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First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail

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1914, J. S. Noll. Marshall St. between Fir and Elm sts.
  • View south (Photograph by Peter Olshavsky)
  • View northeast (Photograph by Peter Olshavsky)
  • Detail of roof (Photograph by Peter Olshavsky)

This diminutive county courthouse, located in the only town in the county, is claimed to be one of the smallest in America. The two-story, wood-framed building, 26 by 28 feet, is sheathed in clapboards and capped with a truncated hipped roof featuring a sawtooth cornice. A fireproof concrete vault is attached to the east facade. The interior is divided into two rooms. The accompanying small jail, located nearby, is a one-story, wood-framed structure also sheathed in clapboard and sheltered by a gable roof. The jail has two rooms, one of which houses three wood cells. Both buildings, currently cared for as museums by the Arthur County Historical Society, were in use for half a century, until the present courthouse, sharing the same block, replaced them in 1962.

While the Homestead Act of 1862 had drawn thousands of settlers to the productive land of eastern Nebraska during the late decades of the nineteenth century, settlement in the Sandhills for the purpose of farming proved to be unsatisfactory. In this semi-arid region, the 160 acres of land provided by the legislation was not sufficient to support a single-family farming operation. A Nebraska member of the House of Representatives, Moses P. Kinkaid, recognized the inadequacy of the quarter-section homestead in western lands. In 1904 he successfully championed a bill, the Kinkaid Act, which provided homestead units of 640 acres. This legislation was a major factor in attracting settlers to the Sandhills region of Nebraska.

What is now Arthur County was originally the west half of the adjacent McPherson County and in 1913 the state legislature created Arthur County as a separate jurisdiction. Later that year the town of Arthur, located in the center of the county, was platted and designated the county seat. The courthouse was built in 1914 followed by the jail in 1915. The construction date, modest size, materials, and simple design of these former governmental buildings illustrate the circumstances associated with the late establishment of a county with limited financial resources located within a sparsely populated area of the Nebraska Sandhills.


Long, Beving Long, “First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail,” Arthur County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.

Writing Credits

H. Keith Sawyers
Peter Olshavsky
H. Keith Sawyers
Peter Olshavsky



  • 1914

    Design and construction of courthouse
  • 1915

    Design and construction of jail
  • 1962

    Change of function

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H. Keith Sawyers, Peter Olshavsky, "First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail", [Arthur, Nebraska], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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