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Click on the county name below to see the county facts:


Adair County

Date of Origin – 1855






Adair County was established in 1851, and named for John Adair, general during the War of 1812 and 6th governor of Kentucky.  The General Assembly appointed three commissioners to locate a county seat.  They selected Summerset (now Fontanelle) in 1855.  The first courthouse was built a year later.  Native lumber and hardware were hauled by wagon from Keokuk for the building.  This building burned in 1910.

The town of Greenfield, located near the center of the county, was laid out in 1856.  From this time on, people of Greenfield fought to have the county seat moved to Greenfield.  A petition was signed by 91 voters in 1858 to have it moved, but at the same time, another petition containing 137 signatures was presented to keep the seat in Summerset.

During the Civil War, the people were content with the idea of Fontanelle as the county seat, but at the end of the war it was brought to a vote.  Changing the seat was defeated by seven votes.  Again in 1869 the change was defeated.  Finally, in 1874, voters approved the move to Greenfield.  The decision was challenged and taken to the Supreme Court.  Even though the decision wasn’t final, the people of Greenfield removed the county records to their town.  More than 200 men and 75 wagons made the trip to Fontanelle and, against the orders of the sheriff, loaded the records and furniture into their wagons and returned to Greenfield.  It so surprised Fontanelle’s townspeople, they didn’t resist.

Judge Mitchell ordered the sheriff to direct the people of Greenfield to return the county records, but when the sheriff presented the order to the Board of Supervisors, a person snatched the order and tore it up.  The next morning the sheriff came again to Greenfield and presented a warrant, but was resisted by an angry mob, so did nothing.  The following day General N.B. Baker arrived from Des Moines and persuaded the people to return the records to Summerset.

About one month later, the “county seat war” came to an end when the court’s final decision moved the county seat to Greenfield.

In preparation for this move, the Greenfield Building Association had erected a two-story frame building on the East side of the square, which was used by county officials until it burned in 1883.  Following the fire, court was held in the Opera House, and a temporary office building was built over the vaults of the burned building.

Eight years later, on July 4, 1891, the cornerstone of the present courthouse was laid.  Some items placed in the cornerstone were:  histories and lists of members of local organizations, a Bible, an 1891 nickel, several copies of various newspapers of the day, and one bottle each of corn, oil, and wine.

The building was completed in March 1892.  It was originally adorned with a large square tower rising 100 feet in the air which was removed in 1935 when it became unsafe.  The total cost of construction, including the furniture, was $26,768.  In comparison, it cost $40,448 to install the elevator in 1988.

The Adair County Historical Society helped Adair County to organize an open house and program to celebrate the courthouse centennial July 4, 1991.

History of Adair County, Iowa, and Its People, Lucian M. Kilburn, Supervising Editor. 
Jenice Wallace, Adair County Auditor 2002.


Adams County

Date of Origin – 1853 





Adams County was established in 1851 and originated in 1853.  The county and its county seat were named for John Quincy Adams, Quincy was the original county seat.  At the time, Montgomery County Sheriff Amos Lowe issued the election certificates to the first county officials of Adams County.  One half of the town of Quincy was given to the county to sell and use the revenue for building the first courthouse.  Two courthouses were built in Quincy, a noted station on the Underground Railroad.  The first courthouse sometimes was used to hide fugitive slaves.

In 1857, the Quincy Guards were organized, the first volunteer military company in western Iowa.  In the Civil War that followed, these men became famous for their bravery, and nearly all 40 young men composing the company became officers before the war ended.

The first book of minutes of the Board of Supervisors begins in May 1857.  The Board met usually the first day of the month and continued for as many days as it took to complete all business.  In 1862, for four and one-half days work and 14 miles travel, supervisors received $10.68.

Queen City and Corning requested public votes for relocation of the county seat in 1859 and 1869, respectively.  Neither got enough votes.  However, Corning incorporated in 1871, requested the vote again in 1872, and was successful.  The citizens of Corning built a new courthouse at their own expense. 

This courthouse burned down in 1888 (all county records and documents were saved), and another one was built for $28,183 and dedicated June 20, 1890.  The present courthouse was dedicated Oct. 7, 1955 and cost $218,635.  It was built right in front of the old courthouse, which was eventually razed.

In 1997 the Board of Supervisors voted to renovate the courthouse.  The project was started in August of 1998 and took one year to complete.  The courthouse has a new exterior finish, new signage and entrance canopy design.   A remodeled jail and jail addition now accommodates 4, 6, and 8 beds in a dormitory type setting plus a 2-bed holding cell which is handicapped accessible.   The total cost of the renovation project was $850,000. 

