Monday, June 09, 2014

The rest of the 1858 courthouse story

Jack Hultquist, of Minden, Nebraska, provided the image (above) of the north front of Lucas County's 1858 courthouse. The photo at left, from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, shows the west front of the same building.

I promised an update on the source of this wonderful image (above) of Lucas County's 1858 courthouse after I'd heard again from Jack Hultquist, who e-mailed it to me on Friday. 

As I wrote Saturday, this is the best image I've ever seen of this beautiful building, built at considerable expense ($13,500 to $20,000, a lot of money at the time), but on a log base, or foundation, that for obvious reasons didn't hold up. Thirty years later, it had become structurally unsound as walls settled and cracked, was condemned and, in 1891, evacuated, demolished and two years later replaced by the current courthouse.

I heard from Jack again on Saturday, and as it turns out he is a specialist in vintage photography who volunteers at the Kearney County Historical Society's museum in Minden, Nebraska. Drive west from Chariton on U.S. 34 and you'll eventually drive into Minden, located in south central Nebraska. Its most widely known attraction is Harold Warp's Pioneer Village.

Chariton and Kearney County have been linked directly since 1871, when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which reached Chariton during July of 1867, reached what became the boom town of Lowell, in northeast Kearney County and the first county seat.

As it turns out, this photo of the Lucas County Courthouse is owned by the Kearney County Historical Society and has been identified for many years as a photo of Kearney County's first courthouse, built during the early 1870s in Lowell, now a ghost town. Minden became the county seat during 1876 and Lowell, once a boom town, began to decline.

The identification of the photo was traditional, however --- without documentation; and no other images of the old courthouse at Lowell are known to exist.

Jack set out to document the photograph, but could discover nothing about its origins, nor could he find anything to tie it to Lowell. 

What he did notice, however, were the names of "Hatcher & Day" and "David Stone," a grocer, on the business building to the right of the courthouse (Chariton's 1857 Hatcher House). He was able to determine, via Google searches, that these were the names of early Chariton businesses; then came across images of the 1858 courthouse that I've posted both here and on the "Chariton's Square Deal" blog.

The Lucas County Courthouse's west front during Chariton's 1876 July 4th celebration

According to Jack, however, this photograph has become embedded in Kearney County history as its first courthouse --- and he faces the daunting (and probably thankless) task of demonstrating that it is, instead, a photograph of Lucas County's second courthouse.

There are a variety of links between Chariton and Kearney County, which along with other areas of Nebraska became a popular destination for settlers as the railroad simplified access.

For example, Joseph W. Wilkerson --- a Chariton attorney whose office actually was in the 1858 courthouse, hopped aboard a Burlington & Missouri River train during early 1871 and rode west to Kearney County where during February of that year he claimed six quarter sections of land east of Fort Kearney. A few weeks later, he dispatched his brothers, Millard and John V., west to develop the property.

The Wilkersons didn't stick around Kearney County too long, however. Joseph suffered from tuberculosis and returned to Chariton after various efforts to find relief in the West and died here on Dec. 23, l872. His brothers moved farther west after that.

But there are several mentions in early Chariton newspapers of other Lucas Countyans who settled in Kearney County during its early days. It seems likely that one of these early settlers carried with him, or her, this image.


As far as the Chariton businesses that provide some of the links to this photo are concerned, the Hatcher & Day partnership didn't endure, but the Hatcher House, leased to others, remained in Hatcher hands for many years. Henry Day moved his business northwest across what now is the intersection of Main and Court and --- after a major fire --- built what now is known as the Good Luck Building in 1883. His home was immediately west of the Good Luck site, adjacent to the rail line.

David Stone and six other Chariton residents formed a town lot company in Lucas County during early 1871 to purchase a site for, plat and develop a county seat town for the new Nebraska county of Hamilton --- some distance northeast of Fort Kearney. The others were Darius Wilcox, Robert Miller, James Doremus, Justinian Ray, Nathaniel H. Thorpe and Stillman P. Lewis.

Although the company didn't quite manage to hang together, Stone sold his Chariton grocery business during April of 1871 and headed west, where he was joined by Wilcox, Miller, Thorpe and Lewis. They did indeed found and name the Hamilton County seat, Aurora, and David --- who built the first store there in August of 1871 and was named postmaster in 1872 --- generally is considered the city's founding father.

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