STORY OF THE SALINE COUNTY SEAT CONTEST OVER A PERIOD OF SEVENTY-ONE YEARS1

In another section we have mentioned the starting place of our county seat fracas under the County Commissioners proceedings: That date was July 12, 1867.

In the meantime, a settlement, very near the center of the county at Pleasant Hill, came into existence. A clamor for relocation of the county seat began.

First Application for Removal

Swan City, NebraskaOn July 5, 1870, a petition was presented, asking for removal to some other point, more centrally located. This petition, upon examination, was found to be short the two—thirds of the signatures as required by law, so was rejected. From this the matter seemed to have drifted into the legislature, for on March 8, 1871, an act approved by that body ordered the County Clerk to call an election for the relocation of the county seat, on Tuesday, the 11th day of May, 1871. In the meantime, Crete and Dorchester had come on the scene and were in the contest with Pleasant Hill and Swan City.

A Three-Way Election

We have been unable to get the vote at this election, but no place received a majority, and another election was called for June 3, 1871. Places to be voted for were: Crete, Pleasant Hill, and Dorchester. So it seems Swan City must have polled so few votes that it was down and out.

County Seat Moved to Pleasant Hill

Pleasant Hill, NebraskaThe vote at this election is also not in existence either, but Pleasant Hill won, and about July 1, 1871, the records were moved to Pleasant Hill and became the county seat.

Now peace reigned again though old history says Crete was not at all satisfied with the result and was just biding its time until the question could come up again.

The railroad never came to Pleasant Hill. That fall, 1871, they hauled the lumber for the court house from Nebraska City. This courthouse was 40x44 and 22 feet high. This courthouse stood up to early in 1917, when it went up in smoke.

The Courthouse at Pleasant Hill, NEFrom here things quieted down for several years, peace reigned, though no terms were signed.

Early in 1877 the county seat fight came up again. Just how it came to be we do not know, but it was a mighty live issue from the very first. Wilber and Friend had come into existence since the other battle, and of course wanted the county seat too.

Center Also a Contender

Then Center, which wasn’t even a town, just a point which figured to be the center of the county, came into the race. The fight was on, the commissioners called an election for September 4, 1877. Places to be voted for were: Crete, Wilber, Pleasant Hill, Dorchester, Friend and Center. The result of this election: Crete received 590 votes; Wilber 540; Pleasant Hill 320; Friend 251; Dorchester 98; and Center 35.

Crete and Wilber Gain Ascendancy

No place receiving a majority, another election was called for September 18, 1877. At this election, places to be voted for were: Crete, Wilber and Pleasant Hill. The result was Crete received 770 votes; Wilber 745; Pleasant Hill 650. Still no majority, and now Pleasant Hill was out of the race; just Crete and Wilber were left to fight it out alone.

So, into the call for the general election to be held November 6, 1877 was included a call for another vote on county seat location. Places to be voted for were just Crete and Wilber.

This was probably one of the bitterest campaigns Saline County ever had. If everything that went on could be told, it would fill a large volume. It can’t be told, and it is a good thing - better to let it slumber in oblivion. The battle of ballots was over; probably every man in the county who could vote, voted. The result was as follows: Crete received 1119 votes and Wilber 1349.

This was a 230 majority for Wilber, and as is always the case in a contest of this kind, there was great rejoicing on one side and gloom, but not despair, on the other.

Crete Enjoins Commissioners

The records were to be moved about January 1, 1878, but a week before that time Crete served an injunction on the commissioners, restraining them from moving records from their present location. The case went into the courts at Lincoln, before Judge J. A. Weaver and he set the 28th day of January, 1878, as the time he would render his decision at his home in Falls City. On that date Henry Clark of Wilber was present in Falls City, and when the decision was made, he was to telegraph a message in code form to Dorchester, where a messenger was in waiting to take it on to Pleasant Hill. Men and teams were to be there in readiness to move all records to Wilber. Here we give what an old Opposition paper, published at Wilber, has to say about the occasion:

Seat of Government Moved to Wilber

As taken from an old Opposition newspaper published in Wilber:

"Monday, January 28, 1878 will long be remembered as the most memorable day in the annals of the history of our town. At dawn of day our citizens were aroused by the hurrahs of our sturdy yeomanry coming from all directions to greet us, knowing full well that the voice of a majority of the people would be sustained. Our people, who are always alive to the interests of our thriving hamlet, were commanded through self-respect to fall into line and e’er the town bell announced the hour of nine, one hundred men and teams were counted passing over the hill west of town, destined for the soon-to-be-relieved county seat of Saline County, Pleasant Hill.

