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


Des Moines County

Date of Origin – 1834






Until 1833, Indians held the land that is now Des Moines County.  It was named for the Des Moines River which runs through southeastern Iowa.  For some years, a branch of the American Fur Company had a trading post on the present site of the city of Burlington.  Immediately upon settling on the land, whites applied for license to maintain a public ferry across the Mississippi River.

The U.S. flag was first officially unfurled over Iowa soil at Burlington on August 23, 1805 by Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike during an expedition to explore the Mississippi.

Des Moines County was established and originated in 1834.  It and Dubuque County were the only counties in existence at this time.  Together they contained all of present day Iowa in their borders.  In 1836 the Wisconsin Legislature split Des Moines County into Lee, Van Buren, Des Moines, Henry, Louisa, Muscatine and Cook counties.  The present boundaries of Des Moines County were established in 1839.  The county is named for the river that runs through it.

Des Moines County was entitled to 10 members of the House of Representatives at Belmont, Wisconsin in October 1836.  One of the bills passed at this session selected Burlington as the temporary capital of the Territory.

In 1838 the city of Burlington was chosen to become the county seat and the capital of the Territory of Iowa.  There was little dispute because Burlington was the only area of significance, and it had been serving as the temporary county seat since 1834.

In May of 1839 the first paper, the Burlington Patriot, was published in the county.  Its name was changed from Patriot to Hawkeye and back to Patriot and, finally, back to Hawkeye.  It is still in circulation and is Iowa’s oldest newspaper.

The first court was held in a log cabin on April 13, 1835.  It was later held in the “Old Zion” Methodist church, houses and stores.  The first county courthouse was built in 1850.  Marion Hall was constructed and then leased to the city for use as a courthouse.  This two-story brick building was named after the wife of H. W. Star, one of the builders.  The courthouse was later moved to Mozart Hall.  This building, along with some of the county records, was destroyed by a fire in 1873.

At one time (in 1905) the Board of Supervisors consisted of four members, but it was changed to three members in 1906 and remains so today.

The present courthouse of Des Moines County was constructed in 1939.  Total cost of the project, including land and furnishings, was $280,000.

A new Correctional Facility opened for business on March 25, 1995.  It is a 62 bed jail, built for $3.5 million.

Glass, Remely J. Iowa and Counties of Iowa., Klipto Loose Leaf Company, Mason City, Iowa: 1940.
Anita Kohl, Des Moines County Recorder
Carol Copeland, Des Moines County Auditor, 2002


Dickinson County

Date of Origin – 1858






Dickinson County, the smallest county in land area, is named in honor of Daniel S. Dickinson, a lawyer and senator from New York.

The county was established in 1851.  In the summer of 1856 Rowland Gardner came from Cerro Gordo County to settle. He and his family erected cabins, which came to be known as Gardner's Grove. Soon after many families started to settle in the area. But by the end of the year the population was only 40 residents, half of that being children.

In the winter of 1856-1857 a renegade band of Sioux Indians attacked the settlers around the lake, killing all but four women. Later, two of the four women were murdered and the remaining two were rescued. For six days the ravaging and pillaging of settlements and killing of livestock continued. Word of the "Spirit Lake Massacre" finally reached Fort Dodge. An expedition was launched to pursue the Indians, but the main job turned out to be burying the dead.

Following the massacre there was a large increase in settlers, especially in the summer. This second wave of pioneers organized the county for independence. A petition was sent to the judge in Woodbury County, a seven-day journey by horseback, asking for a separate organization. An election was held calling for county officials, and on August 4, 1857 Dickinson County was formed and in 1858 the county originated. 

The first courthouse was built in Spirit Lake. It was begun in 1859 and partially finished in 1860. In 1860 it was used as a barracks for Civil War troops and was completed in 1868. This building was destroyed by fire in 1872.

A second courthouse was constructed using the salvageable bricks of the first courthouse, but it was soon deemed unsatisfactory and condemned in 1880.

In September 1889 a $15,000 bond issue was proposed for the construction of a new courthouse. It was passed by a large majority. Construction of the third courthouse began on October 4, 1890 and was completed in 1891. Since its completion the building has seen three additions, one in 1957 and two more in 1976 and 1978. The funding for these additions came from the Federal Revenue Sharing fund.