Other historical facts include Adams County was home to former Iowa Governor Dan Turner and the birthplace of Johnny Carson.  The Icarian Society came to Adams County in 1852 and established a settlement east of Corning.  The Icarian Foundation is undertaking the huge task to preserve history through restoration of the colony.

Source: Donna West, Adams County Auditor, 2002


Allamakee County

Date of Origin – 1849






There is some debate over the origin of the county name. Some say the county is named after Allan Makee, an Indian trader and trapper, who was known by the Winnebago Indians. Other sources say the name is purely of Indian origin.  The county was established in 1847 and originated in 1849.

The first county seat was located just northwest of Rossville, at a place called "The Old Stake." This site was considered useless as there were other points of greater importance already settled in Allamakee County.

In April 1851 the voters went to the polls to select a county seat. The towns Vailsville, Smith's Mill and Columbus were the choices. None of them received a majority of the votes. A second election was held the following May, with Columbus receiving the most votes. Soon after Columbus was selected as the county seat, a rivalry developed between Columbus and Lansing. Due to this a commission was appointed to select the county seat. The site they selected was Waukon. This choice went to an election. Even though Columbus fought the decision, the results were overwhelmingly for Waukon.

A courthouse was built in Waukon in 1853. It was a small frame structure that cost $325 to construct. It was used until 1857, when a similar building was constructed next to it. These two buildings served the county until 1861, when the county seat was moved again.

A heated contest between the towns of Waukon and Lansing developed. Both towns agreed to build on suitable lots and both towns offered substantial "rewards" for the county seat. Lansing offered $8,000 and Waukon offered $5,000 towards the courthouse.

Between 1860-1861, following an election, a $13,000 courthouse was built at Waukon. The city paid $5,000 as promised. Although Waukon had a courthouse, it was not the county seat. That distinction went to "The Point." Located between Lansing and Capoli, "The Point" became the site of a $5,000, stone structure courthouse. The cost was paid by the citizens of Lansing.

In the summer of 1866 the citizens of Waukon attempted to regain the county seat. A gang of 30 men from Waukon tried to steal the county records from the courthouse at "The Point." This attempt failed, but the one in 1867 did not. A 10th county seat election was held. Waukon won out, after a 25-year long battle.

The present courthouse is of modern design. It was built between 1940 and 1941, and it replaced the $13,000 courthouse built in 1861. The old courthouse was taken over by the Allamakee County Historical Society; it now functions as a museum.


Appanoose County

Date of Origin – 1846







Appanoose County was established in 1843 and originated by the Iowa Territorial Legislature on January 13, 1846. It is named for the chief of the Sac and the Fox Indian tribes who headed the peace party during the Black Hawk War. Appanoose means "A Chief When a Child."

Appanoose County was one of the main coal mining areas in Iowa during the first third of the 20th Century.

On November 1, 1844 the Legislative Assembly of Iowa ordered Andrew Leach and William S. Whitaker to locate the county seat of Appanoose County. It was soon located and named Chaldea. It was then platted by the county surveyor. The name Chaldea was later changed to Senterville, in honor of Governor Senter, of Tennessee. The spelling was changed and the county seat of Appanoose is currently Centerville.

In the summer of 1847 it was decided that the county would erect a courthouse, but nothing was done at this time. On September 10, that same year, the dimensions and plans for the courthouse were decided upon and bids were sent out. The contract was given to James Jackson for $160 and the finish work was done by Jesse Wood for $119. The building was ready for occupation in April 1848. This courthouse was used until 1857.

The construction of a second courthouse began in 1860 and was completed in 1864. During this time the county business was conducted in local churches. This courthouse was destroyed by a fire on the Fourth of July. It seems that people were lighting fireworks from the courthouse cupola and throwing them into the air. One rocket evidently landed in the box with all the other fireworks and exploded. The fire destroyed the cupola and most of the second floor. The county continued to use the building but finally gave up in 1903.

The cornerstone for the third, and current courthouse was laid on May 21, 1903. It cost $90,600 to build and was designed by the architects Smith and Gage. The exterior walls are covered with Bedford stone veneer and the roof is all tile. The clock tower, which rises from the middle of the building, sets the building apart from all others. The courthouse is situated on a large town square and is the pride of Centerville and Appanoose County.


Audubon County

Date of Origin – 1855





John James Audubon, famous American naturalist and artist, died in 1855. Admirers of his were influential enough to get this newly formed county named in his honor. The county was established in 1851 and originated in 1855.

The history of the county is filled with conflicts and battles, most over the center of county government. The conflict begins with the first site of county business. One report has the first location of county government in a log schoolhouse at Hamlin's Grove. A second report has it at Dayton until 1856, when people realized that Dayton would never become a town. The following year there was a proposal to move the county seat to Viola (now called Exira). It failed, but on its second attempt, in 1861, it was approved and the county seat was now located in Viola.

