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Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Produced by Diana Busing.

Part 2


As is common in the establishment of new counties, much difficulty and controversy has attended the locating of the county seat of this county. With the first organization of the county, this was the "bone of contention" between competing sections. At that time the contest lay between Harvard and Sutton, the voting strength of the two places being almost equal.

An election for the removal of the county seat was held on August 14, 1875. The places voted for were Sutton, Harvard, Fairfield, and the center of the county. At this election nothing could be final, as the law in such cases required that when three or more places are voted for, the three receiving the highest-number of votes should be the places submitted to the vote of the people at another election, and the two receiving the greatest number of votes at this election should again be submitted to the people at a third election, and the one receiving three-fifths of all the votes cast should be the county seat.

Accordingly, Sutton, Harvard and Fairfield were the points submitted at an election held on September 20, 1875. On the count of the vote, that of Edgar Precinct, in favor of Fairfield, was thrown out for fraud. The vote was recanvassed October 5 by a board composed of J. B. Dinsmore, Cyrus Stayner and E. P. Burnett, and on a mandamus sued out by citizens of Harvard, the vote of Edgar Precinct was counted, the vote standing: Sutton, 497; Harvard, 391; Fairfield, 355. Another election was necessary to decide the matter between Sutton and Harvard, which was held on the 7th of November, 1876, and stood as follows: Sutton, 606 votes; Harvard, 802; neither place receiving three-fifths of all votes cast, no removal was effected. The attempt to remove the seat of government was not again made until January 9, 1879, at which time no change was effected. The law had been changed and now required that the place for which the highest number of votes was cast should be the county seat.

Another election was held February 20 of that year, and, upon the count of the vote by the election board, the vote of Harvard Precinct was thrown out on general principles of fraud, and because the returns were not good returns, not being certified and sworn to by the Judges of the Election, as is required by law, and for other informalities.

Harvard's enemies were jubilant over this result, and the County Commissioners made declaration that the county seat was at Clay Center, ordering the county officers to remove their offices, records, etc., to that place. In obedience to this order, all went, except E. P. Burnett, County Judge, who refused.

On July 14, 1879, John M. Mills filed letters of impeachment before the Commissioners, against Judge Burnett, for his refusal to comply with the order made by that body. A summons was served upon Burnett to appear before the Commissioners and show cause for his non-removal. Burnett filed a long answer, setting forth his reasons for refusing. This, however, did not serve to satisfy the judgment of the Commissioners, and accordingly, on the 22nd of July, 1879, Judge Burnett was impeached from office. The office of County Judge was then declared vacant, and W. S. Prickett was appointed to fill the unexpired term. Soon after this action of the County Commissioners declaring the office of the County Judge vacant, a mandamus was issued by the Supreme Court compelling the County Clerk to remove his office and records back to Sutton. The Clerk obeyed his order, and the other county officers who had taken up their abode at Clay Center followed him and removed back to Sutton.

At the next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners held at Sutton about September 1, 1879, they passed a resolution expunging from their records the record of all proceedings against Judge E. P. Burnett; whereupon the Judge took possession of his office and records that had previously been ordered from him.

After the county seat had been declared to be at Clay Center, a party of men with teams and wagons proceeded to Sutton on a Sunday night, seized the county records, the Treasurer's safe, etc., loaded them into the wagons and took them to Clay Center, in the act of doing which one of the party lost a horse, having died from over exhaustion. Great rejoicing was indulged in over the result, by those friendly to the change, while the defeated Harvard party remained dejected and crestfallen. On the 31st of October, 1879, a celebration was held in Clay Center, a barbecue was prepared, speeches were made, songs were sung, bands of music played the march of victory and the day was spent in general jollification. From early morning, long processions poured in from all parts of the county, with flags, bands and banners bearing such mottoes as "Solid for Clay Center," "We Demand a Fair Count," "The Faithful Few," etc. The jubilation, however, was ill-timed, as was subsequently determined.

An investigation was made, the vote reviewed by a canvassing board and, under a mandamus from the Supreme Court, the vote of Harvard Precinct, which had been thrown out, was counted in, and the result showed that no change had been made in the location of the county seat. The Commissioners were then compelled to countermand their hasty actions and order the officers and records back to Sutton. An election was then held on November 7, 1879, at which time the change was effected by a comparatively legal vote, and resulted in favor of Clay Center by a majority of 100 votes, the vote being 1,967, for Clay Center and 1,867 for Harvard, and thus a just and final determination of the matter was made.