Source:  Early History of Dickinson County


Dubuque County

Date of Origin – 1834






The land that is now Dubuque County was first claimed by the white man in 1541.  France, represented by Father Marquette and trapper Louis Joliet, was the first to claim the land for its own, in 1674.  At the close of the French-Indian War in 1763, France ceded to Spain the right to all territory West of the Mississippi.  The vast region then know as Louisiana was turned back to France in 1800, to become a part of the United States by purchase from Napoleon in 1803.         

In the early formation of Iowa there were only two counties.  One was Demoine County and the other was Dubuque County.  Dubuque County and the county seat, Dubuque, are both named for Julien DuBuque, the first white settler of Iowa.

In the second session of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, Dubuque County was subdivided into 14 other counties: Benton, Buchanan, Cedar, Clayton, Clinton, Delaware, Fayette, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Keokuk, Linn, Scott, and Dubuque.  So Dubuque County originally embraced more than half of the future State of Iowa, but was reduced to its present limits in 1837.

There was no question as to the location of the county seat when the county was established and organized in 1834.  The City of Dubuque was established in 1833, making it the oldest settlement and county seat in Iowa.  Dubuque was also the location of Iowa’s first church and the first newspaper published in Iowa (The Dubuque Visitor, which began on May 11, 1836.)  Since its inception the city has been under five flags: the French, Spanish, English, the Imperial Flag of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Old Glory of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The first official meeting of the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors was held and the proceedings thereof recorded in the county auditor’s office on May 13, 1836, probably the earliest such record preserved in the State of Iowa.

The first Court House built in the county was completed in 1836.  The 20-foot x 26-foot hewed-log structure was basically used as a jail and soon became outdated.  It was then replaced by a brick structure, completed in 1843.  After overcoming considerable opposition from taxpayers’, construction of a third Court House was begun in 1891.  Since it took nearly two years to complete the Court House, the county offices were temporarily held in the city hall.

The Dubuque County Court House is a perfect example of Dubuque’s early Victorian architecture.  The structure was designed by a native of Dubuque, architect Fridolin Heer.  When the building was constructed, 12 massive figures were placed on the roof and ledges, at a cost to the county of $29,503.97.  Since that time all but six statues remain, the most prominent being Justice which rises above the street more than 200 feet on the dome.

The climax of a complete renovation of the Court House between the years 1975 through 1984 was the gilding of the Court House dome through private donations.  Re-gilding was done, again through private donations, in 1994.  The Court House golden dome now dominates the Dubuque skyline.

Countless attempts have been made to construct a building combining city and county governments. The first came in 1949 when the federal government drew up plans for a building.  This proposal failed, as have all the others dealing with this idea.

The Dubuque County Court House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, the first building to be placed on the Register in the State of Iowa.  In 1989, the neighboring Egyptian-style Old Jail, designed by John Rague, was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.  The Old Jail is currently leased to the Dubuque County Historical Society.

In 1973, the County and City were successful in partnering for the construction of joint law enforcement center, including a 46-bed jail, located across the street from the original Jail and the Court House.  In 2001, construction was started on an addition to the center, which includes an additional 152-beds.

Dubuque, Its History and Background., Dubuque County Historical Society, JoAnn Reynolds, Dubuque County Recorder; 1990
Denise Dolan, County Auditor; and Jan Hess, Administrative Assistant to the Board of Supervisors; 2002


Emmet County

Date of Origin – 1859






Emmet County was one of 50 new counties set up by Governor Stephen Hempstead on January 15, 1851. It is named after the Irish orator, nationalist and patriot Robert Emmet. He was executed in 1803 for his activity in the Irish rebellion.

The boundaries of the county have stayed the same ever since its establishment in 1851. Since whites were scattered so thinly, it was not until 1856 that the first settlers came to Emmet County. At this time Emmet was attached to Webster County for governmental purposes.

In the winter of 1858-59 the residents of Emmet County decided it was "below their dignity to remain any longer under the jurisdiction of Webster County." A petition was circulated and they were granted separate organization on February 7, 1859.

