By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
September marks the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Jones County Courthouse in Anamosa, the county seat. The dedication took place on Sept. 10, 1937. The history of an actual courthouse in Jones County dates back over 160 years ago.
The first county seat in Jones County was Edinburgh. The first courthouse consisted of a log cabin. The “house” was first occupied on Jan. 3, 1848. It was described as “of commodious size for the then small population,” according to a history of county seats by James E. Remley that appeared in the dedication booklet for the current county courthouse.
Seeking a new county seat, county commissioners named Newport and Dale’s Ford as options to be voted on by the public. Remley states that roughly 10 dozen votes were cast during the election for a new county seat, with Newport coming out on top. The first meeting of the county commissioners took place at the new seat on May 11, 1846.
After an election in 1847, five towns were voted upon as options for yet another county seat: Lexington (Anamosa), Newport, Rome (Olin), Monticello and Scotch Grove. This time, Edinburgh received no votes.
Two weeks later, another election was held between Newport and Lexington. Voters chose Lexington. News became official on June 11, 1847.
A plan to build a two-story courthouse was underway at a cost of $800. The 30-by-40-foot structure would have cost a lot more if it weren’t for the use of donated materials. The courthouse was opened on Jan. 3, 1848. Remley states in his county history, “It was far in advance of any county structure up to that time. And for the first time, Jones County had a courthouse that could boast of more than one room.”
After about 20 years, the building was in need of repair and maintenance, and the county offices were growing out of their space. The Board of Supervisors decided to move county offices to downtown Anamosa. Two brick buildings, located across the street from one another, known as Shaw’s Block, were used by the county for offices and courtroom space. They occupied the second floor of the buildings. A fire later destroyed the previous courthouse in February of 1875.
Around this time, some people in Jones County couldn’t rest with the fact that Anamosa had become the county seat. Within a six-year timeframe Center Junction, Madison, Jackson Township and Wyoming all tried to remove Anamosa as the seat. All attempts and votes failed.
On Oct. 4, 1920, the Supervisors passed a resolution officially naming Anamsoa the county seat and calling for a vote during the next General Election to appropriate $375,000 for a new county courthouse. It was stated that this courthouse would also serve as a memorial “to the men and women of Jones County who went into the service in the recent World’s War, and especially those who made the supreme sacrifice, that the new courthouse of Jones County be dedicated as a Memorial Courthouse, and the names of all who served from Jones County be inscribed in suitable name plates in a conspicuous place in the building.”
At an election on Sept. 10, 1935, voters cast 4,424 ballots, with 3,366 voting in favor of the erection of a new county courthouse. It was estimated to cost around $200,000. The Board of Supervisors issues warrants totaling $25,000 to cover the cost of furniture, furnishings and equipment.
On Aug. 21, 1937, the Supervisors formally accepted the new building as complete and formally adjourned their meeting in the old building and reconvened in the new courthouse.
Remley’s final comment concerning the new courthouse sums it up well: “The people of Jones County are justly proud of their new courthouse. It is a substantial, well planned, well built, comfortable building that compares very favorably with other courthouses in the State of Iowa.”
The dedication of the courthouse was held in Sept. of 1937. In an article that appeared in the Monticello Express on July 22, 1937 it stated, “This beautiful building, which is the finest in Jones County, will soon be ready of occupancy, and the citizens of the county are looking forward to its dedication with great interest.”
To honor the day of the dedication, many businesses and schools in Jones County closed early to allow all to attend the esteemed event in Anamosa. Schools sent classes to Anamosa to watch a historic moment for the county.
During the dedication, those who spoke included: Rev. A.L. Lorenz from the Scared Heart Church in Monticello gave the invocation. Music was provided by various school and municipal bands. Then-Governor Nelson Kraschel addressed the crowd. In an article from the Monticello Express dated Sept. 16, 1937, Gov. Kraschel was quoted as saying the Jones County Courthouse was “the finest building of its size in the state.”
Others who spoke during the dedication included: J.M. Parsons, a justice in the Iowa Supreme Court and former resident of Jones County; Judge Frederick Ellison, dean of the judges of the 18th judicial district; oldest practicing Jones County Attorney, Hon. J.W. Doxsee; and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, H.J. Mayberry.
Little known facts about the Jones County Courthouse:
• Throughout the years, the county courthouse has seen renovations and remodeling projects, most recently earlier this year. The second floor of the courthouse, housing the courtrooms and county attorney’s office, was transformed to expand the area for a larger magistrate courtroom, more functional attorney’s office and eliminate unnecessary space.
In 1997, the jail underwent a redesign. This was to continue its functionality and use according to modern jail standards.
The restrooms have since been modified for handicapped use.
• In 2003, the courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This recognized the courthouse as part of our nation’s heritage.
• The courthouse is one of 10 state courthouses built during the federal Public Works Administration (PWA) program’s operation in the 1930s. Jones County was the third PWA courthouse built in Iowa.
• The view of the courtroom on the second floor faces north, which is uncharacteristic of PWA-Era courthouses. This was done to give judges, jurors and witnesses a clear view of the Anamosa State Penitentiary north of the courthouse.
• Architects Dougher, Rich & Woodburn from Des Moines designed the courthouse. General contractor: C.C. Larsen & Sons Co. from Council Bluffs. Electric: Metcalf Electric Co. from Anamosa. Plumbing and heating: Carstens Brothers of Ackley. Materials and equipment came to Anamosa from all over the country: brick from Ohio, limestone from Indiana, plaster from Illinois, terrazzo from Nebraska, windows from New York, jail equipment from Missouri and lumber from Washington and Idaho.
• More than thirty different trades were represented in this project. Pay ranged from 40 cents an hour to $1.35 an hour.
• The courthouse’s cornerstone was laid at a ceremony on Aug. 9, 1936.
• Nearly 6,000 people attended the dedication ceremony on Sept. 10, 1937.
PHOTOS: Top: September marks the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Jones County Courthouse in Anamosa. Many changes have been made to the courthouse since 1937. (Photo by Kim Brooks) Bottom: This photo was given to the Jones County Courthouse of several men preparing to lay the cornerstone of the current courthouse. A ceremony was held on Aug. 9, 1936. The men in the photo were not identified. (Photo courtesy of the Jones Co. Courthouse)