December 7, 1836
County Seat: Mount
to most sources, Henry
County (440 square miles) was named
for Henry Dodge (1782-1867), who served in the Black Hawk War and other Indian
wars and governor of Wisconsin
Territory (1836-1841); others credit
the county’s name to General James Dougherty Henry (1797-1834), a hero of the
Black Hawk War.
first white man to settle on land embraced within the limits of Henry County was
James Dawson, whose claim was one and one-half miles west of where Mount
Pleasant is now located. This was in the spring of 1834.
In the fall of 1834, Presley Saunders came from Springfield,
Illinois, and selected a building site near a
spring on wooded land which today comprises part of
Park in Mount
claim was bout 30 miles northwest of
continued pushing up the valley of the Skunk River
in increasing numbers and, in the summer of 1836, the town of Mount
Pleasant was first surveyed and town lots were staked
out for sale. An official
government survey was made in April 1837, and on January
25, 1842, the town was first incorporated when the Iowa Territorial
Legislature granted it a charter.
the meantime, the First Legislative Assembly of Wisconsin Territory had
recognized the need for more convenient areas of local government by dividing Demoine
County, on December 7, 1836, into seven new counties, one of
which was called Henry
The present county seat,
Mount Pleasant, was favored from the
first as the most acceptable place for the county government because of its size
and central location. However,
Mount Pleasant was not permanently
selected without opposition from the rival communities of Millspaugh’s
Trenton, and Paton
Wilson’s location near Oakland Mills. Even
though Mount Pleasant had been
designated the county seat by the Legislature of the Territory
Wisconsin, there were proposals to
repeal the Act and name a place on the “navigable” Skunk River.
But these proposals were unsuccessful and the county seat was not
citizens of Mount Pleasant, then a town of over 100 inhabitants, proposed that a
courthouse be erected in the center of the public square and at the second
scheduled meeting of the county commissioners on Monday, February 13, 1837, an
order was issued to raise money for a “Suitable house for County purposes”
that would be “Respecable (sic) in size &
quality.” The order to receive
sealed bids for the work was rescinded, however.
first district court in Henry
County was held on April 14, 1837, in a log cabin on the
west side of the public square. A
bill presented for payment by the owner of the house, Tillman Smith, was
disapproved by the commissioners.
June 24, 1837, it was decided “to Let the Building of the Court House…30
feet Long By 18 feet wide, ten feet high between the Joice
the same to be completed with sleepers and Joice
Door and Window frames and to be delivered to the Supervisors on or before the
first day of September next,” and the work to be done “in workmen like
manner.” This plan, which called
for erecting the courthouse on the east side of the public square, did not meet
with public favor and, for the time being, nothing further was done.
for a courthouse continued, however, but county officials refused to take
action. A citizens committee was
then formed in the spring of 1838 to proceed with plans for a courthouse.
Instead of a cheap, one-story frame structure, they proposed to erect a
brick building, 24 feet square and two stories high.
Brick and lumber were delivered to the public square and work on the
first permanent courthouse began in 1839, but progress lagged.
much controversy and delays in the construction, this two-story brick building
was finally completed in 1840, in the center of the square.
The cost is estimated to have been between $3,000 and $4,000 – the
first brick or stone courthouse to be built in Iowa.
A cupola, which was in the original plans, was never built.
It would appear that the courthouse was constructed and paid for without
a bond issue or special tax levy. Funds
came from subscriptions, notes, and the sale of lots.
At the time of its completion, the building was considered “the finest
and largest courthouse in the Territory
This courthouse served its purpose “right well,” but the one-time
“handsome building” with its grand staircase, which was once “a matter of
county pride,” was eventually demolished in 1871.
A bronze tablet on a red granite boulder, erected by the James Harlan
Chapter of the DAR, marks the site of this first courthouse, built in 1839 in
the center of the town square.
second courthouse for Henry
County was the remodeled “Hill
Hall,” located on the extreme northwest corner of the Courthouse Block.
The county jail was on the same block.
This courthouse was used from 1870 until 1914, when it was replaced and
put up for sale.
to the Mount Pleasant
News of Wednesday, August
12, 1914, there was little interest in the public sale of the old
courthouse on the preceding Saturday. Only
three men bid on the building, which brought $247.50, although, as the paper
pointed out, “it is seldom that a man had the opportunity to own a court house
all to himself.”
Everything was sold and, before that night, had been carried from the
site – “a clean sweep.” The
“big heating plant went for a song” ($100), and was installed in a local
greenhouse. All pipes in the
courthouse were sold for $15, and the radiators were “sold for the ridiculous
sum of $25.” However, “the
desks and chairs and stuff of that kind went high, considering their condition.
As a matter of fact, all of the best stuff had been taken into the new
court house or out to the
Infirmary or sold at private
was being “pushed with rapidity” on the demolition of the old courthouse,
but farmers were divided over the questions of finishing up the new building
program. “One man insisted that
the old court house was as good as the new one, which shows that the fight
against the new one has not died out.”
was trouble with the contractor (English Bros. of Champaign, Illinois) for the
new courthouse, particularly in regard to the plastering.
One of the inspectors stated that “in his opinion the workmanship was
the first class, but that the cold weather was at the bottom of the trouble.”
In any event, the cost of the necessary repairs was estimated to be as
little as $20 and not more than $100. Ant
“it was pretty evident” that the board of supervisors and the advisory
committee “were not looking for a law suit.”
The controversy ended when the board unanimously adopted a resolution of
acceptance, and payment for construction of the new courthouse was made to the
contractor, who went home on August
5, 1914, “with a draft for every dollar due him on the building.”
The new courthouse then became the property of the citizens of Henry
County, and it was reported that
everybody was satisfied. This
present courthouse was dedicated in 1914.
taken from the pages of:
The Counties and Courthouse of Iowa,
by LeRoy G. Pratt
Transcribed by Lin Ziemann