Two commissioners were entrusted with the selection of the county seat. They surveyed the county and decided on the site of Estherville. Plans were started and a contract was negotiated for the erection of a school house and courthouse. They were to be financed through the sale of the swamp lands that lay within the county. The survey, which was done by the county, was not accepted by the surveyor-general, and the county failed to obtain title to the land. The school house was already completed, but the construction of the courthouse was immediately stopped when it was discovered that the county had no land to transfer to the contractors for payment. The schoolhouse was moved and used as a courthouse until 1876, when it was destroyed by a fire.

Since its conception the county seat at Estherville has not faired well with the residents of the eastern part of the county, who felt it should be more centrally located. They were hesitant due to the cost of building a new courthouse at a new site. However, with the burning of the courthouse in 1876, the opposition to Estherville grew. Petitions were circulated calling for an election on the removal of the county seat. At the same time a remonstrance was filed and submitted to the board.

An election was held on October 14, 1879, with Swan Lake being the alternate site. Swan Lake won the election, and the Board was instructed to move to the new county seat. They refused, and even after a district court action, the county seat was not formally established at Swan Lake until January 9, 1880.

Proceedings were instituted in the courts to test the legality of the first election, and, in 1882, a petition was filed calling for another election. The Board granted it, and on November 7, 1882, a second election was held. This time Estherville won the right to the county seat. In spite of the claim that the workers building the B.C.R.& N. had voted illegally, the election was declared legal, and Estherville again became the county seat on January 15, 1883.

Following this a courthouse was built at Estherville at a cost of $12,000. It was located on the city square, which was given to the county by the city.

It was around 1916 when the need for a new courthouse was discovered, but it was not until 1954 that a grand jury voted to recommend that the county build a new courthouse. Plans were drawn up, and bids were let. The Lundquist Construction Company of LeMars was awarded the contract and the cornerstone was laid on June 1, 1957. It was ready for occupation on July 28, 1958, and the wrecking of the old courthouse began.

Source: Dorothy Mergen, Emmet County Recorder


Fayette County

Date of Origin – 1851






Fayette County was originally one of the largest counties ever organized.   It had an area of about 140,000 square miles and included all of the present state of Minnesota west of the Mississippi.   Almost all of the counties of northeastern Iowa were formed out of this county.  The county was established in 1837.  Fayette County, as large as it was, was only a “paper county” and lacked any organization until 1847 when it was reduced to its present boundaries.  The county is named in honor of Marquies de Lafayette, a French general and statesman who helped the American Colonies in the Revolutionary War.

In 1850 William Wells, Jacob Lybrand, and J.W. Rogers donated a 400-square-foot plot of ground to Fayette County for public buildings.  That was the year the county was organized.  Until that time, West Union was known as Knob Prairie.

In 1851 a Fayette County Representative drafted a bill at the Third General Assembly that called for an election to choose a site for the county seat.  They had six choices: West Union, Lightville (Lima), Light’s Mill, Douglas (Auburn), Centerville, and Clermont.

The two highest vote-getters then participated in a May election.  The voters chose West Union over Lightville.  But before a courthouse could be built a vote was taken in August 1853 to remove the county seat.  West Union again won the right to house the county seat.

Although a courthouse was proposed in 1853 one was not built until three years later.  Business of the county was conducted in the Methodist Church.  When a courthouse was finally built, it cost $7,820.  The two-story brick and stone building was situated on that town square donated by Wells.  This building burned to the ground after J. C. Thompson started a fire in his jail cell, which was in the basement of the courthouse.  He escaped and was later captured in Calmar.

After a two-year battle for the location of the courthouse, a second building was built in West Union.  Originally to cost only $6,750, it ended up costing the county around $10,000.  The call for a fireproof building in September 1891 failed, and gradual improvements were then added to the second courthouse.  They included fire-safe vaults, a larger heating plant, a tower, a clock, and more office space.  This was over a period of 15 years and cost more than $18,000.

The improvements were all for naught because this building was also destroyed by a fire on February 5, 1922.  The estimated loss was $40,000, only $24,000 covered by insurance.  Most of the county records were saved.  This fire again opened the battle for the county seat.  The rivals this time were Fayette and Oelwein.  Again West Union prevailed and a third, and current, courthouse was built. 

