First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail – Arthur, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura

First Arthur County Courthouse and Jail

Arthur, Nebraska

This Nebraska museum was once the smallest courthouse in America. 


Designed by J.S. Noll, this adorable Italianate building served as the first courthouse for rural Arthur County, Nebraska.

Settled by rough and tumble homesteaders in the late 19th century, this area in the Nebraska sandhills was sparsely populated during the 19th century. After the passage of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, settlement increased. Arthur County, named after President Chester A. Arthur, was organized in 1913. In 1914, the small town of Arthur was incorporated, and designated as the new county’s seat.  A general store, small farmhouses and a miniature county courthouse were built in the center of the town. A small county jail was also built a few feet away from the courthouse.

Finished in 1915 and costing only $900, the courthouse was essentially a wood shack with no plumbing or modern conveniences. It spanned only 26 x 28 feet. Soon the village of Arthur was the center of rural life, with homesteaders coming from miles around to buy goods, go to church, attend schools and settle disputes. At its height, the population of Arthur County grew to over 2,500 people. But during the depression and drought of the 1930s, many people left the area and the population fell dramatically. This decline in population meant that the miniature courthouse was able to serve the farming community for 48 years, until a bigger one was finally built in 1961. 

Today, the population of Arthur County is less than 1,000 people. In 1990, the courthouse and two supporting structures, including the jail, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cute courthouse is so tiny that it was once honored by Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” as the smallest courthouse in the world. Today, this charming throwback is a museum run by the Arthur County Historical Society.  

Know Before You Go

Take the I-80 exit 126, then drive north 38 miles on Hwy 61 to Arthur. When you come into town, make your first right onto Marshall St. and the courthouse is a half-block in. 

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