Fierce battles continued between Exira, Oakfield and Louisville, but the county seat remained at Exira. In the fall of 1871, the Board of Supervisors approved $6,948 for the construction of the first courthouse at Exira. This plan was stopped by yet another county seat battle -- this one coming from Hamlin. The residents of Hamlin wanted the county seat back in their town. A heated contest developed between the towns. From 1872-1873, petitioners were out in force gathering signatures from all over the county. The last 24 hours they were out all night. In the end, Exira retained the county seat. Following this the citizens of Exira formed the Exira Hall Company and built the courthouse at a cost of $2,200.

This is not the end of the county seat battles in Audubon County. In 1878 the Rock Island Railroad built a branch from Atlantic to their newly formed town of Audubon. There they built a courthouse and offered it free to the county, if they moved the county seat to Audubon. An election was held to decide the location of the county seat. The Rock Island Railroad offered free room and board for men 60 days prior to the election and there "any man could vote for Audubon, no questions asked." The men of Exira were apparently no better. Groups of them, some carrying loaded revolvers, hung around the election centers "challenging" votes. In the end Audubon was declared the new county seat. To this day it is said that residents of Exira are still harbor bitter feelings towards Audubon.

In 1938 the Board of Supervisors applied for a Public Works Administration grant for the construction of a new courthouse. The estimated cost of the project was $131,775 and the grant was approved for 45 percent of this. A bond issue was approved to fund the remaining 55 percent. By the winter of 1939, county officials began to move into the new courthouse and the dedication ceremony was held on June 11, 1940.

Source: History of Audubon County, compiled by Lois Oakley, Audubon County Recorder, Audubon, Iowa. 1990.


Benton County

Date of Origin – 1846







Benton County, one of the original twelve counties created from Dubuque County, is named in honor of Thomas Hart Benton. Benton was a lawyer, colonel in the War of 1812 and senator from Missouri.  The county was established in 1843.

In the spring of 1846 a county seat was selected and the county was established. It was called Northport and the town was platted the following summer. Soon the town's name was changed to Fremont, in honor of General John Charles Fremont. A town in Iowa was already named Fremont so they again changed the name, this time to Vinton, after Ohio Congressman Plynn Vinton, who paid $50 for the honor.

The first permanent courthouse was begun on July 13, 1856 with the laying of the cornerstone. This building was officially dedicated at a grand ball on December 23, 1856. The final cost of the two-story brick structure was $13,000.

When the time came to replace the old brick courthouse, there was great excitement. There was a persistent rumor that the contents of the cornerstone included a liquor bottle that would have had 49 years to age. The disappointment was just as great when no bottle was found.

The present courthouse was begun in 1905, and it was completed in 1906. The elaborate, three-story stone structure was constructed at a cost of $150,000. It has a 112-foot high tower that contains a clock and 1,500-pound bell which was donated by Paul Correll, a local merchant and farmer.

This building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Black Hawk County

Date of Origin – 1853







Before the Europeans came, the valley of the Cedar River was almost completely covered in dense timber.  Yet at a point about seven miles below the Falls of the Cedar, unwooded prairie grasses covered both banks of the river for a stretch of about a mile.  The river itself at that point fell in a swift rapids.  Underneath the rapids, the riverbed was solid rock. 

When the region was opened to white inhabitants, after the Sac and Fox Indians lost their hold on it following the Black Hawk War of 1832, the Falls were an attraction to entrepreneurs who saw their potential for water power.  One such, William Sturgis, made plans for a dam and lent his name to the early gathering of cabins.

The combination of open space and a solid river bottom at the rapids made a safe, and hence a popular crossing for the Indians and for the early white visitors, and the site inevitably became a settlement, initially named Prairie Rapids by first settlers George and Mary Hanna.  Thus Sturgis Falls and Prairie Rapids, later to be renamed Cedar Falls and Waterloo, became in 1845 the first settlements in Black Hawk County, and between them at the end of the year they boasted the county’s entire white population of thirteen pioneers.

Prior to the establishment of permanent homes, Black Hawk County, first created in 1843 and named for the Sac war leader who lost the war that bears his name (and who never set foot in the area named for him), had been under the administration of Delaware County.  Responding to the gradual western trend of white expansion, Benton County officials took over in 1845, the year before Iowa statehood, followed by Buchanan County in 1851.  By act of the Iowa legislature, Black Hawk County was allowed to organize its own government and elect officers in 1853.  At the same time, the counties of Bremer, Grundy, and Butler were administratively attached to Black Hawk County.  The first election of county officials was held on August 17.