The citizens of West Union and surrounding areas donated $100,000 toward the new structure.  The cornerstone was laid on June 21, 1923, and the formal dedication was held on October 8, 1924.  Total cost of the majestic gray Bedford stone structure was $298,690.

History of West Union, Iowa. 1974, (125th jubilee),
Out of the Midwest:  A Portrait, 1976, Fayette County Helpers Club and Historical Society 


Floyd County

Date of Origin – 1854






Floyd County was named in honor of Sergeant Charles Floyd of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition that was sent up the Missouri River in 1806.  He was the first white man whose death and burial in Iowa are on record.

The county was established in 1851 and incorporated in 1854.  The first election was held with 85 votes cast.  There was an intense rivalry for location of the county seat between the towns of St. Charles (now Charles City) and Floyd (geographic center of the county).  St. Charles was the first county seat.

David Ripley was elected county judge in 1857 on the campaign pledge that the county seat would be moved to Floyd.  He called an election in 1858, and Floyd received 453 votes to St. Charles’ 434.  After the announcement, the boys of St. Charles marched on Main Street to the public square and lit bonfires, made speeches, burned an effigy of the county court, and held a mock funeral oration.

The people of St. Charles challenged the legality of the vote.  The district court found the election legal and binding, but the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the decision and said the county seat was to remain in St. Charles.

Construction continued on the St. Charles courthouse, but those still in favor of Floyd as a county seat assembled to tear it down.  Judge Collins (Ripley’s term had expired) addressed the crowd, saying, “If you tear down this building, your money will have to rebuild it -- if not on this site, then on some other site.

“Now my advice to you today is to tear it down, not to leave one stone upon another; and then return home and tear down your own houses, every one of them.  They are yours, and your money has paid for them same as for this.”  The crowd dispersed quietly upon hearing this speech.

The stone courthouse was finished in 1861 for less than $18,000.  One June 7, 1874, a terrific thunderbolt struck the courthouse. The important county records were saved.

A local newspaper reported the thunderbolt hit the courthouse “just as the wrath of an outraged and wronged constituency has descended upon many a nest of courthouse rates in these latter days.  We cannot guess which one of the officers the lightning was after this time . . .”

The courthouse burned down in 1881, and the question of the county seat was revived.  Loud and long were the speeches for removal -- somewhere, anywhere, just so it moved from Charles City.  Charles City once again weathered the storm and has remained the county seat to this day.  A new courthouse was built in 1881 for $25,100.  The cornerstone for the present courthouse was laid in 1940.  This courthouse cost $265,000.

In 1901 C.W. Hart and C.H. Parr moved to Charles City and established the Hart Parr Factory, later changed to White-New Idea Equipment Company.  In 1902, the first Hart Parr gasoline traction engine was finished.  One day, Sales Manager W.H. Williams, puzzling over an advertisement, decided the words “gasoline traction engine” seemed too long.  The word “tractor” popped into his mind and has been around the world used ever since.

On July 3, 1906, the Floyd County Board of Supervisors ordered the construction of a foot bridge over the Cedar River to the Chautauqua grounds.  The county was to pay $1,200 toward its construction and Charles City would own and maintain it.  This is the present suspension bridge (one of the oldest in the state) and was dedicated as a national historic site on July 2, 1990.

The destructive tornado that hit Charles City late in the afternoon of May 15, 1968 left the downtown area in ruins, but the courthouse itself escaped serious damage.  Several trees on the grounds were destroyed, however.  The courthouse served as headquarters for civil defense activities and for the police department following the tornado.

Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, noted leader in the women’s suffrage movement, lived in and around Charles City for some 20 years.

Source:  Marilee Monroe, Floyd County Recorder, 2002


Franklin County

Date of Origin – 1855






Franklin County, established in 1851 and organized on August 5, 1855, is named in honor of the American statesman, scientist, and philosopher Benjamin Franklin.

The first county seat of Franklin County was Jefferson. This site was not suitable to most county residents, so, by order of election, it was moved to Benjamin in 1856. It was later renamed Hampton, in honor of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Other county seat battles continued, mostly from Maysville, but by April 1862, they had all but died out.

