History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter V: Public Buildings, Etc.

No Public Buildings When Marion County Was Organized - The First Courthouse - Its Cost and Location -
The Second Courthouse - Condemned as Unsafe in 1895 - Present Courthouse - Bonds Voted to Build It -
Completed in 1896 - The Jail - The County Farm - Home for the Aged - The Inebriate Hospital

When Marion County was organized in 1845 the first settlement within its limits was only about two years old. The population did not exceed 1,500, none of whom paid taxes on any considerable amount of property. Consequently the county was without any public revenue with which to provide suitable quarters for the various county officers. Donnel relates that when the county commissioners, in the spring of 1846, ordered a quire of foolscap paper, a bundle of quills and a bottle of ink from Oskaloosa, they were required to become personally responsible for the debt before the goods would be sent. The first meeting of the county commissioners and the first session of the district court were held in the dwelling of L. C. Conrey. For some time after the organization of the county the several officials kept their records and performed their work at their residences or boarding houses.

Notwithstanding the financial condition of the county, the board of commissioners saw that it was absolutely essential that some place be provided for the transaction of the public business, and in January, 1846, authorized the clerk of the board to advertise for proposals for the erection of a frame building “24 by 30 feet square, two stories high, to be completed on or before the 20th day of May next.” The records for January 29, 1846, contain the following entry:

“The court having met for the purpose of opening the bids for building the courthouse, proceeded to open the bids, and upon comparing the bids received it was found that the bid made by Lewis M. Pierce was $100 less than any other bid received; whereupon it was ordered by the board that the bid of Lewis M. Pierce be accepted and that the building of the courthouse be let to said Pierce at his bid, four hundred and fifty (450) dollars, and that he be required to enter into bond with security to be approved by the court in the penal sum of nine hundred (900) dollars, conditioned upon the faithful performance of his contract.”

Mr. Pierce’s bid included only the carpenter work, and, all things considered, it was remarkably low. At that time there were no sawmills anywhere near Knoxville and the lumber had to be hauled a long distance. The timbers for the frame work had to be hewed from the forest and conveyed to the site of the building. The hewing was done by Jeremiah Gullion and the broad-ax he used is still in the possession of Austin A. Davis, who lives near Attica, in Liberty Township.

It seems that Mr. Pierce took Noah Bonebrake into partnership and that the time for the completion of the building was extended, as on August 25, 1846, it was “Ordered that Lewis M. Pierce and Noah Bonebrake be allowed the sum of four hundred and fifty (450) dollars out of the town lot fund for building the courthouse according to contract.”

On October 7, 1846, the contract for plastering the court-house was awarded to James H. Parks for $195, and the next day the board allowed Lysander W. Babbitt $23 for setting the studding, etc., for cutting off a room 12 by 18 feet in the southeast corner of the structure. These additional allowances brought the cost of the first courthouse up to $668, and there were some other expenses connected with the erection of the building that made the total cost about seven hundred dollars.

The courthouse erected by Pierce & Bonebrake was located opposite the northwest corner of the public square, on the lot occupied in 1914 by the Marion County National Bank. It remained in use as the courthouse for about twelve years, when it was superseded by a new building. After that it was occupied by various businesses, the upper story having been used for some time as the publication office of the Marion County Democrat. Even while it was used as a courthouse, school was taught and religious services were frequently held within its walls. In June, 1864, it was sold to A. B. Miller for $928, who divided the lower story into two business rooms, one of which was occupied by B.F. Williams as a marble-cutting establishment, and the other by Rufus Eldredge, a dealer in produce. The upper story was occupied as a dwelling until the building was finally torn down.


There was a large immigration to the states west of the Mississippi during the years 1855 and 1856 and quite a number of the immigrants located in Marion County. Money became more plentiful than during the early years of the county’s history, lands and lots sold for better prices, and on every hand were to be seen evidences of prosperity. Under these conditions many of the people grew dissatisfied with the old frame courthouse, because it did not properly represent the wealth and importance of the county. The old board of county supervisors had been abolished by law, and the responsibility for the erection of a new courthouse fell upon F. M. Frush, at that time county judge. As there was no law making it his duty to call a special election to submit the proposition to the people, he assumed the responsibility and early in the year 1856 employed D. H. Young as an architect to make plans and specifications for a new courthouse. The records of Judge Frush’s court for September 16, 1856, contain the following entry:

Now, in the matter of erection of courthouse in the city of Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa, for the use of said county, the following proceedings among others have been had: From the manifest necessity of a better house and also from a recommendation of the grand jury, it became obviously necessary as well as expedient to make arrangements for the erection of said courthouse at as early a date as the best policy would warrant; therefore, in accordance with the duties imparted and the rights and privileges conferred upon the several county judges, within their respective counties in the state by chapter XV of the Code of the State of Iowa, F. M. Frush, county judge of said county, caused notice to be given in the three newspapers of said county to the effect that proposals would be received up to the 16th day of August, 1856, at the office of the county judge of said county for the erection of a courthouse in Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa; to be of brick, built two stories high upon stone foundation, and to be 48 by 70 feet in dimensions. Said notice was dated July 16, 1856. Subsequently, on account of giving more ample time to prepare specifications and design for the house, the time for the reception of proposals was prolonged till 4 o’clock P. M. of the 10th day of September, 1856. Of this extension of time notice was also caused to be given by the said county judge, which notice was published in the public newspapers of the county.

And at the expiration of the time for the reception of proposals, there were found to be eight sealed proposals for said work; where upon they were opened by the said county judge in the presence of J. B. Hamilton, clerk of the District Court of Marion County, Iowa, and in the presence of A. B. Miller, former clerk of said court, and were found to be as follows:

James H. Parks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $27,000.00
Lee & Kennedy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24,977.00
John W. Jones. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23,300.00
Hashett & Hamilton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20, 978.00
Metz & Stambaugh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19,800.00
John Henderson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17,975.00
Dyer & Woodruff. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17,789.00
Wisner. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17,631.00

No one of the foregoing proposals being yet accepted, it was proposed by the county judge to Lewis Dyer and S. W. Woodruff that they take the contract of the building at $17, 500, to be paid in such payments as were named in the specifications, which terms were: one-fourth as nearly in advance as was required in procuring material and labor; one-fourth on or before the 1st day of April, 1857; one-fourth on or before the 1st day of April, 1857; one-fourth on or before the 1st day of April, 1858; and one-fourth against the 1st day of April, 1859.

Said proposal being accepted by the said Dyer and Woodruff, on the 15th day of September, 1856, they produced a bond payable tot he said county in the penal sum of $35,000, which bond was signed by several persons as security, and said bond was approved by said county judge and placed on file. An article of agreement was entered into by and between F. M. Frush, county judge, of the one part, and Lewis Dyer and S. W. Woodruff of the other part, conditioned that the said Dyer and Woodruff furnish the material and fully complete the house according to the specifications made by D. H. Young, architect, which specifications were made a part of the contract, which contract is more fully set forth by reference to said specifications. The building is to be enclosed and the lower story in a suitable condition to be used for offices on the 1st day of November, 1857, and the whole building is to be completed on or before the 1st day of July 1858.

The courthouse erected by Dyer & Woodruff stood in the center of the public square. A hall about ten feet in width ran the entire length of the building on the first floor and on each side of this hall were various county offices, each of which was provided with a fireproof vault for the preservation of the public records. Upon the second floor was the court room, well lighted and well ventilated, with a seating capacity for about four hundred people. It was completed within the time specified, but some changes were made in the plans which increased the total cost to about twenty thousand dollars.


At the time the courthouse was completed in 1858 it was regarded as one of the best appointed in the state. It served the county for nearly forty years, but on March 26, 1895, the board of county supervisors - then composed of L. van der Linden, A. A. Davis and Harry Horsman - met in special session “for the purpose of inspecting the courthouse, it being reported in a dangerous condition,” etc.

The board appointed C. C. Cross, an architect, to examine the building. He reported it in an unsafe condition and unfit to be repaired. Not fully satisfied with Mr. Cross’ report, the board then engaged O. O. Smith, another architect, to make an examination and submit a more detailed report. Mr. Smith found that the walls were spreading, the room in the south end of the building used as the sheriff’s office being especially in a dangerous condition. Upon receiving this report, the board condemned the building, secured temporary quarters for the several county officers, issued orders that no one should be allowed inside the public square on account of the dangerous condition of the courthouse, and directed that notices to this effect be posted at each gate.

In vacating the old building the treasurer’s office was located in a room immediately north of the Marion County National Bank; the auditor, clerk, recorder and sheriff were quartered in temporary offices over the stores of S. L. Collins and Johnston & Son, on the south side of the public square, where the business was transacted during the erection of a new courthouse.