The legislature also called for a commission to locate the county seat in the same year.  Sturgis Falls, with its thriving mills, was the leader in commerce at the time, and got the nod.  Waterloo boosters, unwilling to acquiesce, convinced the legislature to call for an election, and by a vote of 388 to 260, the more centrally-located Waterloo became county seat in 1855.  It was already vying with Cedar Falls in the milling industry, a dam having been constructed in 1854, the year the city was platted.

Many eastern Iowa settlements moved swiftly from frontier outposts to civilized cities in the beginning of the last half of the nineteenth century.  Surrounded by some of the richest farmland to be found anywhere on the globe, the cities of Black Hawk County became important centers for the agricultural community. Despite a brief period of high water, which allowed the steamboat Black Hawk to make twenty-four round trips between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in 1859, the Cedar River was not destined to provide a transportation advantage.  However, the railroads arrived in 1861, precipitating another rivalry between the neighbors on the Cedar.  When, in 1870, the Illinois Central Railroad chose Waterloo over Cedar Falls as the site of its repair shop, Waterloo was set in its path to become a major industrial center by the turn of the century.

Cedar Falls developers were chagrined by Waterloo’s ascendancy in commerce, but their city started to form its distinct personality in 1876 with the establishment of the Iowa State Normal School, a teacher’s college that opened  with twenty-seven students in a former orphanage and quickly grew.  As it took on the adornments of a college town, Cedar Falls gained the nickname of “The Lawn City”, in sharp contrast with Waterloo, which by the early 1900s was known as “The Factory City”.

From the earliest days, another rivalry existed in the county, that of East and West Waterloo.  Probably the Indians argued about which side of the river was better before the white settlers ever arrived, as both sides had well-established paths, the route on the east side leading to present-day Marion and the one on the west to Iowa City.  Early Waterluvians clashed on the location of the courthouse.  (Disgruntled Cedar Fallsians threw the decisive votes to the East Side to avenge themselves on the West Side businessmen who finagled the county seat referendum out of the legislature in 1855).  Separate school districts were established in 1866, merging only in 1942.

Probably the most famous cross-river spat came when philanthropist Andrew Carnegie began in 1898 his campaign to subsidize the building of public libraries.  Of the 1,679 libraries built by the program’s end in 1919, 101 were built in Iowa, two in Waterloo.  A remarkably patient Carnegie foundation negotiated with implacable East- and West Side factions from 1902 to 1904, when instead of the original $30,000 grant, $40,000 was offered to build two libraries, one on each side of the river, or one library, sited in the middle of the river.  (Mayor P.J. Martin had suggested building one on the not-yet-completed Fourth Street Bridge.)  Two small but tasteful buildings were finally erected, and served their respective patrons until 1981, when the library moved into the former post office, which moved from the West Side to a new location on the East Side.

While such quarrels may have wasted energy best expended elsewhere, the competition was healthy in other respects.  When one side attracted a new business or platted a new housing addition, the other side frequently followed suit with alacrity.  The result is that Waterloo enjoyed startling growth around the turn of the twentieth century.  The city’s population grew from 6,674 in 1890 to 36,230 in 1920.  Between 1881 and 1914, the number of factories increased from 28 to 144.

Chief among these was John Deere and Company, which in 1918 bought out the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, in order to add the popular Waterloo Boy tractor to its other successful farm implement lines.  The tractor works grew expansively along the Cedar’s bank northwest of downtown (the river doesn’t really run north and south, but rather bisects the county from its northwest corner to its southeast) and eventually branched out to an engine works and a new tractor works at other sites in the county.

 The industrial growth in the early part of the century brought waves of immigrants hungry for work.  Many of these were Croatians and other eastern Europeans and African-Americans from the deep South.  This gave Black Hawk County a diversity of population unusual for mostly homogenous Iowa.  A large contingent of Danes was drawn to Cedar Falls, where a Danish-language newspaper survived until 1932.

Another major employer was the Rath Packing Plant, one of the largest meat packers in the nation in its time. Rath and Deere workers epitomized the efforts of labor leaders to organize unions in the area in the 1930s and 40s.  Both labor forces were unionized in separate efforts in 1942.  Waterloo has been known as a strong “union town” ever since.

The prominence of agriculture in the region, which spawned such farm-related industries as John Deere and Rath, also led to an annual event that put Waterloo on the map for farmers from around the country.  The Dairy Cattle Congress settled permanently in Waterloo in 1912, and, as the National Dairy Cattle Congress, became one of the nation’s premier livestock shows.

Black Hawk County has been the home or birthplace of many notable citizens.  Among them are historian Carl Becker, former First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, the five Sullivan brothers, who perished together when their ship was sunk in the Second World War; and Olympic gold medal winner and longtime Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable.  Congressmen H.R. Gross and David Nagle called the county home, as did Representative Charles E. Pickett, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Lincoln Memorial.

