Ashland, the First Saunders County Seat

First Saunders County Courthouse, built at Ashland in 1870. NSHS RG1121.PH8-28 (above).

An unusual feature of the boundary of Nebraska’s Saunders County is Ashland Precinct, which forms a wedge on the southeast corner, projecting down between Lancaster County on the west and a small piece of Cass County that extends northward between the wedge and the Platte River on the east. This area was detached from Cass County and added to Saunders County in 1866.

Alvin W. Saunders, governor of Nebraska Territory, 1861-1867. NSHS RG2501.PHO-1 (left).

One of the reasons for adding this area to Saunders County was to provide the county with a county seat, namely Ashland. Originally named Calhoun County, the name was changed by an act of the legislature approved January 8, 1862. The new namesake, Alvin Saunders, was then serving as the last governor of Nebraska Territory. Following his death on November 1, 1899, the Omaha Daily Bee on November 5 republished an 1896 interview with Saunders in which the ex-governor recalled the circumstances of Ashland’s becoming the county seat of Saunders County.

Saunders said: “Ashland was nothing but a small hamlet located on the edge of Cass county and just outside the border of Saunders county. The man who owned nearly all the property in the town suddenly conceived the idea that it would become a large city if it were only made the county seat. To make it the county seat of Cass county was out of the question. So he and his friends came to me with a scheme to annex part of the township in which Ashland lay to Saunders county and to make it the county seat of that county.”

Ashland Precinct is at lower right on this 1907 map of Saunders County townships. From NEGenWeb Project

Governor Saunders at first objected to dividing a township between two counties, “[b]ut that seemed to make no difference. The parties interested set to work and procured the consent of both the counties. When the bill was presented to me for my signature, I still objected, but finally signed it on the theory that it was not my place to prevent a transfer desired by the people of the two counties to be affected.”

An election to determine the site of the county seat was held in October 1867 with Ashland and a site in the center of the county north and a little east of the present Wahoo on the ballot. Ashland won this election easily, and was county seat until 1873, when agitation to move the seat of government nearer the center of the county forced a new election won by Wahoo, which remains the county seat.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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