During all these campaigns, much spirited work had been done. Much personal abuse, calumny and vituperation was indulged in by both parties, in speeches, through the press and in numerous printed circulars of various kinds and character, and a feeling of bitterness and hatred was engendered both between individuals and sections, which will require a long time to obliterate. The Burlington & Missouri Railroad, always hating Sutton, took active part against that place in favor of Harvard, omitting nothing to detract from the advantages of the one and add to those of the other. Various negotiations were made by the road with the citizens of Sutton, by which they were to receive certain favors as a town, in consideration that they voted for Harvard for the county seat, but a failure on the part of the company to comply with the agreement, released the citizens from obligations under it. As an instance of the extent to which the railroad company went in this matter, they even took up the "editor's pass," held by F. M. Comstock and J. S. Le Hew, editors of the Clay County Globe, at Sutton, whose influence was given in favor of their own town and Clay Center and against Harvard.

With the last election, the location became permanently fixed, and, notwithstanding the feeling of enmity that yet remains with some, there are but few in the county who are not satisfied with the result, believing it to be just and equitable to all concerned.


Beginning with the organization of the county, the following persons have been elected as the officials of Clay County, with the date of service, the term of office being two years, excepting the office of Commissioner, which is three years, one being elected each year:

1871--Commissioners, A. K. Marsh, A. A. Corey, P. O. Norman; Treasurer, J. Hollingsworth; Clerk, F. M. Brown; Surveyor, R. S. Fitzgerald; Coroner, Jacob Steinmetz; Superintendent of Schools, J. Schemmerhorn; County Judge, J. R. Maltby; Sheriff, P. T. Kearney.

1872--During this year Surveyor Fitzgerald died; Hollingsworth failed to qualify, and R. G. Brown was appointed to fill his place. The Commissioner elected this year was J. B. Dinsmore, who failed to serve out his term, having resigned to accept the office of Sheriff the following year. A. Tracy was elected to fill the unexpired term of J. Hollingsworth.

1873--Commissioners, Ezra Brown, A. K. Marsh, R. Bayly; Treasurer, F. M. Davis; Clerk, F. M. Brown; Surveyor, J. F. Fleming; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, D. W. Garver; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. B. Dinsmore.

1874--Commissioner elected, C. M. Turner; Commissioners, Ezra Brown, C. M. Turner, R. Bayly; Treasurer, F. M. Davis; Clerk, J. B. Dinsmore; Surveyor, M. S. Edington; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, F. W. Broobank; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, O. P. Alexander.

1876--Commissioner, F. Northrop.

1877--Commissioners, F. Northrop, Ezra Brown, R. Bayly; Treasurer, W. S. Randall; Clerk, E. E. Howard; Surveyor, W. A. Gunn; Coroner, M. V. B. Clark, M. D.; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, A. J. McPeak.

1878--Commissioner elected, W., R. Hamilton.

1879--Commissioners, R. Bayly, F. Northrop, W. R. Hamilton; Treasurer, G. H. Van Duyne; Clerk, W. J. Keller; Surveyor, L. A. Varner; Coroner, J. G. Nuss; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. P. Nixon. The county having the necessary population, D. T. Phillips was elected Clerk of the District Court.

1880--Commissioner elected--C. Stayner.

1881--Commissioners, R. Bayley, W. R. Hamilton, C. Stayner; Treasurer, G. H. Van Duyne; Clerk, L. F. Fryar; Surveyor, L. A. Varner; Coroner, J. G. Nuss; Superintendent of Schools, I. D. Newell; County Judge, E. P. Burnett; Sheriff, J. P. Nixon.


Court House.--A court house, and the first in the county, was built at Sutton, that being at that time the county seat, in the winter of 1871-72. It was a two-story frame, the upper story being used as a court-room, and the offices were located in the lower story.