Black Hawk County lost population for the first time in its history between the 1980 and 1990 censuses.  This was a time when the farm economy was wracked by low market prices and painful farm foreclosures.  These and other factors led to major changes in the county’s major employers.  John Deere drastically cut its workforce, and Rath closed in 1985, to be succeeded a few years later by meatpacking giant IBP.  With its relatively low wages, IBP was compelled to recruit workers from far afield, causing a new wave of immigration into the area, largely from Latin America and war-torn Bosnia.  Much like nearly a century earlier, immigrants came searching for the American dream in Waterloo, Iowa.  Recent commercial and industrial growth has the region again in an upswing, and the population grew 3.4% between 1990 and 2000 to 128,012.

Meanwhile, in Cedar Falls, the normal school with twenty-seven students had grown into the University of Northern Iowa, with an enrollment of over 13,000.  While still a respected teacher’s college, it is also well-known for other programs, including a highly regarded school of business.  UNI has a wide variety of graduate programs, and offers doctorates in education and industrial technology.

Other communities have grown up in Black Hawk County and offer their own contributions.  The other incorporated cities in the county are Dunkerton, Elk Run Heights, Evansdale, Gilbertville, Hudson, La Porte City, Raymond, and portions of Janesville and Jesup.

For further information on Black Hawk County history, visit Cedar Valley Area Museums [link to www.cedarnet.org/ahs/museum.html], which includes a Historical Tour with Area Maps and Museum Links [link to www.cedarnet.org/tour].  Or you can call or visit the Grout Museum of History & Science (503 South St., Waterloo, (319)234-6357), the Cedar Falls Historical Society (303 Franklin St., Cedar Falls, (319)277-8817), public libraries at Cedar Falls (524 Main St., (319)273-8643),  Dunkerton (113 W. Main St., (319)822-4610), Evansdale (123 N. Evans Rd., (319)232-5367), Hudson (329 5th St., (319)988-4217), Janesville (227 Main St., (319)987-2925), Jesup (721 6th St., (319)827-1533), and Waterloo (415 Commercial St., (319)291-4521).

Source: Grant Veeder, Black Hawk County Auditor.


Boone County

Date of Origin – 1849






Boone County was named as a tribute to Daniel Boone and his son, Colonel Nathan Boone of the U.S. Dragoons.  Boone was among the first white men to explore this region and to give an accurate account of the natural resources.

The county was established in 1846.  When Boone County originated in 1849, there were about 400 inhabitants.  Rivals for the county seat Boonsboro and Boone Station were incorporated in the 1860's.  Boonsboro was the original county seat.  Boone Station changed its name to Montana, then to Boone.  These two towns are now merged into the modern city of Boone, which became the county seat in 1887.

A legendary incident which has been proclaimed throughout the surrounding territory has been linked with Boone County through the heroism of Kate Shelley.  The 15 year old Shelley braved a raging rainstorm to warn passengers of a night express that the bridge at Honey Creek had been washed out.  She crossed the Des Moines River to Moingona, where the train was to arrive, and averted a terrible catastrophe.

Mamie Doud Eisenhower was born in Boone November 14, 1896.  Much of the furniture for the restoration of her Victorian home was provided by the Doud family, and this is one of only two homes of First Ladies to be restored in the United States.

Boone has long been a center for activity of the Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company, now United Pacific.  Out of this railroad heritage has grown the annual Pufferbilly Days Celebration the weekend after Labor Day.

In 1996 Boone County celebrated the sesquicentennial of our county with an open house here at the court house, with tours of the building.

Source: Sheryl Thul, Boone County Recorder, 2002.


Bremer County

Date of Origin – 1853






The first white man came to Bremer County in 1845 and settled about two miles southwest of Denver.  At that time this area was an Indian reservation belonging to the Winnebagoes, numbering about 300.  Later the Reservation was purchased by the government, and the Indians were moved to the Crow River area of Minnesota, about 150 miles north of St. Paul.

Bremer County had been named in 1851 by Governor Hempstead, who was an admirer of the Swedish authoress, Fredricka Bremer.  Bremer County is thought to be the only Iowa county named after a person eminent in literature. 

Townships were named for famous people also:  Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Polk for four of our presidents; Fremont and Douglas for candidates for president; Dayton for a presidential running mate in 1856; Lafayette and Warren for two famous soldiers of the Revolution; Fredricka for Fredricka Bremer; Maxfield for Judge Maxfield; and Sumner for Charles Sumner, a senator of the Civil War period.

Waverly was first settled in 1850, and it soon grew to importance due to its waterpower that was used by the flour and saw mills.  On January 24, 1853 Waverly was chosen as the county seat, and, unlike numerous counties the county seat has remained unchanged.  Waverly was selected because of its growth, commercial position and railroad facilities.

