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


O'Brien County

Date of Origin – 1860






O'Brien County is named after William Smith O'Brien, one of the leaders of the Irish Independence in 1848.

The county was established in 1851 and originated in 1860.

O'Brien County is one of 11 counties that was carved out of Woodbury County (then called Wahkaw.) The first courthouse in the county was built by Archibald Murray of logs cut from the banks of the Little Sioux River. This county courthouse was rarely used as a courthouse because of the lack of records that needed to be kept and not much county business was conducted. This cabin was later relocated to Waterman Township, where the county had purchased 40 acres. The first date recorded here was on June 9, 1862.

The log cabin courthouse was replaced in 1870 by a frame building. The cost of the building was estimated at several thousand dollars. This building was destroyed by a fire in 1871 and replaced by a similar looking structure. In 1873 the county seat was moved to Primghar, which was more centrally located.

Primghar was named using the first letters of the first names of influential county officials and the surveyors of the town. In 1874 a courthouse was built on the present courthouse square. The two-story courthouse was built at a cost of $2,000 and completed on April 4. This building was later condemned and sold for $470.

In 1879 the citizens of Sheldon attempted to relocate the county seat to their town. In 1882, Sanborn succeeded in removing the records from Primghar in a "raid," but they were unsuccessful in obtaining the county seat permanently.

Following the unsuccessful attempt by Sheldon, a $6,000 courthouse was constructed by the Green Brothers in 1887. In 1902 this building was added onto, at a cost of $1,400.

In 1911 the city of Sheldon was again unsuccessful in obtaining the county seat. They lost in a special election by a vote of 3,161 to 1,447.

In 1914 the voters of O'Brien County approved $160,000 towards the construction of a new courthouse. This building was occupied in April 1917. The three-story building is of Neo-Classical style and constructed of Bedford limestone.


Osceola County

Date of Origin – 1871






Osceola County, located in the northwest corner of the state, is Iowa’s youngest county  and consists of only 397 square miles. Osceola was originally part of Woodbury County, then called Wahkaw County.  Besides being the youngest county in Iowa, Osceola is also the highest.  The highest point in Iowa is on a farm yard just north of Sibley.

Osceola is named after a famous Seminole Indian Chief who fought brilliantly against the United States to preserve the land and the rights of his people.  He was finally captured and died a prisoner at Ft. Moultrie, Fla. in 1838.  The settlers liked to talk about his exploits and his romance with the Creek Indian Princess, Ouscaloosa. 

Osceola County was established in 1851 and organized in 1871.  The first permanent settlement took place that same year by Captain Eldred Huff when he took up residence on a claim he had filed the previous November.   Since the county was void of any timber (early settlers called it the “American Desert”), Captain Huff hauled a load of lumber from Sioux City for his house.  This lack of timber also caused a fuel problem in the winter. Settlers were urged to plant giant sunflowers, as an acre of sunflowers would yield a good burning material equal to six cords of good dry wood.

The first session of the Osceola County Board of Supervisors was held on January 1, 1872.  The following Thursday they passed their first resolution. It read “Resolved - that Sibley, Osceola County, Iowa, shall be the county seat of said Osceola County and that the County Auditor be authorized to petition the Legislature through our representation to have the action of the Board of Supervisors legalized.”  The fact that the railroad went through Sibley and that the land for the courthouse was donated by the railroad promoters probably did not hurt this decision by the board.

The first courthouse was built in November of 1872 by Henry Pfingsten (or Phringston) at a cost of $4,500.  The wooden frame structure also served as a school and a church.  It contained a 6-foot x 10-foot privy, coal shed, front and rear steps, vane and ball on the flagstaff, and a room under the stairway inside the courthouse.

In 1901 it was decided that Osceola needed a new courthouse.  A special election was held in November, and a $50,000 bond issue was passed.  The contract was awarded to C. E. Atkinson, and construction was completed by 1902. It was formally dedicated in September of 1903.  In October of 1915 the building was wired for electricity.

The original courthouse contained a dome which held a statue of Justice.  In 1925 the dome was removed and replaced by a square-shaped cupola and the statue of Justice was replaced.  This construction was done to modernize the building.  On August of 1961 the square cupola was removed, leaving the upper portion of the courthouse as it is at the present time. 