"Reinforcements joined the throng at nearly every farm house and cross road. By the time it reached Pleasant Hill, it was at least three hundred strong. When the denizens of that quiet hamlet had carefully surveyed the situation of affairs, a messenger was dispatched forthwith to Crete, bearing the appalling intelligence to the Cretan ear that a Wilber mob had taken the town and that immediate assistance was necessary, in order to insure protection from loss of life and property. The Cretans were quick to discover the object of their mission and immediately dispatched a message to Dorchester that the injunction had been dissolved and advised the commissioners to proceed with their duties, but somehow through an oversight on their part, the John Hancock of the proper authority was omitted, but was soon remedied. After action on the matter by the commissioners an order was issued to contractor John Tripp, to get the offices cleared of men preparatory to loading the safe, books, furniture etc. Everything was soon on wheels and amid the yells and hurrahs of the teamsters; it was soon on the way to the future county seat of Saline.”

A History of the Removal of the County Seat from Pleasant Hill to Wilber - by Frank Rejcha

June 1, 1928 - When I was a kid of 20 years of age, I was working as a tenant for ten dollars per month for Frank Jelinek in 1877 and for Vaclav Shestak in 1878 on Big Blue Valley, and that year was war like rumor about removing the Saline County seat from Pleasant Hill to Wilber or Crete, as Pleasant Hill had no railway connection, and the election held November 6th, 1877 had favored the change, and Wilber with Crete became rivals in the contest.  But now the election was claimed by those opposed to removal to be absolutely void and of no effect for the following reasons. 

That the petition asking for relocation was not signed by resident electors equal in number to three fifths of all the votes cast in the county at the last general election.  That some names were forged, and others were non-residents, and those that had not resided in the state long enough to be electors.  A petition asking for a temporary injunction restraining the Board of County Commissioners, Peter J. Carl, Adam Bucher, and Vencil Vilda, from moving any of the books, records, office furniture, etc. from the town of Pleasant Hill was offered by William S. Ellis, Isaac Wickware and others asking that upon final hearing a perpetual injunction was granted December 25th, 1877 by the Honorable Judge S. B. Pound of the 2nd Judicial District.  (continue reading...)

Commissioners Hold Historic Meeting

In an old file of the Wilber Opposition, at that time, is given the proceedings of the last meeting of the commissioners, held at Pleasant Hill. It states that just before they started for Wilber that night, they held a meeting and put the following on record:

"Pleasant Hill, Jan. 28, 1878 - It was ordered that the following order be spread upon the record and a copy be given to each of the county officers:

"Whereas, the injunction has this day been dissolved by Judge Weaver, to C. H. Slocum, Clerk; C. Duras, Treasurer; J. H. Hardy, Judge; J. N. Van Duyn, Clerk of District Court; T. S. Dixon, Superintendent of Public Instruction; Jacob Bigler, Sheriff; officers in and for Saline County, State of Nebraska; You are hereby authorized and empowered and instructed to remove all books, papers, furniture, etc., pertaining or belonging to your several offices, to Wilber, Saline County, Nebraska, the county seat.

"Done at Pleasant Hill, January 28, 1878 - P. J. CARL, W. VILDA, ADAM BUCHER – Commissioners --- Attest: C. H. SLOCUM, Clerk. Adjourned to meet February 1, 1878, at Wilber."

First Courthouse Bonds

Early Courthouse in WilberThe contract was let to W. S. Van Austin, for the new Courthouse. It was to cost $14,000. Wilber Precinct voted bonds to the amount of $5,000, then $3,000 was donated by private citizens of Wilber, the remainder the county provided.

The building was 50x84 feet, with a 14—foot wing for entrance on each of the east and west sides. It was two stories, with real high ceilings. It was completed in the fall of 1879.

Here the county seat question had a long, peaceful slumber; in fact, it died out completely, as far as action was concerned. The people of the two towns got to be friendly again and all that was left of the old conflict was just a memory.

