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This recent photo shows the empty Superior city hall and auditorium building, which is awaiting approval of a renovation proposal from Lincoln architects Bahr, Vermeer & Haecker. (Courtesy of Dick Schmeling)

Although Nuckolls County was not formally organized until 1871, Frank Schmeling filed a land claim in April 1869 at a point later described as west of Superior.

In 1871, William Louden claimed land on Lost Creek and moved into a dugout on the creek's bank. The next October he built a log cabin with help from neighbors a bit more than a mile to the south. This cabin also was a grocery store and post office, with Louden as postmaster for the post office he first named Riverton for its proximity to the Republican River.

The name almost immediately changed to Superior, perhaps because there already was a Riverton on the Republican River in Franklin County, or perhaps because he and Louis Crabil contended the land in the area was superior to all other.

In 1875, Louden and Crabil erected the first building in the community, a general store and post office. In June 1876, Superior was platted with First Street as its southern border and Eighth on the north, and  organized as a village in August 1879. With much credit given to Louden's lobbying, the Republican Valley Branch of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad arrived in 1880 and built a depot at about First and Central, with the railroad now providing Superior's south boundary.

In 1882, Superior had a population of 750 and was the largest town in the county. There were four organized churches, but only the Methodists had a building, which they shared. There was also a $300 grade school, high school, The Guide weekly newspaper, the Bank of Superior, Superior House Hotel and a mill south of town on Lost Creek.

The city fathers instituted a $500 fee for a liquor license that year, and four saloons quickly were in business. By 1890, Superior was served by five railroads, which caused continued growth to a peak of 3,227 people in 1950.

Responding to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the New Deal, which spawned what became known as the alphabet soup agencies to ease the nation's extreme economic problems.

The Public Works Administration and Work(s) Progress Administration built and assisted in the construction of post offices, schools, libraries, city halls and auditoriums amounting to about 11,000 community buildings nationwide.

Although traditional architecture style often was employed, what was termed PWA/WPA Modern Style was a frequent choice. This "new" architecture, which had its roots in the 1920s and '30s, drew from art deco and art moderne using mixed materials.

As the Depression worked its way through the United States, Roosevelt formulated programs to put people back to work beginning in 1932. Among these projects were Lincoln's 27th Street Zoo, Wausa's Auditorium and Superior's City Hall & Auditorium.

At that point, it was obvious Superior needed a new city hall and saw the advantages of a city auditorium. On July 30, 1935, the citizens voted 393 to 161 to increase taxes to aid in the construction of the project. In September, the PWA proffered a grant of $72,727 to offset the estimated construction cost of $73,000, which was approved that October.

Four lots, amounting to about a quarter of Block 30 at East Fifth and North Commercial, were purchased for $3,500. Architect Kenneth Gedney's plans were approved, and the construction contract was awarded to the Hastings firm of Green Brothers. Work began June 9, 1936, on the art deco structure.

The building was described as a three-story steel-frame brick and limestone structure housing the auditorium, city offices, city council chamber and a third-floor jail cell. Although the auditorium itself was designed to seat 500 on the main floor and 250 in the balcony and was completed in November 1937, no funding had been provided for seats. After briefly considering used seats, new ones were acquired and the building dedicated  Dec. 28, 1937.

The auditorium flourished with theater, dances, gatherings and musical performances for nearly 60 years. Then in about 1997, with a new city hall in use, the grand auditorium closed; it was not up to building codes.

Two local polls showed considerable community interest, and in 2007 Bahr, Vermeer & Haecker Architects evaluated the building and proposed a renovation and addition plan.

Now Superior is considering funding to rehabilitate and add to the building, which already is on the National Register of Historic Places and in a National Register Historic District. Whether the city will see the advantage again of a first-class city auditorium is in the hands of a funding proposal and drive -- but will they finance a jail cell on the top floor, perhaps for unruly theater patrons?

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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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