Constant upkeep and repairs have kept the building’s beauty there for all to enjoy and admire.  A major entrance change was made in 1974 to make the building more handicapped accessible.  Even with the addition of an elevator, the continuity of the original design is still there.

On July 5th, 2002 the centennial of the Osceola County Courthouse was observed with a rededication ceremony.   At the same time, a recognition ceremony was held for the Osceola County Veterans Memorial.   The memorial monument joins two other monuments on the courthouse lawn honoring veterans of the Civil War and World War I.   The first phase of the project was erected just prior to the Courthouse Centennial and the memorial will be completed and dedicated on November 11, 2002

The Osceola County courthouse is a fine old building.   She has stood the test of time.   From the crisp cool days of fall to the bitter cold and blinding snows of winter.   She has enjoyed the gentle spring rains and endured the hot humid days of summer along with a few northwest Iowa tornadoes.   She has seen her people laugh, she has seen them cry.   She has seen her young men and women leave to serve their country well, and unfortunately, some never to return.   Yes, she is a fine old building and we salute her.   May she stand and serve her county inhabitants for another 100 years.   God bless our courthouse.

Source:  Arlene Kuehl, Osceola County Recorder


Page County

Date of Origin – 1851







The county is named for John Page, captain in the 4th U.S. Infantry, who was wounded in the Battle of Palo Alto in the Mexican War.

The county was established in 1847 and formally organized in 1851 by William Hudson, who had been appointed organizing sheriff by the Third General Assembly of the State.

The first district court was located at Boulware’s Mill on the Nodaway River.  Court was held on September 22, 1851, in the home of Philip Boulware, in the mill, a small shanty, in Cottonwood Schoolhouse and even in the general store. 

The General Assembly declared Clarinda the county seat on December 22, 1852.  The town is named for Clarinda Buck, who carried water to the surveyors and was popular amongst the early settlers.

A temporary courthouse was built in 1856.  It was a two-story, wood frame building that also housed the post office.  In 1873 the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to erect a two-story courthouse at a cost of $7,456.16.

In 1885 a contract was awarded for the amount of $71,000.  The third courthouse was constructed of brick and stone.  The building was completed on December 19, 1887 with an actual cost of $86,500.  A four-faced clock sat on top of a large tower.  The tower was removed in 1950.  In 1985, the cornerstone was removed, and the papers and documents contained within were placed on display.  The cornerstone was relaid by the Grand Lodge of Masons of Iowa on July 4, 1985, 100 years after the original laying date.

On December 11, 1991 this courthouse was involved in a fire possibly caused by faulty wiring.  In the fire the county lost its ornate judge’s bench and all the furniture that sat in the 19th century courtroom, a collection of presidential portraits, law books and a large stained glass window.   All records were saved, but some were water damaged from the 500,000 gallons of water used to extinguish the blaze.  Those records went through a freeze-dry process and are still in use.

The county set up offices in the old Sernett department store building, which it purchased for $200,000.  A successful $875,000 bond election was held in the August, 1992 to determine if bonds could be issued for restoration purposes.  Voters approved the restoration by an 85% majority and conversion of unused third floor attic space to offices.  The building was insured for $1.5 million and the contents were covered for more than $250,000.

The courthouse was rededicated June 5, 1994.  The courthouse now has central air, fire alarm, and a sprinkler system.  Offices found in the basement prior to the fire were moved to the third floor.   The clocktower, which is the same height as the courthouse, was restored with private donations.

Page County was honored with the second annual David E. Archie Award of Preservation by The Iowan Magazine, an honor given for dedication to preserving the past. On April 25, 2001, Page County celebrated its 150th anniversary with a special program, display, and coffee at the Courthouse. During the summer of 2002, the exterior of the Courthouse is undergoing a complete renovation of tuckpointing and repair.


Palo Alto County

Date of Origin – 1858






Palo Alto County is named for the first battlefield victory in the Mexican War, which was fought on May 8, 1846.

