IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items
updated 03/03/2018

"other history" Index

Allamakee county
County Seat / Courthouse

Allamakee co. courthouse & Baptist church, Waukon - undated
Old Allamakee co. courthouse, Waukon, Iowa
undated photo-postcard

~contributed by Gloria Payne

This building now houses a museum & the Allamakee county Historical Society.

As of Feb. 24, the old Allamakee county courthouse on Second Street in Lansing is a national historic building, having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. the building is one of a few courthouses in the Greek Revival style and served its original function from 1861 through 1867, at which time Lansing lost its county seat status. The building is presently an apartment building.

~unknown Allamakee County newspaper, hand-dated 1983
~contributed by Errin Wilker


Established: February 20, 1847
Organized: January 15, 1849
County Seat: Waukon

Some authorities state that Allamakee County (662 square miles) was named for Allen Magee or Allan Makee, an early Indian trader and trapper in northern Iowa, who was familiarly known to the Winnebago Indians and called in their guttural dialect, Al-ma-gee. Others say the name is purely of Indian origin. Each of these two theories has its supporters.

The first county seat, selected in January 1849, was in Jefferson Township, about one and on-half miles northwest of Rossville, at a place known as “The Old Stake.” However, the selection was considered useless as there were other points of greater importance already settled in Allamakee County.

In April 1851, the citizens of the county voted upon the location of the county seat. Vailsville (later known as Harper’s Ferry), Smith’s Mill, and Columbus (located on the river in Lansing Township, near the town of Lansing) were considered, but none received a majority of the vote. Another election was held in May 1851 at which Columbus received a majority of the votes and became the county seat. Since this was so near the town of Lansing, a rivalry developed between Columbus and Lansing. As a result, a new commission was appointed by the General Assembly in January 1853 to select a suitable site. Actually, the first courthouse in Allamakee County was a log house, built in 1852 near Waukon (commonly spelled Wawkon in the early days and named for a chief of the Winnebago Indians known to early settlers as John Wawkon, whose name means “Thunder” or “Spirit.)” This building was used for county purposes only that year, following which it was moved on into the town to serve as a blacksmith ship. Later, it was again moved to a farm, where it was used as a corn crib until finally demolished.

The newly-appointed commissioners selected the town of Waukon for the county seat and, at the elections of April 1853, the question of removal to that place was submitted to the people and carried by a large vote. The people of Columbus fought this selection in the courts, but were unsuccessful. The second courthouse at Waukon was then built in 1853. This small frame structure, costing $325, was used until 1857, when another frame building was added beside it, and these two buildings were used for country purposes until 1861, when the county seat was moved again. This old courthouse at Waukon was razed in 1913.

Meanwhile, in March 1856, various petitions were presented requesting removal of the county seat to Rossville, Whaley, and Topliff’s Mill, but Waukon won out.

The heated contest that developed between the towns of Waukon and Lansing as to the location of the county seat actually dated back to early 1859. Both towns offered to build on suitable lots and, as an inducement, present them to the county. Lansing offered to donate $8,000 and Waukon $5,000. Following an election in April 1859, a permanent courthouse was erected and completed in Waukon during the years 1860-1861, at a cost of $13,655 (contractors Charles W. Jenkins and John W. Pratt). Of this sum, $5,000 was contributed by citizens of Waukon, as promised.

Other hotly contested elections involving Columbus, Lansing, and Waukon followed with the result that the county seat was relocated at “The Point,” between Lansing and Capoli, in 1861, where a courthouse was erected in the same year. Built of stone and somewhat smaller than the building at Waukon, the $5,000 it cost was paid by citizens of Lansing and given to the county.

In 1862 and again in 1864, Waukon made an effort to regain the seat of justice. There followed an exciting attempt in June 1866 to remove county records and documents from The Point by a posse of 30 men from Waukon, but the “raid” failed, as Lansing recovered the stolen records. However, Lansing proved to be only a temporary choice as, in 1867, the county seat was returned to Waukon and the waiting courthouse. Early in the spring of 1869 the contest was reopened and “waxed warm,” but Waukon won out as it did again during another county seat election (number 10) in 1875—Waukon’s final triumph in securing and retaining the county seat, after a 25-year running battle.

The present courthouse, of modern design, was built in Waukon in 1940-1941. The old courthouse went unused from 1941 until 1964, after the new courthouse was built. On July 10, 1964, the Allamakee County Historical Society opened a museum in the old courthouse completed in 1861. The “architectural gem” contains a central hall with a distinguished double stairway and solid walnut railings. The former courtroom on the second floor is furnished with old law books, judge’s chair and bench, witness chair, and jury box.

A Civil War monument sits on an 11-foot-square concrete base at the southeast corner of the courthouse square. This statue of a soldier, standing and holding his musket, dates back to the 1920’s. The stately elms that formerly graced the courthouse fell victim to Dutch elm disease and had to be removed in the fall of 1975 and replaced with new trees.

~excerpt from: The Counties and Courthouses of Iowa; by LeRoy G. Pratt; copyright 1977; First Edition
~transcribed by Linda Ziemann

Allamakee county courthouse, undated

My Great-Great Grandmother, Caroline Reed Cooper put together a "Childhood Memories" photo album for her daughter, my Great Grandmother Virginia Elizabeth Cooper Lenz. This photo was in that album.

~contributed by Aubrie Lynn Lee

This building is still the Allamakee county courthouse.


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