The first courthouse was built in Hampton by F. A. Denton. It was located on the Hampton square and officially dedicated on July 4, 1857. This building was made up of native lumber and resembled a one-room school house of that era. It was used by the county until 1866 when it was moved and used as a dwelling.

A second courthouse was built in 1866 at the same location. This building was contracted for $12,000, but the final cost greatly exceeded it. This large structure was made of stone and timber. It was 48-foot x 70-foot, two stories in height and capped by a cupola. This building was used by the county and community for nearly 23 years. It was finally condemned and torn down in 1889.

The county records were moved to the school until the third and present courthouse was completed in 1891. Original cost of the building was $60,000. This courthouse measures 76-foot x 102-foot, nearly twice the size of the previous one. The stone and brick structure has a large dome that contains a clock with faces for all four sides.

This building underwent serious renovation in 1975-76 at a cost of $825,000. These renovations consisted of modernization of the electrical and mechanical systems, installation of a third floor and elevator, and general repairs. This building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Franklin County is the home of Beed's Lake State Park. The lake is near the site of the sawmill built to aid the settlers with their building. The mill was changed to a flour mill and served the farmers by buying their wheat. However, the farmers weren't interested in growing wheat, and when they changed to growing corn, the mill was no longer needed. The area remained as a picnic and recreation area and was developed by the Civilian Conservation Commission.

The first Rural Electrification administration plant was built in Franklin County. The building, which is now owned by the Franklin County Historical Society is located southwest of Hampton.

- Arlene Maifeld, Franklin County Recorder
- Foster, J.E. Franklin County History, Franklin County Historical Society 1970


Fremont County

Date of Origin – 1850






Fremont County was established in 1847 and organized in 1850. It was named for General John Charles Fremont, who was a lieutenant in the Mexican War and is credited with the opening of west to white civilization.

Benjamin Rector was elected and sent to the state Legislature to represent Fremont County; however, he was only permitted to express his views -- not to vote. The first seat of government was at Austin, but no courthouse was built there, and court was held at the home and general store owned by A.H. Argyle.

The county seat was first named Dayton in 1851, but changed to Sidney at the next term of court. Sidney was selected to honor the name of the Ohio town of Clerk of District Court Milton Richards once lived in.

Fremont County has had three courthouses. The county outgrew its first courthouse soon, and a new, two-story courthouse was built in 1858. A gunny sack full of dynamite caused thousands of dollars of damage in 1863. There was much speculation concerning who caused the explosion -- some of the possibilities included Confederate guerillas securing money for their cause, "border ruffians" or Kansas "Jayhawkers," or thieves from Missouri or Nebraska.

In 1888, vandals struck again. Coal oil was poured throughout the building and set afire. A steel vault saved most of the records. Neither crime was ever solved.

In 1888, the county voted 295 to 219 to build a new courthouse, costs not to exceed $26,000. Things were no different then than they are now; final cost was $27,860. This courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

During World War II, a catwalk was built on top, and patriotic citizens scanned the skies for enemy planes.

Source: Mary Nenneman, Sidney


Greene County

Date of Origin – 1854






Greene County was established in 1851 and organized in 1854, with a population of 150 and Jefferson (for Thomas Jefferson) as the county seat.  The county was named after General Nathanial Greene, a hero of the Revolutionary War. 

The first courthouse was the log cabin of Judge William Phillips about four miles southeast of Jefferson.  Jefferson was chosen as the county seat in 1854.  A true courthouse was built in 1856.  A new one was erected in 1870.  The courthouse bell was used for calling court, curfew, and as a fire alarm.  The present courthouse was built in 1917 for $179,752.66.

In the spring of 1857, rumors of a gold strike on a small stream west of Jefferson caused great excitement without much result.

Roads played an important part in Greene County history.  In 1904, the first concrete span bridge in Greene County was built over Hardin Creek east of Jefferson on the old Lincoln Highway.  In 1909, led by a Jefferson banker and good roads advocate, a small group of men spent several days filling holes on 35 miles of county road.  This work was done to prepare for an auto touring caravan.  The tourists stopped for 10 minutes or so and “sang the praises of our Greene County roads which they pronounced the best-kept country roads they had struck in their journey!”