At the election held February 20, 1879, the question whether a three-mill tax should be levied for building a court house was put to the vote of the people, and was carried. During that year, it was declared by the Commissioners, upon the determined result of the election of February 20, that Clay Center was the county seat, and preparations were made immediately by those favoring that location to have it moved to that place. In May, W. D. Young built a large frame house, which he rented to the County Commissioners for a court house, to be used until another could be erected. Upon a subsequent investigation, it was found that Clay Center was not the county seat, and the officers were ordered back to Sutton, and thus Clay Center, as the county seat, with all the preparations that had been made, stood tenantless. As soon, however, as the location was fixed, all arrangements were made for the building of a court house, the evident intention of those favoring Clay Center as the county seat being to erect such costly buildings as to render any further removal impracticable, except with much outlay and expense to the tax-payers of the county, and thus to clinch the determination of the present site.

The contract to erect a court house was awarded to W. D. Young in February, 1880, the estimated cost being $11,000. Work began upon the building the 1st of May, and it was completed by November 1, costing, including furniture, "etc.," and fixtures, "etc.," $22,000, or double the estimated cost. It is a large two-story brick, sixty-four feet long by forty-seven feet wide, and upon the center of the roof rests a substantial dome. In the second story is the court room, 40x47 feet, adjoining which are the jury room, judge's and witnesses' rooms. On the first floor are the county offices, those being constructed with fire-proof vaults, for the security of the records, the Treasurer's office being also supplied with a burglar-proof safe. The building is of appropriate architecture and commands a fine appearance.

County Jail.--The first jail built for the incarceration of criminals in the county was in 1876, and was a small wooden structure. When the seat of government was supposed to be permanently fixed at Clay Center, steps were at once taken by the Commissioners to erect a court house and jail. The contract to build a jail was awarded to F. A. Pyle and W. D. Young on April 1, 1879, the main building to be 24x36 feet in linear dimensions and 12 feet high, to which should be a wing 24x26 feet in size and 14 feet high--the whole to cost, when completed, $2,250. Before work was commenced under the contract, a temporary injunction was sued out before Judge Weaver by citizens of the county, retraining work upon the building until a final determination of the vote upon the location of the county seat. Upon a recanvass of the vote, it was found that the county seat was still at Sutton, but at the election of November 7, 1879, it was changed to Clay Center. Work, therefore, began upon the jail building in January, 1880, and was completed during that spring, costing $2,200, being a wooden structure, the main part of which is twenty-four feet wide by thirty-eight feet long and one story high; on the rear of this is a wing twenty feet wide by forty feet in length, in which are the cells, which are lined with steel cages. It is a very neatly constructed building, being tastefully furnished, and has capacity for the "accommodation" of several "guests."

Poor House--The people of Clay County, out of their abundance, have always found charity for their poor and needy. For the comfort of those who are unable to care for themselves they have made suitable provision. In May, 1874, the County Commissioners bought a quarter section of railroad land, two miles east of Clay Center, for a poor farm. A house was built in February, 1880, and is a two-story frame, the main part being 24x26 feet, to which a two-story wing, measuring 20x26 feet, is appended. The farm, a fine body of land, is in a fair state of cultivation, and the institution is run under contract by A. C. Masterson, who receives a half share of all that is produced upon the farm and $3.50 per week for the support of each inmate, of whom there are now twelve.


The iron horse, which in the West heralds the advance of civilization, made its first appearance in Clay County in the autumn of 1871, when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska was completed to Sutton, at which place a settlement was made in the summer of 1870. During the summer of 1872, the St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad (since changed to the St. Joseph & Western) was completed, and the young county was traversed by two well-equipped lines of railroad, affording facilities for transportation which the pioneers of other States did not enjoy for many years. Both of the roads, however, were constructed more for the purpose of obtaining large grants of land from the Government than as lucrative enterprises in themselves. The Burlington & Missouri River road runs across the northern portion of the county, nearly east and west, and the St. Joseph & Western enters the southeast corner and passes through the county in a northwesterly direction. By means of theses lines of railway, the people of the county are supplied with all desirable conveniences for travel and the transportation of products to the best markets both East and West.


The Clay County Agricultural Society was formed April 15, 1872, at the Court House in Sutton.

A. K. Marsh was chosen President, and J. M. Ramsey, Secretary.

Annual fairs were held, ever since its establishment, at Sutton, until 1881, when the exhibition took place at Clay Center, the county seat.

