The following is an excerpt from Rush County...The First 125 Years, by Judith Reynolds
(c) 2000, Rush County Historical Society
The Court House Fight
Construction of Rush County's courthouse, begun in 1888, terminated a county seat war that was one of the longest and most vitriolic of the many such struggles in the state. During the period between the organization of the county in 1874 and the beginning of construction of the court house in LaCrosse in 1888 the county seat was moved back and forth between Walnut City/Rush Center and LaCrosse five times in accordance with the latest election, writ, or court decision. Beginning in 1877 bitterness and invective, much of which was exacerbated by the many newspaper editorials on the subject, corroded politics, commerce, and personal relationships countywide.
Walnut City came into being in the early 1870s as the center of the settlement clustered along the Walnut Creek Valley, a beautiful natural area that had a plentiful supply of trees and fresh water. Also the town was located at the geographical center of the 30-mile-square county as it was originally drawn by the state. In 1874, responding to a petition signed by 600 people , Kansas Governor Thomas A. Osborn, officially created Rush County. Because most of the population was in and around Walnut City at that time, the governor made it the temporary county seat and appointed local people as commissioners to carry out the organization of the county government. However, although the people of Walnut City did not know it at the time, in 1873 Captain Henry Booth of Larned had secured passage of a bill that annexed the southernmost six miles of what was to become Rush County to Pawnee County to ensure the selection of Larned as the Pawnee County seat, leaving Walnut City four and one-half miles south of the geographical center. In the winter of 1875 this was discovered by Denman and David Stubbs who then staked claims in 1876 in the new center of Rush County and founded the town of La Crosse. The Stubbs and others began a campaign to move the county seat to the newly created town, which was little more than a house or two at the time. An article in The Rush County Progress of Walnut City, on June 22, 1877 reported that "La Crosse, a small farm, is located four and one-half miles north of Rush Centre. The post office is reported on the Walnut Valley mail route between Olney and Rush Centre -- but where is the county seat?"
In January of 1877 the people of La Crosse garnered 161 signatures on a petition requesting an election for the permanent location of the county seat. The commissioners set the election for February of 1877; the issue of $10,000 in bonds for a courthouse and jail was also on the ballot. La Crosse won the county seat contest by 150 to 125, but the bond proposal was soundly defeated. La Crosse then physically moved the county building on rollers from Walnut City to La Crosse. In August The Rush County Progress was moved to La Crosse and its editor, R.H. Mitchell, switched his allegiance from Rush Center to La Crosse.
Walnut City, however, did not accept the results of the election. By the end of 1877 a new petition was being circulated and an election was set for February of 1878. Charges of mail theft, of conspiracy by a ring of attorneys in Walnut City and the illegality of the petition were made by one or the other side during this period. The vote in the election was 234 to 227 in favor of Walnut City. The Progress (formerly The Rush County Progress) charged that there had been fraudulent voting and that a mob from Rush Center had influenced the voting in Pioneer Township. The paper also claimed that 22 of Walnut City's 102 votes were illegal. Nevertheless the county records and the county officials were moved to Walnut City. The La Crosse faction, also known as the northern faction, would not allow the county building to be moved out of La Crosse on the grounds that they were contesting the election. Rush County had to rent a building in Walnut City for $20 per month.
The people of La Crosse took their challenge of the 1878 election to the district court which, on May 31, 1878 ordered the county clerk, F.E. Garner, to move his office to La Crosse, which he did in June of 1878, whereupon the Kansas Supreme Court issued a writ ordering Garner to move back to Walnut City, which he also then did, after having had his office in La Crosse for only seven days. In the meanwhile the other county officers had remained in Walnut City.
La Crosse challenged the February 1878 election late in 1878. The district court ruled in favor of La Crosse but the Supreme Court of Kansas overturned the district court's ruling. In November a case was brought to the district court attempting to have county clerk Garner returned to La Crosse. The court ruled that the judgment rendered on May 31, 1878 in favor of La Crosse was valid and binding. Garner then filed a motion to be granted a new trial. His motion was overruled whereupon he appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court. In July of 1882 the Supreme Court affirmed the May 31, 1878 decision of the district court and ordered Garner to move his office back to La Crosse. Garner as well as the other county officials obeyed this order. However the Supreme Court had stated that its decision was not a final adjudication; they had yet to rule on the legality of the election of 1878.
In the period between 1882 and 1886 county politics were divided between the Farmer's party (allied with the Republicans) of the north and the People's party of the south. John Hargrave, a La Crosse Republican, was elected state representative in 1881 and held the position until 1889; during this period the Farmer's Party prevailed in Rush County politics. The farmers of the county as a bloc had the greatest voting power; the population of the towns was but a small percentage of the total voters.
The influence of having the county seat in La Crosse from 1882 until 1888 is reflected in the growth of the La Crosse population relative to the Walnut City population. In 1886 the population of La Crosse was 218, by 1890 it was 513. In 1886 Walnut City had 310 inhabitants and by 1890 that number had declined to 214.
The struggle to gain the upper hand became centered on acquiring a rail line, which was considered to be essential to growth and development. In 1885, the county commissioners, controlled by La Crosse, denied Walnut City's petition for a vote on a railroad bond issue while accepting a similar one for La Crosse. An election was set for November 3, 1885 to vote on $120,000 in bonds for the Kansas and Colorado Railroad (later the Missouri Pacific) which was to come through La Crosse from Salina. Walnut City was incensed over the rejection of its petition for the Walnut Valley and Colorado Railroad, a branch line of the Santa Fe, and fought against the bonds for the Kansas and Colorado, but the La Crosse bond issue was passed.