For a few weeks early in 1926, all Jefferson banks had failed and were closed, making Jefferson the largest city in the U. S. without a bank.

Greene County was apparently a popular stop for presidential candidates.  Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota launched his 1948 presidential campaign by making an address from the south balcony of the Greene County Courthouse.  In 1952, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower made a whistle stop an Jefferson depot on a presidential campaign train tour.

The 162-foot carillon of Jefferson recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.  The Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, named for its founders Floyd and Dora Mahanay, has been the trademark of Jefferson ever since its construction 25 years ago.  The dedication of the tower will also kick off the “Bell Tower Community Foundation.”  They hope to raise $300,000 to renovate and add 34 new bells to the carillon.


Grundy County

Date of Origin – 1856






Grundy County, named for U.S. Senator, cabinet member and chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court Felix H. Grundy, was established in 1851 and organized in 1856.  Grundy Center became the county seat in 1856, when it was called Belpre.  Belpre was taken from belle and prairie, signifying a beautiful prairie.

Grundy County developed rapidly from 1860 - 1890 as thousands of acres of native prairie sod were broken for cropland.  The population grew rapidly during this period, reaching 13,215 by 1890.  The 2000 census for Grundy was 12,369.

The first Courthouse, octagonal in shape, was nicknamed the “cheese box” because it resembled a giant cheese box.  The Board of Supervisors held their first meeting in the building on January 7, 1861.  The Courthouse was a two-story wooden building, and it stood in the center of the block, on the spot now occupied by the present building.  The lower level was divided into two equal parts by a hallway running north and south, and each half was partitioned into two equal parts.  The room in the northeast corner was used as an office for the County Treasurer and the County Recorder, and the other room was the Sheriff’s Office.  On the west side of the hall, the south room was the office of the Clerk of Court, and the north room as the County Auditor’s Office.  The upstairs was divided into a Courtroom and small Jury Room.  The Courtroom was also used for church services in the 1860’s.

By 1890, the need for a new Courthouse, larger and more up to date, was evident.

On February 24, 1891, a special election was held on the question of building a new Courthouse.  The vote carried more than two to one.

The cornerstone for this Grundy County landmark was laid November 11, 1891.  The special ceremonies for the laying of the cornerstone was conducted by the Masonic Lodge, under the supervision of the County Board.  School children were invited to join in the march around the Courthouse Square.  Speakers at the ceremonies rejoiced with the rest of the crowd that a little of the great wealth of Grundy County was going into a fine Courthouse.

The architects for the Courthouse were W. L. Kramer and E. E. Zoll from Findley, Ohio.  The building contractor was T. B. Seeley, Son & Company from Fremont, Nebraska.

The basement walls are made of stone from Stone City, Iowa.  The upper walls are made from sandstone from Cleveland, Ohio, and the steps are made from a harder stone from Keosota, Minnesota.

It was reported that the contractor lost between $7,000 and $8,000 on the Courthouse project.  That was largely due to a provision in the contract which required them to have all the stone cut on site, to guard against any of the stone being marred in shipment.  The stone was shipped from Ohio in huge blocks.  The contractor had no machinery for hauling such heavy loads, so it was necessary to cut these blocks into smaller pieces before they could be taken from the railroad yard to the Courthouse Square, where they could be cut into shape for use in the walls of the building.  The wages paid to the stone cutters were the highest paid by any contractor in the state.

In 1895 the new Courthouse was finished and furnished, and there was money in the treasury to pay all the bills without a bond sale.

The clock was installed in the tower in 1900 to add the finishing touch on the new Courthouse.

Source: Mary Schmidt, Grundy County Auditor, 2002


Guthrie County

Date of Origin – 1851





Guthrie County was named by Theophilus Bryan, sheriff and later county judge of the county. He named it in honor of his friend Captain Edwin B. Guthrie, a commanding officer of a company of Iowa volunteers in the Mexican War.

The county was established and organized in 1851, and the search for a county seat began. The State Legislature, at its 1850-1851 session, appointed David Bishop of Madison County and Lewis Whitten of Polk County to designate a county seat. After taking location and the center of the population at that time into consideration, the town of Panora was selected.