Bremer County was permanently organized in August 1853 with the election of county officers.

The first courthouse was erected one year later by Richard Miles at a cost of $147.50.  The small frame building was used for only three years, and then it was replaced by a brick and stone two-story structure that cost the county $23,000 to complete.  None of the materials used in its construction -- brick, stone and lumber -- were from outside of the county.  This 43-foot x 63-foot building  was dedicated on January 1, 1858 at a grand ball and reception that was held in the new building.

This second courthouse contained no vaults for the safekeeping of county records, so in the summer of 1870 a small brick building was constructed adjacent to the courthouse.  The $5,000 building was used to house all of the county records.

These two buildings were torn down in 1937 in order to make room for the third and present courthouse.  The county used a W.P.A. grant of more than $60,000 to construct a $139,000 courthouse.  Several bands were on hand to celebrate the dedication and open house of the courthouse on June 10, 1937.

On July 2, 1975, a joint law enforcement building was erected to be shared by Waverly Police and Bremer County Sheriff Department.  At this time the Sheriff's housing quarters, office and jail were removed from the courthouse building.

In 2003 Bremer County will be celebrating it's 150th year from the election of county officers.  The courthouse is in the process of going through a renovation project and will be completed by 2003.

1965 Bremer County Atlas
Kathy Thoms, Bremer County Director of Finance & Management, 2002.


Buchanan County

Date of Origin – 1846






The county was established in 1839.  Buchanan County was a land ruled by Indian tribes in 1842 when a pioneer named William Bennett trekked westward from Delaware County to become the first settler in this region.  As the county’s first settler, he also became the first resident of Quasqueton. 

Buchanan County was named in honor of Senator James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, who was instrumental in the acquisition of the Wisconsin Territory, which included this county.  The Senator later became the 15th president of the United States.

A village of fewer than 15 persons located farther north of Quasqueton on the Wapsipinicon River was established as the county seat in 1846 by three distinguished guests from the Iowa Legislature.  At the same time, the settlement was named “Independence,” probably taking the name from Independence Day, which was to be observed by the nation in 19 days.  The town was incorporated in 1864.

In the spring of 1857, the construction of the first courthouse was started by Oliver Harrison Pierce Roszell, then the county judge, who had control of county business at that time.  The office of county judge in 1857 would be similar to the present-day county auditor’s position.  The task of completing the building fell to Judge Stephen Tabor, who, in 1857, was appointed to succeed Roszell as county judge.  The cost of $9,758.51 comprised all that had been done for the courthouse, including the preparing of the ground, the lumber (which was hauled from Dyersville by ox teams), the lime, stone, brick, sand, hardware, well, and, in fact, every species of expense connected with the grounds of the edifice. 

Two men were convicted of blowing up the treasurer’s safe and stealing $26,000 from Buchanan County.  This was one of the largest robberies in Iowa’s early history.  They were pardoned because of inconclusive evidence of guilt.  One of the men moved to Kansas  and was later elected to the Kansas State Legislature.

In 1870, by a vote of 1,405 to 264, the old jail and sheriff’s house was built at a cost of $18,828.  In 1881, by a vote of 2,155 to 615, a fireproof building was erected by expending $7,500 from the swamp fund.

By 1938, there was a need for a new and larger courthouse.  The voters agreed, 2,665 to 1,756, on the condition that the county by permitted to issue bonds and to ask the federal government for a grant.  The first shovel of dirt was moved November 15, 1938, by Wilbert H. Frye, chairman of the Board of Supervisors at that time.  Bonds were sold to the county for $110,000 at 1.75 percent interest, and $114,264.45 was received from the federal government.  Total cost of the building was $253,921.  The cornerstone was laid September 20, 1939, with 1,500 people present.

In 1976, the Buchanan-Independence Public Safety Center was constructed for joint use by the Independence Police Department and the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department.


Buena Vista County

Date of Origin – 1859






Buena Vista, which is Spanish for "Beautiful View" or "Good View", was the name of a battle in the Mexican War in which General Zachary Taylor defeated General Santa Ana.

The county was established in 1851.  Quickly after the county was organized in 1859, three commissioners selected 10 acres of land in Lee Township (in the northern tier of townships) for the county seat. They named this site Prairieville — it was also referred to as Leesburg. This town was merely a "paper town" and it soon faded out of existence. It was not until 10 years later that a courthouse was finally constructed at Sioux Rapids. In 1870 a simple, two-story frame courthouse was constructed at a cost of $4,945. On January 1, 1877 this building was destroyed by a fire.

The citizens of Storm Lake, Hayes Township (southern tier of townships), wasted little time in taking advantage of this fire. They formed the Storm Lake Building Association and constructed a two-story city hall in 1878. They offered this building to the county rent-free for ten years, if they used it as a courthouse. The supervisors accepted the offer. It then went to an election where it passed by a margin of 700 votes. The county seat was then ordered to move to Storm Lake on October 14, 1878.

