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Johnson County Courthouse among Nebraska’s finestJohnson County Courthouse among Nebraska’s finest

Down the Road: The ornate courthouse retains many of its original architectural elements, inside and outside.

Curt Arens

October 20, 2023

2 Min Read
The central dome of the Johnson County Courthouse
CENTRAL DOME: The central dome of the Johnson County Courthouse, which was built in 1888-89 in Tecumseh, Neb., includes a lantern at the peak of the dome — topped by a weathervane. Photos by Curt Arens

Nebraska has more than its fair share of ornate and beautiful county courthouses. But the two-story red brick and limestone Johnson County Courthouse in the town square in Tecumseh is one of the finest.

Designed by Nebraska architect William Gray — with Romanesque Revival influences — the courthouse was built in 1888 and 1889, with corner towers and a unique central dome at a height of more than 100 feet.

Joining the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, the building has four entrances and is part of the Tecumseh Historic District. Sitting on a high-raised basement, the 91-by-68-foot structure has an impressive two-tiered dome that includes, in architectural terms, layers of radiating voussoirs, round-arched windows, Corinthian capitals, elaborate bulls-eye windows, a lantern and a weathervane.

The courthouse is made of cherry-red St. Joseph brick that contrasts well with the Nemaha County limestone, which varies from rough-cut to smooth to carved.

The rough stone makes up the raised basement of the courthouse, which is repeated on the bands of the entry columns and on the continuous round arches of the second-story windows. Smooth stone is used for the water table and sills.

On the inside

Original features of the building on the interior remain relatively unaltered, including the pressed metal ceilings in the offices and some fireplaces, wood floors in the halls, oak counters, and decorated door hinges, among other elements.

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Commercial and municipal buildings surround the courthouse in downtown Tecumseh all along the courthouse square, which is paved with brick. On the grounds around the building, there is a stone Grand Army of the Republic statue erected in 1903, a metal honor roll plaque from World War I, a cannon dating to the Spanish-American War and a bandshell built about 1945.

Notably, a gazebo nearby was built in 1986 for the filming of the ABC movie miniseries, “Amerika,” which was filmed in part in Tecumseh, known fictionally in the movie as “Milford.” The miniseries starred Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Sam Neill, Robert Urich and Lara Flynn Boyle.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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