, J. M. Wild, P. J. Gossard, Theo. Haller, M. H. B. Rosenbalm, Thomas Wilkinson, M. Cameron, Joseph Johnson, Patrick McCarty.

1889-L. C. Weber, Eugene Cook, Frank Jahnel, Henry Boucher, P. J. Gossard, Henry Osterman, W. G. Harrison, Joe S. Cook, Samuel Warrick, J. M. Souder, John Henrichsen, Thomas Wilkinson, O. V. Remington, L. C. Weber.

1890-L. C. Weber, J. M. Souder, E. M. Cook, S. Warrick, J. S. Cook, W. G. Harrison, John Henrichsen, W. W. McKinney, Henry Osterman, P. G. Gossard, Henry Boucher, John Klotz George Neff.

1891-W. G. Harrison, James Cruickshank, G. W. Neff, George Rohwer, Thomas Wilkinson, W. W. McKinney, E. M. Cook, L. C. Weber, P. J. Gossard, John Klotz, Henry Osterman, J. M. Souder, S. Warrick.

1892-L. C. Weber, W. G. Harrison, Samuel Warrick, J. M. Souder, R. Broderson, T. B. Pawling, E. M. Cook, H. Savage, George Rohwer, James Cruickshank, Henry Osterman, Thomas Wilkinson

1893-James Cruickshank, Joseph Hammang, George W. Matteson, H. J. Carpenter, George Rohwer, D. H. Noble, Frank Jahnel

From this date on the districts in the county were represented as follows:

1894-Frank Jahnel, Wm. Gray, G. Mehrens, George Drevsen, T. B. Pawling, W. W. McKinney, R. Broderson, W. R. Downs.
1895-B. P. Miller, Chester C. Marshall, Henry Rohwer, James R. Smith, Tames Cruickshank, H. J. Carpenter, E. Castetter.
1896-C. C. Marshall, T. B. Pawling, J. R. Smith, B. P. Miller, Frank Jahnel, William Gray, James R. Smith.
1897-William Gray, W. D. Gross, H. Rohwer, G. M. Whitford, T. B. Pawling, W. W. McKinney, T. M. Whitford R. Broderson.
1898-M. Johnson, R. Broderson, W. D. Gross, T. B. Pawling, John D. Eakin, William Gray, Henry Rohwer.
1899-(Record of names not clear in Minute book.)
1900-A. O. Pound, William Wilson, H. J. Carpenter, F. A. Reynolds, L. K. Davies, H. Rohwer. John Blaco.
1901-Messrs. Day, Meier, Blaco, Davies, Gray, Wrich and Wilson.
1902-John Blaco, Meier, Reynolds, Magnus Johnson, J. L. Day, Hy Wrich, Wm. Gray.
1903-Henry Wrich, Joe S. Cook, P. T. Badgerow, H. D. Schoettger,F. A. Reynolds, Magnus Johnson, John Blaco.
1904-Joe S. Cook, Hy Wrich, P. T. Badgerow, H. D. Schoettger, S. W. Cushman, Fred Echtenkamp, Lee Smith.
1905-Joe S. Cook, Lee Smith, P. T. Badgerow, S. W. Cushman, Fred Echtenkamp, H. D. Schoettger, Henry Wrich.
1906- (No record.)
1907-Elected-E. W. Burdick, James E. Maher, Fred Ramser.
1909-Fred H. Heuermann, James E. Maher.
1911-Elected-E. W. Burdic.
1912-James E. Maher, Fred Heuermann and E. W. Burdic.
1913-James E. Maher, E. W. Burdic and Fred Heuermann.
1914-Same as above.
1915-Same as above.
1916-Same as above.
1917-James E. Maher, Fred Heuermann and Charles Nelson.
1918-Same as above.
1919-Charles Nelson, H. C. Blaco and John F. White.
1920-Same as above.

Nebraska AHGP

History of Dodge and Washington Counties, Nebraska, Rev. William H. Buss and Thomas T. Osterman, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, Chicago, 1921.

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