Walnut City was forced to take their case to the Supreme Court in order to hold their railroad bond election, which was only for the amount of $15,000. The election was held on May 25, 1886 and the bonds were approved. The Santa Fe reached Walnut City/Rush Centre in September of 1886, but the line was only a branch that rejoined the main line at Scott City. By this time the Kansas and Colorado was behind in its construction schedule and Walnut City/Rush Centre protested strongly at having to help pay the $120,000. The Kansas and Colorado was operational through La Crosse by February of 1887. The development of McCracken and Otis was augmented by their locations on this line, whereas Nekoma, Timken, and Alexander grew more slowly.
La Crosse and Walnut City/Rush Centre continued to compete mightily for dominance. In July of 1886 a writ of mandamus was issued by the Supreme Court ordering county officials to move their offices to Walnut City. The Register of Deeds, Bob Ward, began moving but was stopped by armed men from La Crosse. He was served with an injunction and remained in La Crosse.
The case to decide the legality of the 1878 election was scheduled for July of 1887 but in the meantime citizens of La Crosse began circulating petitions for a new county seat election, thinking that, because it had been more than five years since the 1878 election, any decision the Supreme Court would make in regard to it, would be invalid. A petition for relocation of the county seat was presented to the county commissioners in May of 1887, which in effect was a concession that Walnut City had won the 1878 election. Over the protests of Walnut City the new election was scheduled for June 21, 1887. A temporary injunction was obtained from the district court preventing the June 21 election but La Crosse prepared another petition and the election was re-scheduled for August 23, 1887.
In the period after 1882 La Crosse together with the rest of the northern half of the county had grown considerably and by then had the majority of the population. Thus it should not have been unexpected that in the election of August 23, 1887 La Crosse received more than sixty percent of the votes. However, once again, accusations of fraud were made. The Walnut City Democrat alleged that La Crosse had brought more than 100 illegal voters to Hampton Township. Another unsubstantiated rumor was that the people of McCracken had been told that if they did not vote in favor of La Crosse, they would lose their train depot. The dominance of the northern half of the county was proven again later that year, in the regular November elections, when the Farmer's party of the northern faction won every county office.
The Supreme Court ruled December 10, 1887 that the 1878 election in favor of Walnut City had been legal. Two justices concurred, whereas one dissented. Walnut City/Rush Centre lit bonfires and rang church bells in celebration. La Crosse filed a motion for a re-hearing but it was overruled. A U.S. Deputy Marshall served a writ ordering the county officers to move to Walnut City, but Judge J. C. Strang of the sixteenth district court issued a temporary injunction ordering the county officers to remain in La Crosse. They obeyed the injunction and as a result were called to Topeka on February 23, 1888 to answer as to why they had failed to obey the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then declared the district court injunction void, whereupon the county officers moved their offices to Walnut City/Rush Centre on February 29, 1888.
On March 10, 1888 La Crosse succeeded in getting Judge Osborn of the district court to issue a writ ordering the county officers back to La Crosse on the basis of the August 23, 1887 election. According to the La Crosse Chieftain, within two hours after the writ was served, Sheriff A.J. Redman from La Crosse had organized a body of citizens who, aided by approximately fifty farmers, went to Walnut City/Rush Centre and forcibly took possession of the county records and conveyed them by wagon to La Crosse.
In February of 1889 the Kansas Legislature enacted a law legitimizing the 1887 election and permanently establishing LaCrosse as the county seat, but by this time La Crosse was nearing completion of a new courthouse.
Building the Courthouse
On June 1, 1888, a petition bearing 67 names was presented to the county board requesting a bond election to build a courthouse. The election was held July 10, 1888 and the bond issue for $20,000 was approved 801 to 453.
George W. Shaffer of Abilene was awarded the contract to draw up the plans for the courthouse. However, shortly thereafter, the commissioners reconsidered and hired L.L. Levering to prepare the plans. The construction contract was awarded September 3, 1888 to William T. Heaps in the amount of $17,950 and work began two days later. The project was hindered by considerable bickering between the contractor, the commissioners, and George Shaffer, who was the superintendent of construction. Allegedly the plans were poorly drawn and the commissioners insisted on making numerous changes. Despite the delays, the building was finished by the spring of 1889 except for the landscaping and the sidewalks.
The Rush County courthouse is architecturally, politically, and locationally the most important building in Rush County. Architecturally it is rivaled only by Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Liebenthal. Politically it represents the government of the county and locationally it is at the heart of LaCrosse and Rush County. The courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The building is Romanesque in style. It is constructed of dark red brick laid in common bond. The structure, which is two stories high, rests on a rough-hewn native limestone base. The original building is generally rectangular with towers at the northeast and southeast corners. The southeast tower is round with a conical roof topped by an onion-shaped finial. The northeast tower is square and when built had a steeply pitched hip roof. Arched openings pierce the upper part of the square tower.
The main entrance, reached by a set of wide masonry steps, is set within a stone arch that is repeated twice above in the projecting entrance bay. These arches occur again in the square tower above the second floor window openings and above the semicircular window openings in the attic level on the north and south sides. Other windows occur in sets of three or singly with the upper portions glazed with small panes of stained glass. A metal cornice extends around the building under the roofline except where interrupted by the projecting bays and towers.
Over the years the courthouse has undergone a number of changes. In addition to the loss of the tall roof over the northeast tower from wind damage, the wooden front doors have been replaced with aluminum-framed doors. The tall, hipped roof of the building is now covered with composition shingles instead of tin. The many tall brick chimneys of the original structure are gone. A modern addition at the rear accommodates an elevator making the courthouse handicapped-accessible. This addition connects the courthouse with a brick and stone building that once was the Rush County jail and now is the office of the county sheriff.
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