Deuel County Courthouse History
The history of the Courthouse, now located in Clear Lake, is one of the most colorful episodes of the early days in Deuel County. Looking at the three-storied structure today, an observer could hardly imagine that passions ran very high about eighty years ago over which town in the county should be the County Seat.
The first Courthouse in Deuel County was located in Gary which was settled before any other town in the county. The Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company erected the building which was used at the time. As settlers pushed farther west it did not take long before several other small towns sprang up along the route of the railway. Agitation began at least as early as 1886 for the removal of the Courthouse from Gary to a point more centrally located marking the approximate center of the county. It just so happened that this central spot was just outside of Clear Lake. There was much celebration and even some speech-making near the marker on July 4, 1886, to the effect that the interests of the county would be better served if the Courthouse stood near the timber.
People from Gary looked on such an idea with vast disapproval. They would be no party to a conspiracy to have the Courthouse moved from their town. Thus, when the bridge timber was chopped down and hauled away a few nights after it was erected, it wasn't difficult to imagine who was responsible for the act.
Events moved from symbolic commemorations to direct political action. In 1886, the County Commissioners rejected a petition intended to put the question of where the Courthouse should be located to a vote. The petition lacked enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Discussion continued however, and in 1888 a petition was presented that contained enough signatures. A vigorous campaign ensued, with the newspapers from each town leading the way with arguments for their respective towns. The Gary Interstate pointed to the cost of removal, to the fact that the Courthouse in Gary was in adequate condition, and to the "dirty tricks" Clear Lake was using to win the battle. The Clear Lake Advocate responded in kind. At times the level of argument degenerated to outright insults. Conflicting reports exist as to the vote totals in the 1888 election, but the end result was that the Clear Lake Courthouse backers were once again defeated as the Commissioners ruled that the election results showed the Courthouse should remain in Gary.
Undaunted, the petitioners tried again in 1890. Once again the question was put to a vote in the 1890 general election calling the $5000 that the railroad company was willing to pay for a new Courthouse if the election favored Clear Lake, an out-right bribe. The Gary Backers, again, vigorously protested the idea of moving the Courthouse. However, the forces for removal were far stronger in this election and the unofficial canvass of vote showed Clear Lake receiving 868, Gary 274, and another town in the County getting 1 vote. The Editor of the Gary Interstate acknowledged defeat and the County Records were moved to a school house in Clear Lake until the new Courthouse could be built. Even the removal of the records did not run as smoothly as might have been wished. The two ton Treasurer's safe had to be abandoned for a night on the prairie when the wagon carrying it broke a wheel. Next day a bob sled was used to haul the safe to Clear Lake.
With the help of local labor the new building was quickly constructed. In 1891 the County could boast a new Courthouse with offices for the Supt. of Schools, Auditor and Treasurer on one side and Clerk of Courts and Register of Deeds on the other. Judicial Chambers and a Courtroom were located on the second floor. Rapid growth of the County and the need for more office space quickly made the Courthouse obsolete. A special election was ordered for May 23, 1916 on the question of building a new Courthouse. The issue passed and on April 23, 1917 the corner stone for the present Courthouse was dedicated. This same building has been in service to the present day.
Renovation of the Courthouse has taken place in recent years with additional electric wiring, new windows and doors, and the heating system updated. Air-conditioning was also added in 1977.
A time Capsule buried on the grounds will be opened on the 100th Anniversary of Clear Lake's settlement. One of the items in the Capsule is a newspaper from which the townspeople can once again review what has come to be called "The Great Courthouse Fight".