The county was established in 1851.  The first settlement in the county was at West Bend. In 1857 some men of Palo Alto County joined the relief expedition from Fort Dodge to the scene of the Spirit Lake Massacre. (See Dickinson County.) West Bend provided food and shelter for both the military group and survivors of the massacre.

As soon as the county was organized on December 20, 1858, three locating commissioners met to locate the site of the county seat. The site they selected was a small village called Paoli, although county business was taken care of at a placed called Soda Bar.

County swamp land was sold to pay for the courthouse and a school in Paoli. The two-story brick structure collapsed during its construction. County officials decided to rebuild the building, this time only half the size. The courthouse was finally completed in 1859.

In 1874, representatives of a railroad company met with businessmen of Old Town, the most established community at the time, proposing a mass move. Having platted the new town, the railroad was willing to give businessmen choice lots if they would move. On September 2, the first business moved. By December, the town of Emmetsburg had come into existence, to become the county seat in 1875.

In 1880 a brick courthouse was built in Emmetsburg, which is named after the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. This 1880s building has undergone extensive repairs over the years. Originally faced with yellow brick, it was refaced with red brick during World War I. A tall tower was removed in the 1920s, and the jail was removed from the basement and relocated. It was extensively remodeled in 1970, and a two-story and basement addition was completed in 1976-1977.

Out front, on the courthouse lawn, stands a statue of Robert Emmet and a rock appropriately named the "Blarney Stone."


Plymouth County

Date of Origin – 1858






Plymouth County, the fourth largest county, was established on January 15, 1851 and formally organized on October 12, 1858.  It is named after the landing place of Pilgrims on the Mayflower.  The county was attached to Woodbury County for judicial and other reasons prior to 1858.

The site of the first courthouse was in Melbourne.  It was built in October of 1859 at a cost of $2,000.  In 1861 the building was insured, desks were bought and an outhouse and steps were added.  The courthouse in Melbourne had many uses.  For example, it was used by the federal government as a winter quarters for soldiers and as a grocery. 

In 1872, by a close vote, the county seat was moved to LeMars. The town of LeMars had been platted in 1869 and was named by using an interesting method.  A party of bankers, realtors, a state legislator, and state register of deeds took an excursion to the LeMars area.  The ladies along for the journey decided to use their first names initials to name the town.  In order to form a six letter word from nine initials a combination of marital status and numbers was used.  The letters “L” and “M” each represented two married women.  That is why both are capitalized.  The “e” stands for one married and one unmarried women and the “a, r, s” each stand for one married women.  The order of the “L” and “M” were chosen by drawing straws.  If it had gone the other way, LeMars could be MeLars today.

In 1874 residents voted to build a new courthouse in LeMars.  Three thousand dollars was appropriated from the swamp land fund, and the land was donated by the Sioux City and Iowa Falls Town Lot and Land Company.

In 1900, at a general election on November 6, a proposal was passed to build a new courthouse.  It was to cost no more than $70,000.  This building was constructed in 1901-1902 by Emil Miller and was designed by Kinney and Detweiler of Austin, Minnesota.  The fireproof building was built of Portage-entry red sandstone and was of the Renaissance style.  It contained a tall portico, Corinthian columns, and a central tower capped by a large dome.  In 1913, the large tower was removed due to the strain it caused.

Both the courthouse and county seat gained national attention in the spring of 1933, when Judge C. C. Bradley was kidnapped by an angry mob of farmers and was threatened with hanging unless he stopped signing farm foreclosure notices.  The judge refused to comply, and although he was not hanged, he was taken out into the country, smeared with oil and dirt and left to find his own way home.

In 1997, a three-story addition was added to the south side of the original courthouse, adding an additional 8,175 sq. ft.  It was constructed using materials to blend with the original structure at a cost of approximately $850,000.  Presently a new Law Enforcement Center/Jail complex is being constructed.  The cost is approximately $5.4 million and plans are to open Spring 2003.

Source: Kae Meyer, Plymouth County Auditor, 2002


Pocahontas County

Date of Origin – 1859






Pocahontas County gets its name from the Virginia Indian Princess.  She saved the life of Captain John Smith and married John Rolfe, both early settlers in America.