The fair grounds, embracing forty acres of land, are owned by a stock company composed of about fifty of the most wealthy citizens of the county, and the use of these grounds is extended to the society for making their exhibits. The grounds are supplied with a large floral hall, which is the only permanent building that has yet been constructed.

So far the society has not failed to make a creditable exhibition, even during the disastrous years of the grasshopper plague, and has always paid up the premium list in full, and at present has a balance in the treasury.

A meeting of the society was held March 4, 1882, in the court room at Clay Center, at which the following officers were chosen:

D. Leitch, President; J. E. Kenyon, First Vice President; E. Austin, Second Vice President; N. G. Perryman, Third Vice President; A. P. Randall, Vice President; C. Shetler, Vice President; A. J. McPeak, Secretary; G. H. Van Dryne, Treasurer; T. R. Elder, Superintendent; Jesse Eller, Marshal. Board of Directors: George Schwartz, of School Creek; J. A. Davis, of Lincoln; N. M. Huling, of Harvard; S. V. Phelps, of Leicester; A. M. Lathrop, of Inland; Thomas Wood, of Lynn; P. McMartin, of Lewis; Thomas Thorpe, Sr., of Sutton; E. D. Kessler, of Sheridan; C. Eller, of Marshall; D. Nettleton, of Spring Ranche; W. T. Newcomb, of Fairfield; H. C. Hart, of Edgar; Riley Thurber, of Logan; John C. Ward, Center, Director at Large.

Clay County Sunday School--On Thursday, February 11, 1872, a Union Sunday School was organized at the residence of T. Weed by the Rev. Mr. Jones, a Congregational minister, who was laboring in this county under the auspices of the A. M. H. M. Society.

T. Weed was chosen Superintendent, and Charles Moon, Assistant Superintendent; Dr. Martin Clark, Secretary, and John R. Maltby, Treasurer. The charter members were I. N. Clark, Dr. Martin Clark, J. R. Maltby, W. Cunning, and T. Weed and wife. The first session of school was held in a small frame building standing near where Mr. Wittenberg's store now stands. This same building is now owned and used by J. M. Gray & Co., as a lumber office. There were only seven persons present at this session of school. The school remained in this building until spring, when the Clark Bros. kindly donated their hall for its use. This building is now known as the Clark House.

It remained in Clark's Hall until a schoolhouse was built east of town, which was occupied until the court house was built, where it was held for about two years, and then removed to Grosshans' Hall, remaining there until the Congregational Church was built in 1876. While in Grosshans' Hall the M. E. friends withdrew, forming a school of their own. The first Sunday School concert was given in Clark's Hall. The subject was the stories of the Bible. Miss Letta Gray conducted the singing, and the Rev. D. B. Perry, now President of Doane College, came from Aurora, walking part of the way, to attend and take part in the concert. This first concert was quite a novelty in the new community. It was quite a success. The hall was filled, and an instructive and entertaining time was enjoyed.

The next concert was given in the schoolhouse. The subject was Bunyan's Pilgrim, Mr. Perry taking the part of pilgrim. Mrs. G. W. Bemis conducted the musical part, using a melodeon, borrowed for the occasion of Mrs. R. G. Merrill. This melodeon was the first musical instrument ever landed on the banks of School Creek, excepting the inevitable fiddle. This concert was more widely advertised than the first one, and drew an immense crowd, and was an event in the annals of the new town. People came from the Blue on the north, and from all the county around. The house held but a small part of the crowd. The night was warm, and people sat in wagons around the house; the program was carried out in full, and all went away well pleased. There have been twenty-eight teachers since the organization of the school, viz.: Mrs. T. Weed, Mrs. Corey, Mrs. Charles Moon, Mrs. George Cunning, Mrs. W. Cunning, Mrs. George Brownell, Mrs. A. S. Twitchell, Mrs. E. P. Burnett, Mrs. C. F. Graves, Mrs. A. Higginbotham, Mrs. J. B. Dinsmore, Mrs. Goodrich, Miss Phoebe Dewstowe, Mrs. Pruyn and Mrs. J. Rowley, Mr. I. N. Clark, J. R. Maltby, E. H. White, Father Burlingame, S. B. Montgomery, W. E. Thompson, S. M. Emerson, C. F. Graves, J. D. McMillian, A. G. Sherwood, A. S. Twitchell and E. P. Burnett.