In June of 1853 there was a contract let to build the courthouse, but for some reason it was never built. It stayed this way until March 16, 1857, when Edward Serry made plans and specifications for a courthouse. Soon afterwards James Cline was hired to build the courthouse. Again the contract was annulled and the courthouse was not built. Mr. Cline received $200 for his troubles.

On March 7, 1859 William Tracy and E. B. Newton presented county judge Aaron Hougham with a petition asking that the location of the courthouse be moved to Guthrie Center, since it was more towards the center of the county than Panora. It was sent to the voters of the county, and Panora won by a count of 297 to 277. The first courthouse was finally built later in 1859.

This setback did not stop the people of Guthrie Center. On March 1860 another petition was filed on behalf of Guthrie Center. James Cline then filed a petition against the Guthrie Center petition. After the court took these petitions and testimony of the citizens under advisement, it was decided that another election would be held on April 2, 1860. This time Panora lost, and, on April 7, the court decreed that Guthrie Center was the new county seat and ordered all the papers moved to Guthrie Center.

A wagon train set out for Panora to obtain the safe and county records. They returned in full force with the safe, records and county judge T. B. Harbour. All of these were housed in a building prepared by E. B. Newton.

A petition was brought before the September session in 1861 by the people of Panora to relocate the county seat. Again the people voted and this time Panora won the right to house the county seat. So the safe, records and county judge were all packed up and moved back to Panora.

Guthrie Center tried twice more to regain the county seat. The first time, in 1870, they were unsuccessful, but on the second try, 1873, they won back the county seat. It has been there ever since.

As was mentioned before, the first courthouse was built in 1859, in Panora. It was made of native lumber and was two-stories high. The cost was $2,400.

A beautiful courthouse was built at a cost of $22,500 in Guthrie Center in 1877. The building burned to the ground on March 3, 1883. Bids went out, but all were more than the $15,000 insurance money. The bid finally accepted was for $19,100, and it was two years before the courthouse was completed. This courthouse served the county for 81 years.

During the summer of 1963, construction was begun on a new courthouse. In November the old courthouse was destroyed by fire. For one year, during construction, Guthrie County was without a courthouse.

The present courthouse was occupied in November 1964. It was designed by Dougher, Frevert, and Ramsey of Des Moines and cost $417,000.


Hamilton County

Date of Origin – 1857 





When the county was originally organized in 1847 it was named Risley, after Colonel Risley who was killed in the Mexican War.  It was later changed to Webster.  Finally, Webster County was divided in half, and the eastern half was given the name of Hamilton in December 1856.  It is named after Senate President William W. Hamilton who was influential in the passing of the bill.

The same Legislative Act that established Hamilton County also named Webster City as the county seat in 1857.  At an April 1858 election, it was proposed that the county use swamp land funds to construct the county’s first courthouse.  The motion passed by a wide margin, and construction of the building began in the summer of 1858.  But due to the lack of public support, funds, and county seat battles, the $50,000 building was never completed.

The first courthouse that was completed was in 1866.  It was a temporary structure that cost $1,934 and was used until 1877.  The second courthouse was originally to cost around $50,000, but was revised to $35,000.  The winning bid of $30,000 and 1,360 acres of swamp land was submitted by John M. Rice of Chicago.  The building was completed in June, 1877.

In 1974 the courthouse of 1877 was condemned.  Construction of a $1.25 million building was begun later that same year and it was dedicated on December 4, 1976.  It is a split-level brick building faced with Georgia black stone.

In March 2002 voters countywide passed a local option sales tax with the proceeds to pay for the construction of county jail.  The jail will be attached on the north and east sides of the courthouse with construction to begin in early 2003.

Source: Kim Schaa, Hamilton County Auditor, 2002


Hancock County

Date of Origin – 1858






Hancock County was established in 1851.  It was named for John Hancock (president of the Continental Congress) and formed by an election held on June 28, 1858.  Only two townships were set up following the election, Avery and Madison.

The first site for county business was in Amsterdam.  A courthouse was planned and bid on, and $2,000 was let to B. A. Hill for the construction of the building.  One month later, however, the administration of the county was changed, the contract was voided by the new administration, and no courthouse was built.  County business was held in the Amsterdam school until November 1865, when it became apparent that the county would need a courthouse.