The county was established in 1851.  Soon after the county’s formal organization in March 1859 there was a petition for the location of a county seat.  Three commissioners were appointed, but only two of them visited the newly-formed county.  Those two commissioners selected 200 acres near the West Fork of the Des Moines River.  The original name of the town was Highland, or Highland City.  Over the years it underwent several name changes; from Highland to Milton to (Old) Rolfe and finally to Parvin.

The first courthouse was built in Rolfe, as it was then called.  Swamp land funds paid for a two-story, 36-foot x 50-foot Classic Revival courthouse.  It was constructed of bricks that were fired on the site and timber from nearby woods.  Lumber was sawed at the sawmill in Rolfe.  The second floor of the courthouse was used as a school; at this time the entire county was organized into one school district.

The first school in Pocahontas County was held in the Hiatt log cabin home.  Later a brick schoolhouse was built west of the wooden courthouse.  The brick for this structure was formed and fired on the site.

In 1882 two railroads came to the county.  Unfortunately they did not come to Rolfe (now called Parvin.)  With the decline of Parvin, there was a call to relocate the county seat.  In 1875 the citizens of Pocahontas County voted 356 to 57 in favor of moving the county seat to Pocahontas Center, later called Pocahontas.  The first wooden courthouse with attached brick wings was completed in 1876 at a cost of $2,600.  The records were soon moved from Parvin, and the old courthouse was sold for $200.

On April 6, 1920 an election was held that authorized the construction of a new courthouse.  In the fall of that same year, a contract was let to architects Proudfoot, Bird and Rawson, and to the contractor A. H. Neumann and Co.  The building was officially dedicated on September 3, 1923, Labor Day.  The total cost of the 121-foot x 86-foot Neo-Classical stone structure was $421,062. 

The appearance of this courthouse -- the third in the county -- has been proudly maintained and has kept pace with the needs of the citizens through progressive times. 


Polk County

Date of Origin – 1846






Polk County is named for the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk. The county was formally organized on January 17, 1846.

May 1843 saw the arrival of Captain James Allen and his company at the present site of Des Moines. He proposed the name of Fort Raccoon but used Fort Des Moines at the suggestion of General Winfield Scott. The term "des moines" refers to the principal river between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Soon a fort was erected that consisted of 25 buildings, which included stables and a barracks. A trading post was built by Indian traders George Washington and Washington George Ewing. It was erected across the river.

The towns of Brooklyn, Polk City, Dudley, and Fort Des Moines competed for the county seat. They all sent representatives to the Iowa Territorial Legislature in 1845 to lobby the legislators to establish the boundaries of Polk County.

On January 13, 1845 the Legislature passed an Act establishing the boundaries of Polk County. The delegation from Brooklyn returned home confident that they had captured the county seat. The delegation from Fort Des Moines had other plans, however. Four days later they succeeded in securing an amendment to a supplementary bill that altered the boundaries of Polk County once more. This was done so that Fort Des Moines would be nearer to the geographical center than Brooklyn. It was accomplished by "borrowing" 144 square miles of territory from Warren County.

Three commissioners were appointed to establish the county seat. Since Fort Des Moines was centrally located, it was chosen as the county seat on May 25, 1846. The town of Brooklyn is now part of Des Moines.

In 1849, when Warren County was organized, the residents of Warren County ordered the land "borrowed" by Polk County returned. In 1853 the Legislature did just that, except for a few sections in Camp Township.

The first courthouse was built by John Saylor in 1846. The two story structure, complete with cellar, cost $2,015 and was used for ten years.

Construction on a second courthouse was begun in 1858. Due to slow construction and the Civil War the building was not completed and operational until October 1866. Around 1887-1888 a new roof, cupola and wing were added. Total cost was estimated at $103,268. This courthouse was used for 40 years.

The present courthouse was erected in 1900 at a cost of $750,000. It was designed by George W. Bird and W. T. Proudfoot in a modified Renaissance style. It was officially dedicated on October 31, 1906. In 1962, $220,000 was used for remodeling of the courthouse. This, however, was not enough to alleviate the problems of overcrowding.

In 1975 the voters approved spending $5.8 million to purchase and renovate the old U.S. Post Office.

