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County History
Emmet County, Iowa

January 2011 marked the 160th birthday of Emmet County. The boundaries of the county were defined by an act of the Iowa Legislature and were approved on January 15, 1851 by the state governor, however, the county was not fully organized until 1859. Emmet County boundaries have stayed the same ever since its creation in 1851.

Emmet County was named after the famous Irish orator and patriot Robert Emmet. The county name was incorrectly spelled Emmett for a number of years.

Not a single white settler was living in Emmet County in 1851-1855. Indians, and probably a few itinerant trappers, traveled through the area during these years. It was not until June 1856 that six men took claims in the area of what is now Emmet township. Soon after, Robert E. Ridley and A. H. Ridley came from Maine, the Jenkins brothers (Adolphus, John and George) from New York, and the Graves family from Winneshiek County and settled on land near the future location of Estherville, the county seat. Estherville is named after Robert E. Ridley's wife, Esther, mother of the first white female born in the county.

Late in 1858 there were enough people in Emmet County to petition for an election of county officers. The election was held February 7, 1859. The 1860 census of Emmet County showed 105 inhabitants.

The first post office was established in 1856 and Adolphus Jenkins was appointed the first postmaster in 1860. The post office was located on the route between Mankato, Minnesota and Sioux City, Iowa.

A schoolhouse built in 1859 was used as a courthouse until a fire destroyed the dual purpose schoolhouse-courthouse and its contents in October 1876. Because records were lost in the fire there are no birth, death, or marriage records available prior to 1876. Churches in the county have baptismal, burial, and marriage records that start with the establishment of each of the denominations in the county. Many of these records are in fragile condition.

By popular vote in 1879 the county seat was briefly moved to the northwest shore of Swan Lake, a more centrally located site. There was hardly any settlement in this part of the county and no buildings to house county officials. After another vote in 1882 county officials returned to Estherville.

A new courthouse was built in Estherville in 1884 at the cost of $12,000. On April 2, 1918, a roof fire at the courthouse did little damage (Estherville Democrat, April 3, 1918).

In 1882 a long-awaited rail connection was made by the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad.

The first public library was established in 1882 and a Carnegie library was built in 1903.

Today, Emmet County is made up of 6 Towns and 12 Townships. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the 2010 population was 10,302.

Contributed by: Ruth Hackett.