The cornerstone of the Shelby County Courthouse was laid in August 1892, officially kicking off the $63,000 construction project in downtown Harlan, Iowa. A 20-foot-tall was originally present in the center of the courthouse, which was officially dedicated in 1893. Following the removal of the tower in 1899, the courthouse remained largely unchanged for nearly 80 years. In 1978, an elevator was installed as part of a major interior renovation. The courthouse is one of 40 in Iowa built before 1900.