The auditor, recorder, treasurer, board of supervisors, and personnel and general services departments are all housed in this building. Long range plans for the courthouse have been started. They include extensive remodeling at an estimated cost of $6 million.


Pottawattamie County

Date of Origin – 1837





Modern-day Pottawattamie County evolved out of the Pottawattamie Purchase of 1847. It was named for the Indian tribe that once possessed the Iowa Territory. The name is an Indian term meaning "Blowers of Fire," "Keepers of the Council Fires," or "Makers of Fire."  The county was established in 1837 and originated in 1847.

The county is the second largest in area in Iowa and has two courthouses -- one in Council Bluffs and another in Avoca. However, Pottawattamie has only one county seat: Council Bluffs.

County commissioners selected Kanesville and Pleasant Grove as potential sites for the county seat and on April 7, 1851 all but seven votes were cast for Kanesville, previously known as Hart's Bluff and Miller's Hollow. It was changed to Council Bluffs in 1853.

The first real courthouse was completed in Council Bluffs in 1868. The two-story brick and stone building cost $50,000 to complete. Prior to this the county offices were housed in Hyde's New Hall.

Early in 1884, only 16 years later, there was the need for a new courthouse. The old one was unsafe and county offices lacked sufficient space. A bond issue was voted on and passed to construct a $150,000 courthouse and $30,000 jail. The winning bid came from Eckel and Mann for $136,800 and the old courthouse was sold for $3,000. County offices were then held in the Masonic Temple until the second courthouse was completed.

In December 1972 it was discovered that the 87-year-old building was sinking into the ground, at rate of about 2 inches a month. On August 22, 1973, voters approved a $2.5 million bond issue for a new county courthouse and jail. Additional funds for the $4.5 million project were obtained from the federal government.

The original town plat of Avoca was made in 1869, the same time when the railroad reached the area. The second courthouse appeared in Avoca around January 1885. This courthouse houses the offices of the county clerk, sheriff and magistrate court.


Poweshiek County

Date of Origin – 1837







The county was originally part of the county of Keokuk from 1837 to 1840 and was subsequently attached at different times to both Iowa and Mahaska counties.  The county is named in honor of Chief Poweshiek, Fox-Mesquaki Indian Chief, who was for peace in the Black Hawk War.  The present area of the county was said to be the hunting and fishing grounds for Chief Poweshiek.

The first settler in Poweshiek County, after the Indians departed, was Richard B. Ogden who came in the fall of 1843.  The county was formally organized on April 3, 1848, the date on which the first election was conducted.  David Edmundson, John White, and John Rose, residents of the counties of Jasper, Mhaska, and Polk, were appointed commissioners for the purpose of locating a site for the county seat and providing for its establishment.

Montezuma, the county seat, was laid out in June 1848.  Early history says that in the settling of the county, it was thought that the northern part of the county would never be occupied.  Therefore there was no difficulty in locating the county seat in the central township of the southern tier of the county.

The first courthouse was built in Montezuma in 1850.  The courthouse was a two-story wooden structure with the courtroom on the first floor and the offices of the judge, clerk, sheriff and the treasurer on the second floor.  A woodcut of the building shows that an outside stairway connected the two floors.  This building was used as a courthouse, school, church, and a social gathering place until 1857.  In 1857 the construction of the county’s second and current courthouse was begun, thus making it one of the oldest courthouses in Iowa.  A property tax of one mill on the dollar was levied to pay for the building. 

 The newly constructed building was only the second permanent courthouse structure to be built in the state and is considered by the State Historical Society to be one of the finest examples of early courthouse architecture.

The total cost of this courthouse was $21,928.15.  It is constructed of brick and its foundation, caps and sills are of limestone.  Over the years the building has undergone several changes.  In 1890 an addition was completed, and in 1933-1934 the courthouse was raised, and a full basement and new foundation were completed.  This project cost approximately $15,000 to complete.


Ringgold County

Date of Origin – 1855






Ringgold County was named after Major Samuel Ringgold who was fatally wounded in the Mexican War.  The county was established in 1847 and originated in 1855. 

