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Pawnee County Courthouse 100th anniversary marked
County Commissioners proclaim Courthouse Celebration week
Courthouse memorabilia.jpg
Photos of select graduation classes, maps and other artifacts collected over the years will be on display at the Pawnee County Courthouse in observance of the structure’s centennial anniversary. For many years, it was the tradition of area high schools to photograph the senior class on the courthouse steps. - photo by Veronica Coons

LARNED — Pawnee County Commissioner Debra Lewis welcomed community members perusing a historical display set on the ground level of the courthouse Monday morning. It was 100 years ago this week that the newly constructed house of government opened its doors for the first time, according to the April 24, 1919 edition of the Larned Tiller & Toiler. Lewis read aloud a proclamation naming this week Pawnee County Courthouse Celebration Week. 

Historian Tom Giessel described the courthouse as a commons, representing the community and how it became what it is today. 

“It represents all those things that come together to create our central purpose and our identity,” he said. He pointed out all the things that occur at the courthouse day in and day out: the registrar of deeds has all sorts of filings of mortgages, deeds and land records. 

“It’s the place you come to get your marriage license, and it’s where you might get a divorce,” he said. “Adoptions take place, and it’s where we concern ourselves with the welfare of children and animals. 

Also of importance are elections, roads and bridges, and community health. 

“The health department came into being officially sometime in the 1950’s,” he said. “Commissioners at that time well knew that individual health means community health, and community health grows community wealth and the well being of all.” 

He urged the public to take time this week, to enjoy the displays, read the history, and explore the courthouse. 

“It’s your place. It’s our place. It’s our building and it’s a portal to the very soul of our community,” he said. 

Giessel spoke of how the courthouse had influenced one young county resident, Nellie Cline, the daughter of a prominent Pawnee County lawyer at the turn of the century. Cline was admitted to the state bar and was one of the first women who pleaded criminal cases orally in the state Supreme Court. She was elected as county attorney. With the passage in 1920 of the national Suffrage Amendment, Cline was elected one of the first four women ever to serve in the House of Representatives in Kansas. She introduced and succeeded in passing the first law in Kansas which gave protection to farm labor (Threshermen’s Lien Law).

Giessel quoted a passage from her autobiography concerning the courthouse. 

“If the ghosts of memories living in the past of the old court house could speak, what stores of mystery, intrigue and murder, of innocence and guilt, of love and hate, truth and lies, jealousy and sacrifice, frailties and strength, southern ideas of honor and dishonor, they would reveal. If the old walls could speak, their tales of real live would out-rival any of the performances of the stock companies which came to town playing their “melar-dramers” in the “Grand Ole Opera House.” 

Pawnee County Commissioners Proclamation recognizing the Pawnee County Courthouse Centennial

Whereas: With a concern for future generations and after careful thought, deliberation, planning and petition, on April 24, 1919, our good Citizens and Community Leaders opened our great Courthouse to the public for the daily use and enjoyment of the taxpayers of Pawnee County Kansas. To build with everlasting stone, brick, mortar, hope and pride, this great courthouse which although has lasted 100 years is yet in its youth, as it lays witness to the generations of Pawnee County Residents who enter its doors; and, 

Whereas: The Courthouse is celebrated at this time for reaching a Centennial of existence and in maintaining its glory, a masterpiece of architecture that remains timeless; and, 

Whereas: A milestone celebration has been sanctioned for this Community Icon which allows us to conduct business both personal and public, to defend our rights, to plead our case, to claim our property and to be heard by our peers; and, 

Whereas: A Public Display has been established to celebrate the Centennial reached, to honor the years, the individuals, the public service, the hardships, the laughter and joy of lives spent within our community, both inside and outside the doors of this great building; and, 

Therefore: The Board of Pawnee County Commissioners recognize and celebrate this great building and the individuals within, for 100 years of public service to this great Community and do hereby proclaim April 22 thru April 26 of 2019, as Pawnee County Courthouse Celebration Week. 

Celebration events coming up

On Tuesday, members of area 4-H clubs will participate in a poster contest. On Wednesday, the commissioners will judge the posters and choose the winners. 

Joshua Riedel, a City of Larned lineman and firefighter, constructed a time capsule for the county. This week, the public is invited to bring items to include. The commissioners will make the final determination about what will be added, and those items will be on display Thursday when the county hosts the Larned Area Chamber of Commerce coffee at the courthouse basement lobby at 9:30 a.m. 

Friday evening, a vintage car show will be set up on 7th street between Main and Broadway streets on the south side of the Courthouse Square. The county will host a hotdog feed followed by the a time capsule burying ceremony. Weather permitting, an outside film viewing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and some silent movie clips will be presented on the courthouse lawn. 

The capsule will be buried in the center of a newly poured walkway inspired by those that once led to the courthouse from each corner of the square, Lewis said.