County Board Predates County
By SUSAN ALLEN
of the Journal
The origins of the Portage County Board actually date back to 1827 - before Portage County was created and before Wisconsin became a state. When this area was considered part of Michigan Territory, a governor appointed three commissioners of each county to govern local matters, according to a Malcolm Rosholt’s book, “Our County Our Story.”
In 1827, those commissioners became elected officials. It wasn’t until the county was created in 1842 that this elective body took the name of the Portage County Board, however, Rosholt wrote. The first elected commissioners were Matthias Mitchell, Benjamin Berry and Luther Houghton, according to “History of Portage County.”
In 1848, when Wisconsin became a state, the system of supervisors to represent all of the villages or towns was created, which in that year was Plover, Middletown (PCHS note: area around Stevens Point) and Bull Falls. The district of Plover made up the southern part of the county, Bull Falls later became Wausau and constituted the northern part of the county and Middletown was everything in the middle, Rosholt wrote.
This was about the time that the fight was on between Stevens Point and Plover to retain the county seat. The seat was in Plover from 1844 to 1868, when it moved to Stevens Point and has been there ever since.
In 1847, construction begun on the first courthouse and jail, which was built in Plover, Rosholt wrote. William Dunton was awarded the $1,950 contract.
While the courthouse was being built, board meetings were held in taverns in Plover and Rushville, a community near the modern intersection of Highways 51/54 and B, he wrote. Committee meetings and offices were in people’s homes.
Also at this time, county boundaries were still being settled and Wood County was created in 1856 from a piece of what was then Portage County.
On Aug. 1, 1868, the three members of the Portage County Board voted to move the county seat to Stevens Point. Isador Samuelson of Almond had voted for Plover, while Benjamin Burr of Stevens Point and Henry Warriner of Linwood voted for Stevens Point. Clearly, the swing vote was that of Warriner, but Rosholt wrote that his home was about a mile west of the Stevens Point city limits and he favored moving the county seat because it was closer to his home.
The first meeting in Stevens Point was held on Nov. 11, 1869, and the supervisors voted to buy a number of lots from Marcus Warren that were located between Strongs Avenue and Church Street. Meanwhile, the lot of the old Plover courthouse had been sold for $200, while the building had been moved and used as a Masonic Lodge, Rosholt wrote.
Construction on a new jail and courthouse began about 1870 at a cost of $28,560. The building served as home to the sheriff and his family, who also cooked and cleaned for the prisoners.
The courthouse and jail remained there until the 1950s, when some County Board supervisors began to say it would be cheaper to build a new building than to pay for the constant repairs of the old one.
One of the main promoters of a new building was C. E. Nebel, a County Board supervisor who represented the city’s 6th Ward, Rosholt wrote. He had pushed so hard for the new building that he earned the nickname “Mr. Court House,” he wrote.
Nebel and then Stevens Point Mayor Leonard Sorenson both supported the idea of a shared county-city building, which the County Board approved in 1955. The new building was built on the same site as the old building and construction was completed in 1955. The cost was approximately $1.5 million.
Today, the County-City Building is home to the Police Department, many city offices, as well as many county offices and three courtrooms. The jail and the Sheriff’s Department moved across the street in 1991 to the Law Enforcement Center.
Employees now are so cramped for space in the County-City Building that County Board Chairman Clarence Hints has said the county may buy the city’s portion of the building. Stevens Point Mayor Scott Schultz has said the city may use the money from the sale to build a city building nearby.
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