The first courthouse in Ringgold County was a 14 foot square log building built in 1856.  The first supplies purchased for the new government seat included 6 loads of wood at $.80 per load, 40 pounds of candles costing $11.40 and two boxes of envelopes at $3.50. Today electricity, heat and water cost approximately $20,600.00 a year.  Disaster in the form of a cyclone wind struck the building and the logs and records blew in all directions.  Some were never recovered. 

In 1859 the county built a new, larger, better wood frame building.  It was located on the east side of the square.  This building served Ringgold County for about 25 years.  Then in 1884 a large brick building was completed from bricks made and fired in this county.  It stood in the center of the courthouse square. About four years later the old wood frame courthouse caught fire and was destroyed on Thanksgiving night.  The new courthouse lasted about forty years. Inferior brick and lack of drain tiles caused such large cracks that it was condemned as unsafe in 1921. The county offices moved into the beautiful brick building we use today, after using a garage, west of the Post Office, for several years.  In the first floor lobby hangs a plaque with the names of all the Ringgold County servicemen who gave their lives for our country. These men fought in the Civil War, World War I & II, Korean War, Vietnam Conflict, & Desert Storm.  Also, in our courtyard, we have a memorial statue honoring our servicemen.  The inscription reads: “In memory of the men who gave their lives to the defense of their country”.  Until World War II there was a large cannon mounted on the northwest courthouse lawn.  On the east lawn stood a tall flagpole.  The base was shaped somewhat in a pyramid with large cannon balls embedded in the cement.  On Saturday evenings in the summer, children loved to climb on both while their parents listened to band concerts from the bandstand on the north lawn.

The present courthouse, also built of brick in 1926-27, remains in good condition today. New windows were added in 1974-75. In the spring of 1997 the interior walls of the entire courthouse got a sprucing up. This was also the year of installing the computer network system as we pursue updating our services through modern technology. The addition of an elevator and re-locating Secondary Roads offices in their new building in 1999, brought about the remodeling and re-location of several offices within the courthouse. The courthouse continues to be modernized with Internet capabilities serving the needs of the various county/state offices while maintaining its historical charm.

In recent years a landscaping program has brought the beauty of new trees, shrubs, flowers & new lighting to the Square. A new sound system is also being added to the courtyard in 2002.

Just as the early pioneers used the courthouse for many meetings in addition to it’s official functions.  Our courthouse is available to community groups for meetings, entertainment and various activities.

Karen Schaefer, Ringgold County Recorder       
Tara Lynch, Ringgold County Deputy Recorder
A Centennial History of Mount Ayr, Iowa by Jack Terry


Sac County

Date of Origin – 1856








Sac County was originally attached to Benton County. In 1851 the Legislature established the current boundaries of Sac and attached it to Wahkaw or Woodbury County. On January 22, 1853 it was attached to Polk County and on July 1, 1855 it was attached to Greene County for administrative reasons. A census was taken later that same year and 251 people were counted, enough to finally establish Sac County as an independent county. It was formally established by law in 1856 and named for the Sac Indian tribe, which was prominent in the area. The name means either "People of the Yellow Earth" or "red bank."

In November 1856 the citizens of Sac County petitioned the District Court to appoint a commission to locate the county seat. Sam H. Riddle, 7th District Judge, appointed two men to "within two months locate the Seat of Justice as near the geographical center as may be, having due regard for the present as well as the future population." Later that same month the county seat was established and named Sac City.

In the summer of 1860 a special election was held to determine the building of a courthouse. The election called for the raising of $10,000 - via 10 percent bonds - to be paid $1,000 annually and asked should a tax be levied. The bond issue passed and construction was begun in the fall by W. N. Neservery of Webster County.

By the end of the decade the citizens realized that they had built a courthouse that was too small to handle the demands of the county. This, coupled with the fact that the county government was changing from judges to supervisors prompted county and township officials to campaign for a new courthouse. Several elections failed to raise the needed support, and finally on September 6, 1869 the Board of Supervisors issued a resolution for the building of a county courthouse at a cost of $30,000 to be completed by October 1, 1873.

This courthouse burned after a prisoner started a fire in the county jail that spread to the courthouse. County offices were held in several buildings in Sac City.

