The main building of the Harlan County Museum was built by a group of citizens of Orleans referred to as the Courthouse Committee. The building was built at a cost of $2000.00. The two-story structure was built with four rooms on the lower floor and a full upper floor to be used as a court room or auditorium. They did this in hopes of getting the county seat moved to Orleans. The county commissioners called for a vote to determine the future location of the county seat at the regular election held on November 8, 1881.
Alma won the election, but the citizens of Orleans, not willing to accept the vote count, carried the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1884. The Court decided there were irregularities in the balloting and declared Orleans the winner. At the same time the Court ruled that the whole election was not legal and as a result, nothing was changed.
The building was used as a school house in 1883. In 1886 it was used for classes by Beach's Business College. Sometime between 1886 and 1902 the city acquired the building. From then on the building was referred to as the Opera House.
In 1917 the Opera House was moved from its location in the city park to its present location. High School basketball was played in it from 1919 to 1928. It was converted to a movie theater in 1946 and operated successfully in this capacity until TV entered into competition.
Ruben Log Cabin
This 13 by 17 foot log cabin was constructed in 1877 by Andrew Ruben on his homestead on the SW section of Ruben Township, to replace the dugout in which he first lived. He had come to Harlan County in 1870 to help establish Fort Melrose.
These logs were hewn from trees growing near the Republican River. The tools used were a broad ax, hammer, square nails, wedges, mauls, drills and saws. Lumber for the roof, ceiling, floors, and windows were purcahsed from the saw mill near the river and from the general store in Melrose.
Bed ticks were filled with buffalo hair, grass, straw or corn husks. The present tick was filled with husks and used on the homemade bed upstairs in the museum when Eleanor and Albert Ibsen moved into the house in 1926.
Andrew married Ellen Liden in 1874. Annette was born January 27, 1877 in the dugout and was the first baby to live in the log cabin. Elizabeth (Alice Bloom) (Eleanor Ibsen's mother) was the first baby born in the cabin in 1879.
A diary written by Rolf Johnson, October 14, 1877, stated that "He and Anderson went down to Andrew Ruben's new log cabin on School Creek where Anderson preached to a large congregation. Then they went out to Olof Bloom's for dinner and Eric Petersons for supper, before going on a buffalo hunt with Clarence Peterson."
The log cabin was dismantled in 1973 when Neil and Virginia Collins (great granddaughter of A. Ruben) built a new home.
The logs were dismantled by Winnie and Ernest Kuhl and William Dunlay and moved to its present site.
In 1878 the German Pieta arrived at the spectacular St. Mary's Catholic Church in Orleans via wagon freight. It was given to the church by Frank Hufnagel, a German immigrant. The present church was built in 1898, and the pieta remained in this building until 1991 when it was moved to the Harlan County Museum in Orleans, where it has become the museum's focal point.