Franklin County Courthouse History

Early Courthouses

There have been three courthouses in Franklin County.

The first was located on the south east corner of the present square. It was a one-room frame building 18' x 30' built in the summer of 1857 by F. A. Denton. Dr. Mitchell was the contractor; the lumber was cut in Mayne's Grove and sawed in his steam mills at Maysville. The contract price of this building was $720.00. Dedication was on the 4th of July and the town was full of settlers; they came by foot, horseback, and open oxen drawn wagons.

This was an all-purpose center of activities. A place for judge, jury, lawyer, a place to seek wedding license, religious and political meetings, entertainment and even dances were held. The first meeting held within its walls convened May 10, 1858, the Hon. J.D. Thompson of Eldora, presiding. It was a heavy term as all the suits that had accumulated for a year or two came up for trial. In 1866, it was moved to a lot on Main Street, used as a dwelling, then moved to the end of Reeve Street for a stable.

The second courthouse was built in Hampton in 1866 at its present location. It was a two story limestone building 48'x 70' constructed at a cost of $12,500.00. Records were moved to the new grout and stone school while the building was under construction. The building was enclosed by a board fence. When it was 23 years old, it was condemned "by reason of decrepitude and indications of falling down".

Current Courthouse

The third courthouse began in the spring of 1890 and was completed in 1891. A building of "harmonious proportions, pleasing architectural lines and substantial construction". The bond issue for this building was $42,000.00, approved by the voters in November, 1889. The actual cost was $60,000.00. It measures 76' x 102' on the ground and 133' to the top of the dome. The material is pressed brick, with cut and carved stone trimmings from Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, and a slate roof.

The courthouse Tower Clock was installed at the same time and was donated by the graduating class of 1892. The clock and chime were operated by two great weights and were wound by hand cranking until the late 1930's or early 1940's when the clock caretaker devised a cream separator motor to do the winding. It was purchased from Meneely Bell Company out of Troy, New York. The bell itself weighs 1,500 pounds and is forty-two inches in diameter. The clock works were replaced in 1946 with a combination of electricity and weights. If the power goes off, the weight unit, at the east end of the rotunda, will keep the clock in operation for up to eight days. At the time the clock was installed, the original clock works were sold; however, the buyer found the size and weight of the clock, about the size and weight of a tractor, impossible to move, and they were removed at the time of the renovation.

The expanding duties of local government outgrew the existing room, and like all older buildings, the courthouse was showing signs of wear. In 1972 or 1973, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors appointed a committee composed of members from all parts of the county to study and make recommendations concerning the alternatives of restoration or replacement. A public meeting was held in the Franklin County Courtroom, and a strong statement for restoration and remodeling was made by the standing-room only crowd of Franklin Countians present. The public voted in 1973 by an overwhelming 74% yes vote to issue bonds for the restoration and remodeling project. The reconstruction project was started in 1975 and completed in 1976. The Courthouse was rededicated on July 31, 1976. The project was paid for by Revenue Sharing Funds and general obligations bonds. The cost was about $1,025,000.

Since the original project, the structure has been carefully maintained. Great care has been taken to make any changes in the same style as the original construction. It looks like the same courthouse from the outside that has stood since 1890, with the exception of a new roof, new windows and new doors. The entire interior was renovated. When first built, the basement was wooden boards directly over black dirt. New concrete floor was poured, new offices and restrooms were constructed.

The entire main floor was kept almost historically intact. The rotunda still has its original floor of Italian marble called "Isle La Motte". The original fireplaces in the four corner offices were preserved (though not functional), and the original woodwork and colonnades remain. The chandelier was new at the time of reconstruction in the early 1970's though the original Courthouse chandelier is housed at the Franklin County Historical Museum.

The third level was a large courtroom. The former courtroom height was from the 2nd floor to the ceiling of the 3rd floor. The ceiling was lowered so the courtroom fills only one tenth of its original air space. Now it fills about a third of its original floor space. There is an entirely new floor built by reducing the height of the courtroom. This made a new fourth level possible. The original wood beams were preserved and glass used in wall construction to highlight them. In the hallway outside of the Magistrate's court there is a stained glass window with the Iowa Motto "OUR LIBERTY WE PRIZE, AND OUR RIGHTS WE WILL MAINTAIN." This window was restored in the remodeling project. Pictures on the east wall are of the deceased members of the Franklin County Bar Association. Inside the main courtroom pictures of the current District Court Judges from Franklin County hang on the north wall and deceased judges are on the east wall. Note, Judge Evans and Judge Uhlenhopp later served as Justices on the Iowa Supreme Court.

Note, the European Larch tree at the north entrance to the court house. This was planted in 1876 to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence a century before.


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