There have been six deaths of members of the school, viz: Father Burlingame, Farris Brownell, Mrs. Farmer (nee' Dewstowe), Nellie Marsh, Mamie Clark and Lizzie Galletly.

There have been seven accessions to the church from the Sunday School, viz: Mina Marsh, Ella Twitchell, Jessie Galletly, Mary Galletly, Margaret Galletly, William Galletly, and Farris Brownell.

Soon after the organization of the school, a committee of three ladies were selected, viz: Mrs. Dr. Clark, Mrs. W. Cunning and Mrs. T. Weed, to solicit funds for a library. Mrs. Dr. Clark could not serve on account of domestic duties, and Mrs. I. N. Clark served in her place. They raised $43 in two hours' time. The largest amount given by any one was $5, and the smallest 50 cents. One saloon-keeper, Mr. Curran, gave $3, and Dennis Lynch, another saloon-keeper, gave 50 cents; Mr. Lynch said, "Yis, ladies, I don't belave yer docthrine, but I'll give ye 50 cints anyhow." When taking into consideration the small number of people here at that time (there were only about forty, all told), we think they gave liberally. The money was expended for books, which, together with fifty volumes donated by the A. M. H. M. Society, made a fine library. The school has distributed about 15,000 Sunday school papers in ten years, and has raised about $300 for expenses. We had the largest and most successful school while we were in Grosshans' Hall that we have ever had. There were a large number of boys in school at that time, who have since graduated. There was a hearty co-operation among parents and the teachers and officers; without this, no school can succeed.

In looking back over the last ten years, it seems that more might have been done, and yet some progress has been made. This was the first Sunday school organized between Crete and the Rocky Mountains that we have any record of.

Medical Society.--The Central Nebraska Medical Society was instituted June 24, 1876, at the village of Sutton. The society comprises the counties of Clay, Fillmore, York and Hamilton, and at its organization contained fifteen members, which have since been increased to twenty-five. The officers elected by the society at that time were: Dr. J. R. C. Davis, of Aurora, President; Dr. M. V. B. Clark, of Sutton, Secretary and Treasurer.

The object of the association is to regulate the practice of medicine within this territory, having adopted a fee bill, and also for mutual exchange of ideas on the theory and practice of medicine. None, except physicians of the regular school, are admitted to membership. The present officers of the society are: Dr. William Knapp, of York, President; and Dr. A. O. Kendall, of Sutton, Secretary and Treasurer.

Regular meetings are held quarterly at the towns of Sutton, Fairfield, York and Hamilton, respectively.

Old Settlers' Association.--On the 8th day of October, 1880, several of the old settlers of Clay County met in Sloat's Hall, in the village of Harvard, for the purpose of forming themselves into an association. A society was formed under the name of "The Pioneer Settlers' Association of Clay County," and a constitution and by-laws were adopted, and the fee for admission of members fixed at 25 cents.

The objects of the society were for the taking of steps to commit to record for preservation the early incidents of the settlement of the county, and to perpetuate pioneer reminiscences. For this purpose, a historian was chosen as one of the regular officers of the association, whose duty was to gather and put in proper shape all matters of historical interest pertaining to this county. The first officers elected were as follows: I. N. Clark, of Sutton, President; George Noble, of Fairfield, First Vice President; C. J. Martin, of Clay Center, Second Vice President; M. J. Hull, of Edgar, Historian; H. E. Goodall, of Lynn, Secretary; D. N. Nettleton, of Spring Ranche, Treasurer; T. R. Elder, Officer of the Day.

The following-named gentlemen were appointed a committee to obtain signatures, and work up the interests and advancement of the society: J. B. Dinsmore, of Sutton, J. J. Walley, of Edgar; L. Brewer, of Fairfield; Samuel Sloat, of Harvard; L. N. Bryant, of Spring Ranche.

The next meeting was held on the first Tuesday of December, 1880, but owing to the inclemency of the weather the attendance was small. The membership at this time was increased to forty. Nothing of importance was transacted at this meeting more than the adding of assistant historians to the list of officers. So far, but little has been done by the association toward carrying out the objects of its formation.

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