First County Courthouse in Wilber, NE - Built in 1879


Early Courthouse Restroom Facility
Old Battles Reemerge

More than forty years went by. During these years there had been some legislation in regard to county seat removal, but it applied to the whole state. It provided that an election for removal could not be held oftener than once in ten years and it took a sixty per cent vote to remove and only two places could compete—the one where it was at the time, and the one who circulated the petition for relocation.

A clipping from the State Journal of September 13, 1920, states:

"The present fight was really precipitated several years ago, when State Fire Commissioner Redgell condemned the [Saline County] courthouse as unsafe."

"Provision was immediately made by the commissioners for levying taxes to create a fund for a new court house. Crete people were convinced that Wilber deliberately tried to euchre her out of a chance to compete by fathering a petition to relocate the county seat in a corn field in the exact center of the county, with the idea that with this petition on file, Crete would be barred from competition, and Wilber would easily beat a scheme to build a Courthouse far from the railroad and where no town existed. This situation, when it dawned on Crete people, caused them to get busy at once. They organized and covered the county in one day, got the necessary number of names on a Crete petition and filed it ahead of the one requesting relocation at the center of the county."

Finally the commissioners called an election, to vote on relocation of the county seat. It was to be held September 14, 1920. [When votes were tallied, Wilber received 3,602 votes and Crete 4,212 votes.]

Wilber carried eleven of the sixteen precincts by a majority and Crete lacked 574 votes of having the 60 percent vote." (This is what the State Journal of September 15, 1920 reports.)

We are inclined to believe that the vote that came in by mail is not included, but it was only a few votes anyway, so it won’t make any difference. To say that Wilber felt good over the result of this election doesn’t begin to express it. A cloud came over Crete’s pathway, but since time began it has always been thus, in love or war. This was really war. Wilber felt so good that they decided to celebrate, and they did. On September 29, 1920, they had a big day and a great big feed. It was like the Loaves and Fishes in Bible times. There was no finish, and ice cream until everyone could hold no more. More than 5000 people were present.

Still the war went on. Later some legislation came up in the legislature relative to this conflict, but as we recall it now, it failed to accomplish what was intended.

On June 4, 1926, an election was held to vote on a bond issue to raise money to build a new courthouse. The vote was: For bonds, 3,530; against bonds, 2,501. Bonds lost because they did not receive the required percent of the vote. A little more than a year later, on July 26, 1927, the bond question came up again. This time the result was: For bonds, 2,730; against bonds, 766.

Resolution

"Believing it is for the best interest of the City of Crete and Saline County, that the present feeling between Crete and Wilber over the Court House proposition should cease and that the City of Crete shall make no further attempt to remove the Courthouse from Wilber to Crete.

"Be It Therefore Resolved, that it is the consensus of opinion of this meeting that all further controversy between Crete and Wilber over the location of said Courthouse shall cease and that the Committee now appointed be authorized to do all things necessary to bring about peace and harmony between Crete and Wilber and Saline county and to devise ways and means whereby a suitable and proper Courthouse for Saline County shall be erected at Wilber.

Respectfully submitted, Robert R. Hastings, C. W. Weckbach, F. W. Ball, and Committee."

A foremost plan, presented at all committee sessions was that a mass meeting, representative of every precinct in the county, be held at a neutral point. So, it was but natural that all was in readiness for a quick response following the meeting wherein the above resolution was adopted. It was on the next night, June 7, 1927, that a county-wide mass meeting was held in Dorchester. Following is [a portion of] the report published in The Crete News June 9 [associated with that gathering]:

“WOULD SETTLE THE COURTHOUSE ISSUE

County Wide Meeting Held at Dorchester Tuesday Night, with Every Precinct Represented [With a Special Election asked] Delegates Assembled Unanimous In Submitting Proposition of Building Courthouse at Wilber to Voters.

To all outward appearance, the Saline County Courthouse fight is at an end, after an intermittent battle of half a century. At least, the matter has reached a stage where the proposition can be presented to a united county, with the Courthouse location agreed upon, as well as the approximate cost of same, and the manner of raising funds for the purpose.

This statement is made only after witnessing the unbelievable spectacle of the enemy towns, Crete and Wilber, with their allies meeting on neutral ground to calmly discuss the proposition and work in harmony to devise ways and means to settle the long drawn out fight.”

