Nebraska Counties
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Nebraska Counties

There is ninety-three counties in state of Nebraska. Despite the fact that Sarpy County contained the oldest settlement in the state, it was one of the last lands along the river to be recognized by law. Finally, on February 1, 1857, the land "where the cities meet the country" was officially created.

Harlan County, Nebraska

Harlan County Education, Geography, and HistoryHarlan County, Nebraska Courthouse

Harlan County is a county located in the state of Nebraska. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 3,423. Its county seat is Alma. The county is home to the Harlan County Reservoir.

Etymology - Origin of Harlan County Name

Harlan County is another of those in Nebraska where historians differ on how the county received its name. There are some who claim the county was named after a revenue collector by the name of Harlan who once lived near Republican City. Others say the county was named in honor of James Harlan, who was the US Secretary of the Interior in 1865 and 1866.


County QuickFacts: CensusBureau Quick Facts

Harlan County History

In any case, Harlan County was created by the Legislature on June 3, 1871, when lawmakers separated this area from a much larger Lincoln County. At the time, a settlement known as Melrose was considered the county seat. The following month, an election was held in the settlement of Alma to select a permanent county seat and to elect the first county officers.

Although voters selected Alma, it would take several more elections and a district judge's ruling before the settlement on the Republican River would actually become the home of the county's government. When county commissioners encountered difficulty in securing county records, Alma resident Joel A. Piper journeyed to Melrose one evening and, with the aid of an accomplice, "took" the records. Piper gained much notoriety for his deed, and in 1875 he was elected sheriff. In the years that followed Piper would serve as the county's superintendent of schools and clerk. In 1894 he would make a move to state government when he was elected Nebraska's ninth Secretary of State.

Harlan County has used four different buildings to house county offices since it was formally organized. The first was an upper story of a private residence that was used from 1875 to 1877. Then from 1877 to 1880, county offices were housed in an Alma business. The first actual courthouse was built in the county in 1880. Constructed of brick, it was located on what would become known as the courthouse square in Alma. This courthouse would serve the public until 1965, when a new courthouse was built on the same site at a cost of $320,000.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 574 square miles (1,490 km2), of which 553 square miles (1,430 km2) is land and 21 square miles (54 km2) (3.6%) is water.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Phelps County - north
  • Kearney County - northeast
  • Franklin County - east
  • Phillips County, Kansas - south
  • Norton County, Kansas - southwest
  • Furnas County - west


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