Moving a Courthouse by Rail

Aug 2, 2021 0 comments

Perhaps the strangest thing to be ever moved by rail was a house—more precisely, the courthouse at Hemingford, which was at the time the county seat of Box Butte County, Nebraska. The courthouse was relocated to Alliance which had seized the position of the county seat from Hemingford.

Until 1899, residents of Box Butte County couldn’t really decide where to place their county seat. After breaking away from southern Dawes County (residents were tired of traversing nearly 60 miles to the courthouse in Chadron) in 1886 to form their own little county, Box Butte, the seceders voted to name Nonpareil as their county seat. Nonpareil was the first community to pop up in the new Box Butte County, a small town of 50 residents. But when the Burlington Railroad cut through Box Butte County missing Nonpareil by 5 miles, the county had no other option but to choose a new county seat.

In 1890, another election was held to decide Box Butte County’s new county seat. The two contenders were Alliance and Hemingford. Through some questionable voting and with the backing of the Lincoln Land Company which wished to promote the community’s growth, Hemingford managed to secure the seat and a new courthouse was erected there. Nine years later, the issue was still unresolved and residents of Alliance did everything in their power to hold another election. This time Alliance won, and the county commissioners were faced with the quandary of what to do with the courthouse.

Because the courthouse in Hemingford was less than 10 years old and still held structural value, it was decided that the current courthouse would be moved 20 miles to the southeast to be relocated in Alliance. The first attempt to move it was done by two teams of horses pulling the structure that had been put on large rollers. The horses would pull it a couple feet and then the back rollers would have to be moved to the front again. After ten days, the house had moved only 15 feet, and the method was abandoned as it was too slow and impractical.

J. R. Phelan, the superintendent of the Wyoming division of the Burlington, proposed to move the building on the railroad. Accordingly, the 45 feet by 54 feet by 40 feet high structure weighing 95 tons, was mounted and secured on nine pairs of railroad cars. Accompanied by a train crew of 75, which facilitated the train's progress by widening cuts where necessary, the train proceeded at 10 miles per hour. The entire move took only 6 hours.

The move elicited considerable attention, and the event was publicized with commemorative plates and silver spoons with the picture and the date of the move, July 3, 1899.

# John Obed Curtis, Moving Historic Buildings
# Blake Hensen, How To Get Away With… Stealing A Courthouse, Building a Home on the Range
# Nonpareil (Box Butte County), The Lincoln Journal Star
# Aaron Wade, Happy Birthday Hemingford, Star Herald


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