This courthouse soon became too small and when the 10-year lease expired, there was a call for a new courthouse. In a close election—737 for a new courthouse and 725 against—construction of a third courthouse was approved. This courthouse, built in 1888 at a cost of $25,000, was made of pressed brick and was decorated with a large cupola. This courthouse stood in the center of the courthouse square and was surrounded by numerous trees.

In 1968 a bond issue was approved for the current courthouse. The $1.2 million courthouse was designed by Frevert-Ramsey of Des Moines. It was dedicated in 1972, and it sits on the same site as the previous courthouse. A painting of the 1888 courthouse and jail, painted by Franklin Halverson, an early resident of Sioux Rapids, hangs on first floor. Several others of his paintings hang in the lobby.

Due to the size of the Iowa Dept. of Human Services and the increasing need for space for the court system, the county purchased a brick building across the street east from the courthouse. After renovation in 1990, the offices moved into the DHS Annex.

Additional growth in court services and public health, led to the purchase of another building in 1996 on the east side of town, now known as the East Richland Annex, and currently housing Public Health & Homecare, the Naturalist, and Community Services. Nearly all of the second floor of the courthouse is now dedicated to court services including Clerk of District Court and Small Claims, District and Magistrate Courtrooms, judges chambers, jury room, law library, offices for two juvenile probation officers, CASA, a juvenile judge, a resident district court judge and court reporter, and a conference room also used as a juvenile courtroom.

In the mid-nineties the County Conservation Board commissioned Lance Christensen, assisted by Steve Brauhn, to construct a wildlife exhibit which was installed in the courthouse lobby in 1998. It features wildlife native to the area including a deer, muskrat, hawk and other birds, waterfowl, mink, badger, raccoon, and pheasant. A number of wildlife prints, including several by Brauhn, a native of the county who also painted the display’s background mural, hang on the backside of the exhibit. Soon to be added to the display are a wild turkey and a river otter.

Through the years, the average jail population steadily increased. A citizen committee led by the sheriff studied the issue of inadequate jail space. Their recommendations led to a $5,775,000 general obligation bond election on February 1, 2000, for a new jail and sheriff’s office. To allow for future growth and housing of outside prisoners, the number of jail beds would have been more than triple the original number which the current jail was certified for – 18. The issue was defeated with the following vote: Yes—592 (18.79%), No—2,562 (81.29%). Adjustments to law enforcement procedures, and changes in the jail standards, provided some relief. Also, several nearby counties approved construction of new jails all of which were designed to house outside prisoners. There are no current plans for a new jail or jail expansion.

In addition to the Sheriff and jail, currently the Board of Supervisors, Auditor, Treasurer, Recorder, Assessor, Environmental Health and Zoning Director, Engineer, Veterans Services Officer, Emergency Management Coordinator, Communications Center, and Custodian, occupy the main and basement floors of the courthouse.

The local chapter of the DAR began displaying what is now known as the ‘Parade of Flags’ on the courthouse lawn in 1973. Nearly 800 U.S. flags have been given in memory of veterans with roots in Buena Vista County. Each Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Veterans Day the beautiful display of these flags fills the open space of courthouse square.

Source: Karen Strawn, Buena Vista County Auditor, 2002.


Butler County

Date of Origin – 1854






Butler County was named in honor of General William Orlando Butler, a Kentucky statesman, general in the Mexican War and a unsuccessful candidate for the vice presidency in 1848.  The county was established in 1851.

In 1853 a full staff of county officials was elected to start governing.  Because the office positions were not considered sufficiently lucrative, a trip to Independence to swear in the officials was never made, and the office holders failed to qualify.

In August 1854, elections were held again, and the officials this time took the oath of office.

The first courthouse was constructed at Clarksville in 1858.  The two-story courthouse was constructed of bricks and cost approximately $20,000 to complete.

Soon after this building was completed there were numerous battles over the removal of the county seat.  The most prominent of those battles came from the town of Butler Center.  An election was held in April 1858, in which Butler Center won by only 21 votes.  The citizens of Clarksville then obtained an injunction blocking the removal of the county seat.  In July of 1859 the district court found irregularities in the election and issued an order voiding the election.  A second election was then held in April 1860.  Again Butler Center won, but this time by a majority of 80 votes.  So, in 1860 the county seat was removed to Butler Center for a period of 20 years.  The old courthouse was sold to the local school district for $2,800.

Butler Center erected a simple, two-story frame courthouse that cost only $2,000.  The two-acre site of land was donated by Arthur Mullarkey.

