Otoe 

History

Two years before the Nebraska Territory would be granted statehood in 1867, William R. Craig and F.W. Wood completed a grand two-story brick building that 129 years later holds the honor of being the oldest public building in Nebraska. That building is the Otoe County Courthouse.

Otoe County was defined by the Territorial Legislature on March 2, 1855, the same year that Nebraska City was platted. The county was named after the Watota Indians, one of the many tribes which lived along the Missouri River. Otoe is derived from Oto, the Indian abbreviation of Watota, which means "lovers of pleasure."

When the county was created, Nebraska City was designated as the county seat. For several years there were no official county offices. Rather, county business would be conducted from a log cabin and from rooms that were rented from Nebraska City stores.

Whether it was by design or by chance, when the courthouse was built in 1865 it was built on ground that was once part of an Indian cemetery. When it was completed, the courthouse cost $22,500. County offices were located on the build's first floor, the District Court on the second floor, and the jail in the basement.

The first addition to the courthouse was made in 1882 with a wing added to the west end. In 1936 it became apparent that additional space was once again needed and an identical two-story wing was added to the east side of the original courthouse. Ironically, the second addition cost nearly three times what the original courthouse cost 71 years earlier.

Today, the Otoe County Courthouse is among those listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also rich in the history of Otoe County is J. Sterling Morton, who served as Secretary of the Nebraska Territory and twice as its acting governor. In addition, Morton was Secretary of Agriculture in President Grover Cleveland's administration. Despite this public service, Morton is best known as the originator of Arbor Day.