A small battle for the county seat followed the burning of the courthouse. A group of businessmen from Wall Lake approached the Board of Supervisors and offered a "substantial sum of money towards the new courthouse." The citizens of Sac City then went to the Board with 1,745 names in support of Sac City. In the end Sac City won out, and a new courthouse was built at the cost of $30,000, $15,000 coming from insurance. It was completed in January 1890.

In the early 1970s two bond issues went to the voters for the building of a new courthouse. Due to the cost and the love of the old courthouse, both failed. The Board of Supervisors then hired architects to remodel the old courthouse and design a new building to house a courtroom, judges, clerk of court, and sheriff's office. This motion passed, because it was paid from the revenues from selling off the county farm and federal money. The county offices moved into the new addition in 1977.


Scott County

Date of Origin – 1837





For thousands of years native Americans lived on the land which we now call Scott County. In the early 1830s non-natives of European ancestry began to arrive and settle in the area. Scott County as a political subdivision was established by an act of the territorial legislature of Wisconsin in 1837. By this time the county had been completely surveyed, and copies of the original survey are still available for study. The new county was named in honor of Major General Winfield Scott, Commander-In-Chief of the U.S. Army from 1841 until the beginning of the Civil War, and the presiding officer at the signing of the peace treaty ending the Black Hawk War.  He negotiated the first treaty purchasing lands in Iowa from Indians. 

Located in eastern-most Iowa, Scott County is bordered on three sides by water, the Mississippi River on two sides, and the Wapsipinicon River on the third.

The first election of county officers took place in February of 1838. Also in that election voters were charged with the responsibility of choosing a county seat and the newly incorporated city of Davenport eventually won out, but only after losing the first time to a town called Rockingham in a rigged election. Davenport maintains its original Charter City designation, meaning it was a city prior to Iowa statehood.

From 1838 until 1850 county commissioners were elected annually and in 1861 the commissioners officially became the Board of Supervisors. In 1874 the number of supervisor positions was set at five, which it still is today , almost 130 years later.

Early white settler Antoine LeClaire donated the land for the first, and subsequent, courthouses. With the addition of county treasurer, recorder, auditor, prosecuting attorney, and trial courts the courthouse building quickly became inadequate  and in 1886 a magnificent stone, brick, and mortar courthouse was built at what was then an astronomical sum of $125,000.  Even before the building was complete it was evident there were problems; the entire structure was sinking in the sandy soil upon which it was built. After a while even the huge dome was removed in an effort to lesson the weight of the structure. County government managed to endure in that building until finally, in 1955 a new courthouse was constructed, an aluminum-clad structure typical of government architecture at the time.

From the mid 1950s until today Scott County's population has increased by 50%, and more people means more services to the citizens. Consequently the county added an annex building which has been remodeled a couple of times, acquired a six story building called the Bicentennial Building which has been utilized by various offices over the years, and renovated the jail in 1980, something which hadn't been done since it's erection in 1897.

Scott County is currently in the midst of an ambitious eleven year renovation project which will eventually move all non-court related offices out of the courthouse into the nearby Bicentennial Building. A community pavilion addition is planned for the Bicentennial Building which will serve as a new boardroom for the Board of Supervisors and for use by public groups. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2011.


Shelby County

Date of Origin – 1853






Shelby County was established in 1851 and named after General Isaac Shelby.  General Shelby was famous for serving in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and becoming the first governor of the state of Kentucky.

The county originated in 1853.  The first court held in the county was in a farmhouse that doubled as a saloon and grocery.  This building was located at the first permanent settlement in the county, Galland’s Grove.

In 1857 there was a movement to construct the first county courthouse in Shelby County.  It was to be located at Shelbyville, but the proposition lost by three votes in a special election.  A second proposition limited to $3,000 was also defeated.

Following this there was a bitter county seat battle.  The towns involved were Shelbyville, Somida and Harlan.  On April 4, 1859 Harlan was declared the county seat of Shelby County -- by a majority of only nine votes.

Following two failing attempts by the county to build a courthouse, one was finally constructed in 1860.  The $2,500 brick courthouse was destroyed by a fire before it was completed.  The county then purchased a building that was being constructed as a “store” building.  The total purchase price was $5,000.  This building was used until 1876, when it was replaced by a frame structure at a cost of $4,250.