The residents of Butler County became disenchanted with the town of Butler Center as their county seat.  It was removed to the city of Allison in 1881 after several elections.  It was there where the county constructed its third courthouse.  The residents of Allison donated $7,000 to the $10,000 project.  In 1903 an addition was added to the courthouse at a cost of $5,000, and in 1937 a second addition was completed.  It cost approximately $9,000. Finally, $5,000 was used to remodel the courtroom in 1959.  In the mid-1970s, an attorney expressed interest in buying the courthouse, dismantling it, and moving it to California to use as a law office.  The deal fell through, but this courthouse was replaced by the current courthouse in 1974.

The present courthouse is located just south of the previous courthouse’s location.  Total cost of the project was $936,950.84, just under the $940,000 that was allowed by the bond election in 1973.  This building was officially dedicated on December 14, 1975.

On November 25, 1975 a Iowa National Guard helicopter lifted the 94-year-old cupola off of the courthouse and placed it on the grounds.  Today it sits as a historic display and a hall of fame of Butler County residents.


Calhoun County

Date of Origin – 1855







In 1851, when the western half of Iowa organized, the name of Fox was given to the county. The Sac and Fox Indians had lived in the area, and, accordingly, the county west of Calhoun was named Sac in honor of the Indians. A friend of former U. S. Vice President John C. Calhoun did not like the name Fox, so the Iowa Legislature changed the name to Calhoun in 1853.

Before Calhoun County was organized, residents paid taxes to Greene County. They observed that very little revenue came back to make improvements in Calhoun County, so they took the necessary steps to organize in 1855, with a population of less than 100. Until a courthouse was built in Lake City in 1856, county business was conducted in the homes of the officials.

When the Illinois Central Railroad was built in 1870, the counties' northern towns of Manson and Pomeroy had grown and become rivals of Lake City for the county seat. In 1876, this came to a head and it was voted to put the courthouse as near the center of the county as possible. Rockwell City, platted on the only high ground within a one-mile radius of the center of the county, was founded and became the county seat.

The first courthouse in Rockwell City was completed for less than $2,000 and also served as a schoolhouse.

In 1880, town founder Mr. Rockwell learned that F. M. Hubbell was bringing his railroad as far as Jefferson. Rockwell went to Des Moines and promised Hubbell half of the town lots if he would bring the railroad to Rockwell City. The first train arrived August 7, 1882, and the population doubled that year.

Few people are aware that the early courthouse on the square wwas used for activities other than "holding court." The Calhoun County courthouse was used as an auditorium for public entertainment, political gatherings, and church dinners.

When the courthouse burned down in 1884, a hotel and another building were rented for $1 a day apiece to house county offices. The Board of Supervisors decided to build the new courthouse further away from the railroad, because when trains came through, all courthouse business at the old location was suspended because of the noise. A fourth courthouse was built in 1913.

During the turn of the century, drainage came to Calhoun County. Through digging of dredge ditches and laying of countless miles of clay drain tile, the county was lifted out of water and has now become one of the best and most productive agricultural counties in the state.

Compiled by Recorder Marty Minnick

Calhoun County History 1854-1982, Calhoun County Historical Society, Copyright 1982.
-Doug Jensen, Fort Dodge Messenger article 9/27/87

-Brief History of Calhoun County, adapted and extended by Ruby Pridemore,

-Who's Who in Iowa, 1940 "Calhoun County Historical Society"


Carroll County

Date of Origin – 1855





Carroll County is named in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland. He was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, and the longest living signer.

The county was established in 1851.  In 1855 a county government was set up in the town Carrollton. Three years later a courthouse was constructed at a cost of approximately $3,000. Construction was begun by Nelson Moore, but he died with only one floor completed. The second story was completed by L. J. Hampton.

In 1869 the centrally located railroad town of Carroll City was selected as the county seat, replacing, with some protest, Carrollton. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad laid out the town and built its first building, a warehouse. Later a $4,000 courthouse was constructed on the town square. This building was used until it burned to the ground in 1886. The vaults and records were undamaged, however, and moved to temporary housing in the Joyce Building and Drees' Music Hall.

The following winter a $40,000 bond issue was approved toward the construction of a new, permanent courthouse. The impressive building was built on the northwest corner of the square (the parking lot of the current courthouse). The stone and brick building, complete with a clock tower, was used for more than three-quarters of a century. It was replaced by a modern-looking building in 1965.

A $750,000 bond issue was used to construct and equip the new courthouse. This building was officially dedicated on September 24, 1966. The highlight of the dedication ceremony was the opening of the boxes sealed in the cornerstone of the old courthouse. The bell from the previous courthouse clock tower sits on the courthouse grounds.

Source: Marie Hackett, Secretary, Carroll County Historical Society, 1991

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