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In 1867, the Nebraska Legislature, fearing it might constitute favoritism, specifically forbade the Capital Commission from personally bidding on lots at the state land auction in the new city of Lincoln. After a virtually sales-less first day, the commission realized that if, at least, they did not demonstrate their own confidence in the removal of the capital from Omaha, the entire plan might fail. Thus, on subsequent days, the entire commission of Gov. David Butler, State Auditor John Gillespie and Secretary of State Thomas Kennard bought land. Kennard and Gillespie split the block southeast of the Capitol with Kennard’s house still extant.

Gov. David Butler acquired the block south of the Capitol that now houses the Governor’s Mansion but did not build on it. Instead, Butler purchased 120 acres of land southeast of Lincoln. Because there were no architects in Lincoln, all three commissioners chose 17-year-old John Keys Winchell from Chicago, who also would draw the plans for the first state insane asylum. In June 1869, basement excavations for all three had begun with Butler’s under the supervision of Joseph Ward, also the contractor for the Capitol and the insane asylum. The three homes were to cost a total of $8,000 to $15,000 and would “exceed in tastefulness of any design, of any private dwellings in the state.”

The Butler family arrived from their home in Pawnee City and occupied their new “mansion” about 1871. Unfortunately, their tenure was to be brief, because shortly after winning an additional term as governor Butler was impeached. On June 1, 1871, he was removed from office.

When the Butlers moved back to Pawnee City, the house stood empty, then sold to “Lord” J.E. Jones, listed as a capitalist in the city directory, who also was said to keep cattle on the grounds in “South Lincoln,” living in the house that he named Camden Hall.

In 1903, a private golf club was established northwest of 27th and A streets and reorganized in 1903 as the Lincoln County Club when it purchased the Jones property for its golf course. A large veranda was then built around the Butlers' original home, and it became the clubhouse for the organization. Early in the 20th century, the fairways were used at least on one occasion for an airplane landing field. In 1913, an additional 11 acres were purchased adjacent to the original 120. Photos of the day showed golfers with Gooch’s Mill in the background. Because railroad tracks ran along the west edge, golfers occasionally had to play out of the unusual hazard created by tracks and ties.

In 1921, the Lincoln Klavern of the Klu Klux Klan organized. About 1923, when the country club relocated to 24th Street and Woodsdale Boulevard, the KKK purchased the old clubhouse for its use. By 1924, the group had erected an 18-foot cross illuminated with electric lights, which was said to be visible for several miles. Thus the house again was a clubhouse, with the basement devoted to what the group termed a klanteen, which served sandwiches and refreshments. Meantime, the adjacent farmland, acquired by the Woods Bros. via a trade for part of the new country club property, was put up for sale as residential lots. Homes began to be erected.

The KKK in Lincoln did not survive the Great Depression, after which a truck garden was planted on some of the adjoining land, and the veranda was enclosed. Through an unclear arrangement, Earl May acquired permission from the Lincoln City Council to maintain a sort of KMA radio satellite studio in the house. The enclosed porch was rented to Gardner Moore as a satellite location for Ideal Grocery, with Lyle Hans installed as resident manager. An agreement allowed Hans to babysit the radio studio when its manager took a necessary break in exchange for 15 minutes of advertising/programming for the grocery store, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The two groups also cooperated in a 30-minute program each morning called “Country School,” which apparently also was aired over Earl May’s KMA radio station in Shenandoah, Iowa.

By the mid-1930s Ideal had retracted to its other Lincoln locations, and Earl May relocated to downtown Lincoln. The house was abandoned, the electric cross rusted in the grass, and it was reported that the house was “uncared for, the lawn is overrun with weeds, the paint is peeling, the porches dingy.”

The Butler mansion was razed in the winter of 1949-50, leaving only the Kennard House on H Street extant of the original commissioners' homes. Still, if you have a desire to see the David Butler home, his earlier house is part of a historic “village” block in Pawnee City.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com.

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