Land was donated by the Seymour family of New York and was designated as the county seat.  The site was named Concord.  Two small frame buildings were then constructed for the county offices on the Courthouse Square at a cost of $2,580. Officers of the county were notified on December 4, 1865 that suitable offices were ready.

Interest in a brick courthouse began to grow, and in 1867 a motion for the construction of a brick building was presented by the Board of Supervisors, defeated in an election; another petition was resubmitted and again sent to the voters -- all in the span of just two months.  On the second election, the motion was passed by the voters, and construction of the new courthouse began in 1868. 

Grover R. Maben was in charge of construction and he used brick and timber, both of which came from his farm.  The bricks were fired at his farm and the timber cut from his grove and shipped to Waterloo for final cutting.  The building cost $10,000 and was ready for occupation in 1869.

The county seat remained in Concord for nearly 30 years, to the disgruntlement of some Hancock residents.  Then, in 1898, the highly organized residents of Britt launched a campaign for the relocation of the county seat.  They had plans drawn up, pictures of the proposed building, land ready for construction, and, more importantly, $25,000.  The residents of Garner countered this action by annexing Concord (just one mile south of Garner) and contributing $30,000 for the purchase of a land and construction cost. 

After many legal battles and verbal exchanges, construction began in Garner.  Architect F. W. Kinney designed the building, and construction was done by Gross Construction of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The new courthouse was turned over to the county on November 15, 1899.

In the meantime, the county officers remained in Concord, and Britt did not concede defeat.  However, at a November 3, 1903 election, and by a vote of 2,057 for and 568 against, the Board of Supervisors finally declared Garner to be the county seat and gave the county officers 30 days to move to the Garner courthouse.  Garner has been the home of county offices since that time.


Hardin County

Date of Origin – 1853






Hardin County is named after Colonel John J. Hardin. He was a Illinois colonel in the Black Hawk War and was killed in the Mexican War.

The county was established in 1851.  After the county was organized in 1853, a county seat was needed, and Judge William McKay of the Fifth Judicial District appointed two men to locate a suitable site. In late June, 1853 they selected a site and asked Mrs. S. R. Edington to name the town. She chose the name Eldora, after a baby she had just lost.

The county seat has been in Eldora since 1853, but this does not mean that it has been without conflict. The first contest was by the town of Steamboat Rock. An election was held in April 1856, and Steamboat Rock was defeated by a vote of 452 to 100.

After a small challenge by the village of Berlin in 1857, it was Point Pleasant's turn. This election was held in April of 1858 and was hotly contested throughout the county. When it was over Point Pleasant was the winner, 540 to 521. The battle did not stop there, however. After the votes from Point Pleasant were counted, sealed, and delivered, someone broke into the contents and destroyed them. Point Pleasant blamed Eldora, and Eldora blamed Point Pleasant. Both went to court, and, after a 10-year battle, which included three Supreme Court decisions, Eldora emerged victorious.

The final battle came from Iowa Falls. It came at a time when Eldora was in the process of building the present courthouse. Iowa Falls citizens offered the county $32,000 towards a new courthouse if they built it in Iowa Falls. The citizens of Eldora then donated $40,000. When added to the $20,000 already appropriated, it made quite a sum towards a new courthouse.

Through four contests from 1856 to 1891 -- not to mention all the legal battles that resulted from the competitions -- Eldora has retained the designation as the seat of justice for Hardin County. And so it has remained for more than 139 years.

Hardin County has had three courthouses in its history. The first building was a small frame structure and was used until it burned in the mid-1850s.

The second courthouse was built with funds donated by the citizens of Eldora and $1,000 of county funds. It was a two-story frame building and was located on the present site of the county sheriff's office.

The last and present courthouse was built in 1892 and was ready for operation on September 19, 1893. The contractor was J. F. Atkinson, and total cost was $75,000. In 1970-71 the courthouse underwent major remodeling, at a cost of $365,000. It was paid for by a bond issue. After it was completed the citizens, donated money for landscaping of the courthouse grounds.

The Hardin County courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. It still stands as a monument to the pride which rural Iowans have always had in their communities.

Source: Keith Van Patter, Hardin County Recorder

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This page was last updated 12/28/10