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Scotts Bluff County building reaches 100 years

Scotts Bluff County building reaches 100 years

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Much has changed on the landscape of 10th Street in Gering over the past 100 years.

Buildings and businesses have come and gone. Trees have grown tall and strong. New pavement on the street.

But one constant has been the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse. The original cornerstone was laid Oct. 12, 1920, and 100 years later, the building is still filled with activity daily and continuing to serve the citizens of the county.

Originally, the building housed the majority of the county offices, not just the courts. The sheriff’s department, jail, assessor, treasurer and more were all located in the same facility along with the courts, public defender and county attorney offices. The new administration building went up to the north in 1978 to take away some of the congestion as the county eventually outgrew the building.

A new sheriff’s office and jail building was built to the west of the courthouse. Eventually, those two functions were moved to the administration building and a new jail built on Seventh Street.

From notorious serial killer Charles Starkweather to Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means, who was briefly jailed in Gering in 1973, the courthouse has seen its share of high profile visitors.

Self-appointed historian Jim Lawson has served in some capacity associated with the building since 1972. He has been county sheriff, dispatcher, investigator and now is in the county’s juvenile diversion office.

“I think some good planning and foresight went into constructing this building,” Lawson said. “I’m very confident this is one of the most sound structures in the community. I’m not sure that we would need to add anything or change anything. I think its functionality is good.”

Like many courthouses in Nebraska, the courthouse building originally included the sheriff’s office and county jail. The south side of the third floor, where the county attorney’s office is now, housed the jail, and the county attorney and sheriff were on the second floor.

There was an apartment of sorts where the sheriff and his family lived to enable the sheriff to be close to the prisoners.

Once the sheriff’s office and jail were moved to the new building in the late 1960s, it allowed the county attorney’s office to move to the third floor.

A 1980 renovation to the courthouse building gave the facility more room, but for the most part the original structure and much of the woodwork remains in place.

“They didn’t have to do a whole lot when they decided to renovate this building, but a lot of the original structure is still here, the majority of it,” Lawson said. “They just had to move some people into some different offices, and make handicap accessibility. The old elevator is still here.”

Due to safety concerns, a consultant recommended that access be restricted to a single door, rather than the original four entries. As a result, the current entrance on the north side is the only one in use for the public.

Lawson said he thinks about the history of the courthouse, especially the law enforcement perspective, often when he comes to work or as he goes about his day.

“As I walk upstairs every day, or downstairs, you kind of glance around and go, ‘Wow! What did the sheriffs of yore have to deal with?’” he said.

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