Built at a cost of $320,000, the present-day Mills County Courthouse was officially dedicated on August 29, 1959. The modern building replaced an aging brick courthouse that served the county for the previous 100 years. The prior courthouse served as the home of the county’s first newspaper and as a temporary barracks for Civil War troops in 1961. Located in southwestern Iowa, Mills County has a population of 14,547.
While Dakota City has only one-fifth the population of adjacent Humboldt, it has retained its status as county seat since Humboldt County was established in June 1857. As the adjacent town of Humboldt (then called Springvale) grew, several challenges were made to Dakota City’s status as county seat, and a proposal in 1872 to combine the communities and build a new courthouse building failed. A red brick courthouse was ultimately constructed in Dakota City in 1873, though the county seat location remained a controversial topic.
As businesses and churches relocated from Dakota City to Humboldt, the residents of Humboldt grew emboldened in their beliefs the county seat should be relocated. Humboldt resident T.W. Rogers argued in 1910 that “Dakota City had no sewerage, fire protection or police… there is no lawyer, doctor, bank, large store or any business enterprises.” He highlighted the lack of a restaurant or hotel, noting out-of-towners with courthouse business had to stay in Humboldt and walk to Dakota City.
In 1918, a vote to merge the towns failed, with Dakota City residents voting 56 to 45 to stay separated. In 1923, a proposal to replace the dilapidated courthouse in Dakota City was met with strong opposition from Humboldt residents. In 1936, the Works Projects Administration stepped in and helped the citizens of Humboldt County with $185,000 for use in construction of a new courthouse. A bond issue to add $95,000 to the WPA contribution passed easily, and the current (pictured) courthouse was ready for occupancy in 1939. The courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Tragedy struck the Page County seat of Clarinda on December 11, 1991, when a fire caused considerable damage to the 1885 courthouse. The fire caused county government to move to temporary headquarters in a former department store building while next steps were determined. In August 1992, county residents overwhelmingly passed an $875,000 bond issue to rebuild and restore the historic building, while an additional $175,000 was raised privately to replace the clock tower. Work begun in January 1993 and county offices were officially moved back to the Courthouse by March 1994.
Built between 1890 and 1893 at a cost of $74,000, the Jefferson County Courthouse sits a block north of the square in downtown Fairfield, Iowa. The courthouse, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, is constructed of Cleveland gray sandstone and red brick.
Like many courthouses in the state, changes to the building have centered around the clock tour. In 1948, a violent wind storm damaged the 36-foot steeple on the clock tower, and county supervisors voted to remove the steeple to save the expense required for repairs. Lifelong Fairfield resident Lee Gobble successfully renewed an effort to restore the steeple, which has now been a part of the clock tower since 2004.
Built in 1877 at a cost of $45,201, the Davis County courthouse is an outstanding example of Second Empire architecture with its distinctive mansard roof and dormer windows. The structure measures approximately 97 x 87 feet with walls made of red brick covered by a sandstone veneer. The design was the work of architect T.J. Tolan of Indiana, considered at the time to be the most successful in this style of courthouse.
In continuous use since its construction, the large courtroom seats nearly 300 people on the original walnut chairs and benches. The basement still contains the cells that were the county and city jails until 1973. A fence was originally constructed around the courtyard square of the same type that still surrounds the jailhouse windows. The courthouse has grown to become a familiar symbol of Davis County and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Text from the historical marker in the Davis County courthouse lawn.