Resolution

Dorchester, Nebr., June 6, 1927. (Resolution...)

"Whereas, for several years last past, there has existed in Saline county, Nebraska, a state of social and political strife, due to the controversy about the location and building of the ounty courthouse, and

Whereas, such strife has been, and a continuation thereof will be a detriment to the social, political and economical advancement of said county, and

Whereas, the citizens of the City of Crete, contestant for the location of said courthouse, in mass meeting assembled have expressed a willingness to forego, in deference to advancement of the general welfare of the entire county, all further effort to secure a relocation of said courthouse, and

Whereas, it is the sense of this meeting, consisting of voters and taxpayers of every precinct in said county who were active participants on both sides of said courthouse relocation controversy, that harmony and good will should be speedily promoted between the citizens of all the towns and precincts of said county, and

Whereas, it appears that a large majority of the citizens and taxpayers of said county desire a settlement of said controversy, and

Whereas, the present courthouse is in need of extensive repairs, and devoid of all modern conveniences for its officers and jurors and other citizens of said county, and

Whereas, there is at this time the sum of approximately $110,000.00 in a special fund for the construction of a new courthouse, and investigation by various interested citizens has disclosed that a new courthouse suitable for all the needs of said county will cost the sum of approximately $210,00000, and

Whereas, the voting of bonds is the most expedient way to raise the necessary additional funds for the construction of such courthouse,

Now, Therefore, be it resolved, by the taxpayers, voters and citizens of Saline county, Nebraska, here assembled that the county commissioners of said county be respectfully petitioned to call a special election forthwith for the purpose of voting bonds in the amount of $100,00000, for the construction with the funds now at hand, of a new courthouse for said county, at Wilber, the present county seat thereof, and

Be it further resolved, that, if said bonds be carried, steps be taken immediately for the construction of such new courthouse, and

Be it further resolved, that all present at this meeting shall unite in promulgating good will and harmony among all the in- habitants of Saline county, Nebraska, and in the advancement of the best social, political and economical interests of said county, and

Be it further resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be filed forthwith with the honorable board of county commissioners of Saline County, Nebraska, and that copies hereof be submitted to the newspapers of said county for publication.

John E. Mekota, Crete, Chairman, H. O. Waldo, DeWitt, S. A. Shestak, Wilber, P. J. Mullin, Friend, H. A. Endorf, Tobias, and Committee."

Special Bond Election

In due course of time a special bond election was called for July 26, 1927. (Resolution...)

The Saline county courthouse bonds carried in this special election, by a majority of 1,923. The total vote polled was 3,549, probably the smallest number within the memory of the present generation. The proposition carried in 13 of the 16 precincts, only Crete, Monroe and Dorchester having a majority against the bonds. Following was the vote cast, without the mail vote, for the bonds: 2,736; against the bonds, 813.

Friends of the two towns were again able to visit each other and fraternize without fear of being called disloyal to the cause of their home town. So, on August 16, 1927, we witnessed the splendid spectacle of 1,500 to 2,000 people assembled at Crete City Park to hear a full evening’s concert by the Wilber municipal band.

A week later, the Saline county fair boosters made their annual county Wide tour. Upon reaching Wilber they found a free dinner awaiting them, and in short talks by county seat folks, support of the fair was pledged. And to this day Wilber not only attends the fair in large numbers, but furnishes much of the program each fall.

Saline County Courthouse
Under Construction in 1928


 

Saline County’s new courthouse was formally dedicated Wednesday June 12, 1929 with elaborate and impressive ceremonies.

Every section of the county was well represented and all of the visitors were very favorably impressed with the magnificence and practical arrangement of the structure.

The new courthouse is said to be one of the finest buildings, constructed for such purposes, in the state of Nebraska and everyone who inspected the new home of the county’s official family could not help being proud of the structure and the building committee consisting of F. H. Tavis, Adolph Gerner and James W. Kaura, county commissioners; Thomas J. Dredla, county attorney, and Joseph M. Korbel, county clerk, came in for a generous share of praise for the important part played in the erection of the new courthouse and jail and for the highly satisfactory results obtained.

1 Compiled and credited to J. W. Kaura of Dewitt, Nebraska ©1962 - "Saline County Nebraska History"