After two years of heated controversy over whether the county could afford a new courthouse, in 1892 the present courthouse was completed in the town square of Harlan.  The cornerstone laying ceremony was complete with a parade, bands, speeches and even a baseball game between the stonecutters and the brickmasons; it is not known who won the game.

The impressive looking building was built of stone and brick at a total cost of $62,733.90, including furnishings.  One significant feature noted was a private room and toilet room for ladies only adjoining the courtroom.  Later, in 1907, the local Woman’s Union asked the board of supervisors for another rest room in the basement.  The original courthouse contained a large tower, but by 1899 it was causing the building to settle, and thus the tower was removed.

In the December 16, 1903 board minutes a resolution was adopted to prohibit the use of the courthouse basement “as a resort for bootlegging and drinking whiskey.” 

In 1978, the Shelby County Courthouse was designated as a national historic site.  Around that time the courthouse interior was getting a $300,000 facelift.  All of this was funded with federal money.

Shelby County Courthouse (centennial booklet, 1992)


Sioux County

Date of Origin – 1860







Sioux County, located in the northwest corner of Iowa, was established in 1851 and formally organized on January 20, 1860.  Its name is in honor of the Sioux Indian tribe, which was once prosperous in the Iowa and Minnesota area.  The tribe was also known as the Dakota tribe.  Sioux means “Snakes” or “Little Snakes.”           

The county was established in 1846 and originated in 1853.  The first county seat of Sioux County was Calliope.  It was a small village, established in 1860 with no more than 15 residents, the entire population of the county at that time.

The first courthouse was built in Calliope in 1860.  It served the county until 1872 and was a one-and-one The name means either “People of the Yellow Earth” or “red bana-half story log cabin.  It contained portholes, like a fort, for protection from outlaws and Indians.  The building also served as living quarters for county officials and other residents.

As was previously mentioned, Calliope contained all the residents of the county, but in 1869 that all changed.  At this time there was a large increase of immigrants, mostly from the Netherlands, into the area.  The town of Orange City was laid out by Henry Hospers in the eastern part of the county, and the immigrants from the Netherlands flocked to the area.

It was not long before a rivalry developed between the two towns.  This rivalry became so heated that, on January 22, 1872, 55 bobsleds left Orange City bound for Calliope.  Along the way they met up with 25 more sleds from the Hull area.  When these raiders arrived at Calliope, they cut a hole in the log courthouse and removed the safe and all of the county records contained within.  They then hauled the 5,000-pound safe back to Orange City.

The safe and county records were later returned to Calliope with the agreement of both towns.  However, the county seat was officially removed to Orange City with an election held in November 1872. 

The old log cabin in Calliope was sold and county offices were scattered around Orange City for several years.  Then, with the help of a bond issue, the construction of a red and buff-colored sandstone building began in June 1902.  Construction was stalled when the construction company went bankrupt later that year.

The building was finally completed in October 1904.  There was a huge celebration containing bands, glee clubs, speeches and even fireworks.  M.P. Van Oosterhout of Orange City furnished two 1,400 pound. steers for the barbecue.

Lightning struck the courthouse tower in 1907, knocking off about four feet of the pinnacle, which broke many roof tiles.  A 10-foot bronze statue of “Lady Justice”  (Vrouwe Justitia), replaced the broken pinnacle.

From 1976-1982 extensive improvements were made to the courthouse and its facilities: a new roof, renovated courtroom, an elevator, the latest computer system, and new voting machines. In 1977, the Sioux County Courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The new Sioux County Human Services Building was completed in 1991.  The building was designed to complement and mirror the courthouse by using the same Romanesque Revival architecture.

The voters of Sioux County approved a $6,000,000 general obligation bond issue on October 16, 2001 to erect a new County Public Safety Center.  Construction of the new County Public Safety Center commenced during September, 2002.

Nieuwenhuis, Nelson G. , Siouxland, A Hist
ory of Sioux County, Iowa, Pluim, 1983
Denny Lange, Sioux County Auditor, 2002


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