On the night of December 7, 1898, the members of the Woodmen's Lodge adjourned a little after midnight, and as they left the hall over the Lincoln State Bank and came down the stairs on Main Street, they noticed the
air was heavy with smoke. A quick investigation revealed that it was the Lincoln County Courthouse that was on fire.
An alarm was given and the volunteer firemen and citizens quickly responded, but there was little that could be done, for the building was completely gutted in one hour. The walls and safes were all that remained of
The fire had started in the county treasurer's office in the southwest corner of the building and apparently had been burning for some time before discovered. The county treasurer, W.M. McCanles, said that he and his associates had left the office quite late and that all was well then, for there was very little fire in the stove. ...
The great concern was for the county's records. Although most of them
were in safes, the doors were so badly warped that it was feared the
contents were destroyed.
It was several days before the vaults were cool enough to open. The
contents of the vault of the Clerk of the District Court were safe, but when
the other vaults and the large safe in the Treasurer's office were opened,
the contents were found to be practically destroyed.
The building and furniture were valued at from $12,000 to $15,000 and it
was learned that there was only $2,400 insurance on the building and $1,100
on the contents.
But the people of Lincoln County agreed that a new courthouse was needed
and should be built as quickly as possible: how the funds were to be
acquired was the problem. Finally it was decided to make use of the
redemption fund. In that fund, there was between $12,000 and $15,000. When
the railroad would pay the back taxes this fund would go over $15,000 and by
September over $18,000. This money, of course, was to be distributed to the
townships, but since the records were destroyed, there was no possible way
to allocate the funds. Since the money couldn't be put in the general fund
or returned, the logical decision was to use the money plus the insurance
for the new courthouse building. By this means, the county wouldn't need to
issue new bonds or borrow money.
By January 19, 1899, the Lincoln Courthosue bill passed both houses of
the legislature, and the county commissioners were now empowered to proceed
with the plans and erection of a new and suitable building.
After much deliberation the commissioners decided on a building to be
patterned after the Ellis County Courthouse at Hays, which had been built
the year before at a cost of $18,000. The commissioners selected C.W.
Squires as architect and employed S.H. Brunt to modify the floor plan to
make it more adaptable to the county's needs, but in general they chose the
two-story, stone-turreted structure with three windows on each side of the
By September 6, 1900, the courthouse had been completed at a total cost
for the building and contents of $25,000. All of the stone used in the
building was taken from quarries near Lincoln. For the citizens the best
part was the fact that the building was completely paid for and no debts had
been incurred. On that date the new, debt-free courthosue was dedicated.
The dedication was a time for great festivity. The program started at
ten with a parade and flag-raising exercised by the grade school children;
these events were followed by the bicycle races. The bicycle had become a
craze in the eastern part of the state in 1895, and as the fad became more
popular, people even sold their buggies to obtain the coveted bicycles, so
the races were the highlight of the day. A large basket dinner at noon was
followed by speeches by the Honorable T.F. Garver, of Topeka, Judge Thomson,
and others. At 3:30 was the scheduled baseball game. All the brass bands in
the county played throughout the day as well as the grand chorus and
orchestra, which featured competent musicians. The day concluded with a
grand ball at the Opera House. All of this celebration was under the
supervision of F.H. Dunham, who was the grand marshal of the day.