At the regular session of the board of supervisors on April 6, 1895, Mr. Davis offered the following preamble and resolution, which were seconded by Mr. Horsman and unanimously adopted by the board:

“Whereas, The present courthouse in Marion County, Iowa, is wholly inadequate for the transaction of public business for the present population of the county; and

“Whereas, The condition of the building is such that the records of the county which have accumulated since the organization of the county cannot be kept safely therein; and

“Whereas, The present courthouse heretofore used by the county has been duly condemned by competent architects and pronounced wholly unsafe and unsuitable for occupancy on account of its dangerous and unsafe condition; and

“Whereas, A petition has this day been presented to the board of supervisors of Marion County, Iowa, signed by a large number of the citizens and voters of said county, praying for the submission to the voters and taxpayers of said county at a special election to be held on the 14th day of May, 1895, of the question of the erection of a new courthouse at Knoxville in said county at a cost not to exceed $80,000, and the issuing of the bonds of the said county for the erection of said courthouse for said sum bearing interest not exceeding the rate of six percent, payable semi-annually, redeemable at any time after five years, at the pleasure of the county, and payable on or before ten years after the date thereof, now, therefore, be it

“Resolved by the board of supervisors of Marion County, Iowa, in regular session assembled, that there be submitted to the voters of this county, to be voted upon by them at a special election to be held on the 14th day of May, A. D. 1895, the question of the erection of a courthouse at Knoxville, in Marion County, Iowa, at a cost of not to exceed eighty thousand dollars ($80,000), no part of which is to be used for any other purpose than the building of such new courthouse; and the issuing of bonds to pay for the same, bearing interest at not exceeding six per cent per annum, payable semi-annually, said bonds to be redeemable at the pleasure of the county at any time after five years and payable on or before ten years after the date thereof; and the levying of a tax to pay and redeem the said bonds with all interest thereon, and that the legal voters shall have written or printed on their tickets, ‘For the erection of a new courthouse,’ or ‘Against the erection of a new courthouse;’ and if a majority of all the votes cast at said election on said question shall be in favor of the erection of a new courthouse, then the board of supervisors of Marion County shall be authorized to contract for the erection of a new courthouse at Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa, on the site now occupied by the old courthouse, or on some other suitable site satisfactory to the board of supervisors free form any cost or expense tot he county, at an expense not to exceed $80,000, no part of which shall be used for any other purpose than the building of said new courthouse; and also to issue bonds to raise the money for the erection of such new courthouse, bearing semi-annual interest from date at as low a rate as they can be disposed of at par or above par, not to exceed six per cent per annum, said bonds to be redeemable at any time after five years and payable on or before ten years for their date; and also to levy a special tax in addition tot he usual or general tax annually levied upon the taxable property within Marion County for the year 1896, of not more than two mills on the dollar of such year’s valuation until the whole of said bonds, principal and interest, shall have been fully paid and redeemed. And that this resolution to submit the foregoing to a vote of the people of Marion County shall be published for four consecutive weeks in the Knoxville Journal, Knoxville Express, Knoxville Educator, Pella Herald, Pella’s Weekblad, Pella Advertiser, Bussey Banner, Pleasantville News, Marysville Independent and the Marion County Reporter, newspapers of general circulation printed and published within the county; and the county auditor is hereby instructed to prepare and cause to be posted up at each place of voting during the day of said election, in said county, a copy of this resolution containing the question hereby submitted tot he voters of said county.”

The clause in the resolution relating to the location of the new courthouse caused some adverse comment on account of its indefiniteness, and on April 26, 1895, the board met in special session and adopted a resolution declaring that the new building should be erected upon the public square. At the same session election boards were appointed in the several voting precincts of the county for the special election.

At the election the proposition to build a new courthouse and issue bonds in the amount of $80,000 to pay therefore was carried by a vote of 2,175 to 1,817 - a majority of 358 - and on June 22, 1895, the board ordered its chairman, L. van der Linden, and J. D. Gamble, county attorney, “to proceed to do the necessary advertising in reference to procuring the submission of plans and specifications for the new courthouse,” and certain other matters connected therewith. The plans and specifications submitted by M. E. Bell, an architect of Chicago, were adopted and bids for the erection of the building were advertised for, according to law. It was provided by the resolution of April 6, 1895, that the cost of the building should no exceed $80,000, and when the bids were opened all were found to be above that figure. Consequently, the board of supervisors, on October 7, 1895, took the following action:

“Whereas, Charles A. Moses was the lowest bidder for the building of the new courthouse at Knoxville, Iowa; and

“Whereas, After due deliberation it was found impractical to accept or adopt the original bid of said Moses for the construction of said house; and

“Whereas, The said Moses has this day submitted to the board of supervisors of Marion County, Iowa, the following proposition or bid, to-wit:

