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Grundy County celebrates national county government month

First in a Series

April 5, 2015
Reinbeck Courier

The Grundy County Board of Supervisors has proclaimed April 2015 as National County Government Month. National County Government Month is an annual celebration of county government. The theme for this year's celebration is Counties Moving America Forward: The Keys are Transportation and Infrastructure. In recognition of this celebration, it is appropriate to take a look back to review the beginnings of Grundy County.

One of the best land deals in American history was called the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While the French wanted the then-hefty sum of $15 million for the Louisiana territory, President Monroe paid it gladly and the United States gained all or portions of 13 middle-west states, including Iowa. Eventually, the Louisiana territory would be one of the country's leading producers of food, fiber and energy.

It was a long time after the purchase before the government did anything to start development of the territory. It wasn't until 1846 that Iowa was admitted to the Union. Even then, nothing more was done with Grundy County until January 15, 1851, when the Third General Assembly established for the first time 50 "paper counties" which included Grundy County. Grundy County was named for Felix Grundy, a prominent citizen of Tennessee. He was a statesman, distinguished lawmaker, cabinet member, friend of presidents, and was considered one of the greatest criminal lawyers of his time. However, Felix Grundy never had the privilege to visit the new county which was named after him.

Initially, Grundy County was attached to Buchanan and later Black Hawk, Bremer, and Butler Counties for judicial, elective and revenue purposes. Grundy County's pioneers wanted a county government of their own, and on March 2, 1855, Grundy County's first precinct was organized. Following an election on May 5, 1856, Grundy County was organized into a municipal corporation, independent for the first time of any other county and divided into only two townships, Grundy and Palermo. Over time, the county was divided into the present 14 townships.

The first Grundy County courthouse was a two-story wooden building in the shape of an octagon and was nicknamed the "cheese box" because it resembled a giant cheese box. The Board of Supervisors held its first meeting in the building on January 7, 1861. The court room in the courthouse was also used for church services during the 1860s.

At a special election on February 24, 1891, Grundy County voters approved building a new courthouse. The Grundy County Board of Supervisors pledged not to exceed $40,000 for the building. Bids were received on June 4, 1891, and the Supervisors awarded the contract to Seeley, Son & Co. of Fremont, Nebraska, for $36,990. The balance of the $40,000 was reserved for furnishings, frescoes and heating equipment.

The corner stone for the present Grundy County courthouse was laid on November 11, 1891. The basement walls of the structure are made of limestone from Stone City, Iowa; the upper walls are made from blue Amherst sandstone from Cleveland, Ohio; and the steps are made from a harder stone from Keosota, Minnesota. Sidewalks were put in around the courthouse square and to the main and back entrances in June 1898 at a cost of 11 cents per square foot. The clock was installed in the tower in 1900 to add the finishing touch to the courthouse.

In addition to the original contract for the construction of the current courthouse, there were extra costs for labor and materials used which were ordered by the building committee in the amount of $807.60 and four vault doors purchased at a cost of $320.90. Kramer & Zoll, architects, were paid $1,232.00 for plans and specifications as well as on-site inspections. The cost of building heating plants and radiators was $2,753.47. Steel furniture and shelves for the vaults cost $190, and wooden furniture for offices and the courtroom together with counters were purchased for $1,000. Electric wiring was done for $1,315.50. The total cost for building and furnishing the courthouse was just over $45,000.

Seeley ran in to a few problems when building the courthouse. The first was when he tried to sink a well on the courthouse square. Only 30 feet down, he struck rock, and so Seeley had to haul the necessary water for mortar. The railroad could not provide cars for more than an initial shipment of materials. Seeley ordered 500,000 bricks from a new brickyard west of Grundy Center so masons could begin work. It was not until May 22, 1893, that the supervisors received the key from the contractor.

On July 4, 1893, an informal open house was held. At first, the county officials were kept busy just visiting with all the people who came to see the finest courthouse in the state. Even though Seeley realized early in the construction process that he would not make money on the project, he continued to use the best materials and to seek out the most competent workmen. By the time of completion, Seeley had lost thousands of dollars.

The Grundy County courthouse was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on July 2, 1981. The building houses many offices, including the County Assessor, County Auditor, County Recorder, County Treasurer, IT/GIS Department, Zoning Department and Environmental Health Office, Driver's License Office, custodian's office and Clerk of Court and judicial offices and courtroom.



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