Jail History

History of the Nemaha County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail

Written by ChatGPT from Newspaper articles June 2024

Early Plans and Construction

The history of the Nemaha County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail began in October 1878, when the Board of County Commissioners proposed the construction of a new jail. The Seneca Weekly Courier reported on October 11, 1878, that the board had ordered a vote on the matter, expressing confidence in the proposal’s success due to the county’s sound financial standing. By November 15, 1878, the Courier confirmed that the proposition had been overwhelmingly approved by a majority of 1,277 votes.

On June 3, 1879, the contract for building the jail was awarded to P. J. Pauley & Bro. for $9,943, as documented in the Seneca Weekly Courier on July 4, 1879. The steel-clad cells, a significant feature of the new jail, were installed in early September 1879. The Courier’s September 5, 1879, edition highlighted the advanced security and compact design of these cells.

Architectural Features and Early Use

By September 24, 1879, the jail’s construction was nearing completion. The Seneca Weekly Courier described the building as a brick structure with a two-story front and an “L” extension for the jail cells. Measuring 32×20 feet, the main building contained six rooms, while the “L” section, sized at 22×20 feet, housed three steel cells based on Pauly’s patent. These cells were praised for their security and sanitary features.

The Nemaha County Jail was formally received by the commissioners on October 9, 1879. The Seneca Tribune detailed the sophisticated design of the cells, which were constructed to be escape-proof and sanitary. The cells featured a lever system that allowed the jailer to operate the locks without direct contact with the prisoners, enhancing security.

Early Incidents and Jail Breaks

Despite its advanced design, the jail experienced several escape incidents. On February 26, 1904, the Courier Democrat reported that a prisoner named Henderson escaped by digging through the brick wall while the sheriff was away. Henderson’s escape was significant enough to warrant the use of bloodhounds for tracking, though he ultimately eluded capture.

Further escape attempts continued, with notable incidents on August 23, 1906, and August 30, 1906, where prisoners Joe King and Thompson escaped through the roof. These incidents underscored the need for a more secure facility.

Plans for a New Jail

By April 12, 1906, discussions about constructing a new jail had begun. The Courier Democrat mentioned that the current jail was not only insecure but also unsanitary. The county commissioners, with guidance from legal counsel, decided they had the authority to build a new jail without a public vote. Plans were drawn by the Pauly Jail Building Company, envisioning a two-story structure with modern facilities.

The bidding process for the new jail construction began on April 18, 1907, and concluded with the award announcement on May 23, 1907. Construction culminated in December 1907, with Sheriff Dennis moving into the new facility, which combined modern amenities with enhanced security features.

Mid-20th Century Renovations

By January 13, 1955, the Courier Tribune reported that the jail residence was undergoing repairs and redecoration, highlighting structural issues with the south wall supporting the cupola. On April 7, 1955, the Courier Tribune detailed the removal of the heavy cupola and the rebuilding of the south wall to address these structural problems.


The Nemaha County Sheriff’s Residence and Jail, from its initial construction in 1879 to its significant renovations in the mid-20th century, reflects the evolving standards and needs of county law enforcement facilities. Despite early challenges with security and structural integrity, the county’s commitment to maintaining a secure and modern jail has been evident throughout its history.