To the Board of Supervisors of Marion County, Iowa:

“Gentlemen: - I hereby propose to construct the new courthouse for Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa, in full accordance with the plans and specifications prepared by M. E. Bell, architect, of Chicago, Illinois, out of No. 1 Berea (Ohio) sandstone for the sum of $76,991, the following changes to be made from the original plans and specifications, viz: 1. Omit gallery in court-room. 2. Omit tower balcony on the exterior. 3. Omit twenty-one water-closets, twenty basins and three urinals. 4. Substitute marbleized cement for wainscoting in all corridors in the die course. 5. Omit one line of sewerage for wash basins. 6. Omit tile floor in court room and substitute hard maple. 7. Change all surface to rock-face work. Time of completion, one year from date.
“’J. D. Gamble.
“’W. A. Clark.’

Therefore, Resolved by the board of supervisors of Marion County, Iowa, that said offer be accepted and that contract for the erection and construction of said building, so modified as above stated in said offer, be let to and made with the said Charles A. Moses, and that he be required to execute a bond as provided in the printed instructions to bidders, signed by the chairman of said board and the county attorney of said county.

The next day the board ordered the issue of county bonds to the amount of $80,000, and Mr. Moses immediately began work on the new courthouse. Early in the year 1896 arrangements were made with the Masonic fraternity to lay the corner-stone. A stone was prepared by the contractor, under the direction of the county attorney, with appropriate inscriptions showing when and by whom the stone was laid. It seems there was some objection to this plan, and on February 25, 1896, the board adopted the following resolution:

That the board will lay the corner-stone of the new courthouse on March 3, 1896, and that they deposit the following named articles therein: One Bible, one copy of each newspaper published in the county; and that each church organization and each secret charitable society organization be invited to place in the hands of the members of the aforesaid board copies of their by-laws and constitutions to be deposited in said stone; also that there be a list of the names of all county and township officers, naming their respective offices, deposited therein, and that all banking institutions of the county be invited to deposit a list of the names of their officers and a list showing the amount of capital invested, if they so desire; and that the Masonic names, figures and inscriptions be erased and in lieu thereof ‘A. D. 1896’ be cut in large letters and figures.

The courthouse was completed and accepted by the board on December 30, 1896. It is a substantial stone edifice, three stories in height, surmounted by a tower in which is a large clock that strikes the hours upon a bell that can be heard all over the city. The first and second floors are devoted tot he county offices and the third floor is fitted up for court and jury rooms, etc.


For many years after Marion County was organized no attempts were made on the part of the county authorities to build a county jail. Perhaps the oldest entry in the county records relating to the subject of a jail is that of December 31, 1857, to-wit:

“Now on this day is taken up the matter of payment for building a house to be used as a county jail, for the use of Marion County in the State of Iowa; and whereas

“E. G. Stanfield, mayor, and C. G. Brobst, recorder, of the city of Knoxville, in said county, having constructed on the east end of the middle one-third of lot No. 3, in block No. 1, in said city, a house or place suitable for a house of imprisonment, and having conveyed to said county the right and use of said house of imprisonment for the use and benefit of said county for the term of two years from the 1st day of September, 1857, with an understanding that the county aforesaid is to have a perpetual right to the house and the right to use the same on the above described premises for the term of two years from the 1st day of September, 1857, with the understanding on the part of said county that it is to be the place of imprisonment, or the county jail within and for said county, and that the said county shall pay the said recorder or mayor for the use of the incorporation of said city the sum of fifty-six and sixty-six one hundredths dollars ($56.66) for the rights and privileges above mentioned. Therefore, it is

“Ordered, That the same house aforesaid be used as the county jail of said county, and that a warrant issue to said recorder for the use of the said city or incorporation thereof, for the amount aforesaid.

F. M. FRUSH, County Judge.

Block No. 1 in the original survey of Knoxville is located directly south of the public square. The building referred to in the above order of the County Court had been erected by the city authorities for a municipal prison. The records do not show whether the arrangement between the county and city was renewed at the expiration of the two years, though the county may have continued the use of the building for a longer period. On January 9, 1864, on motion of George W. Martin, the following resolution was adopted by the county board of supervisors:

“Resolved, That the chairman of the board be, and he is hereby, authorized to contract with the city council of the City of Pella for the use of their calaboose, to be used as a county jail, and report his doings in the premises at the next regular meeting of the board."

A careful search of the minutes of the “next regular meeting” fails to reveal any report from the chairman, but it is known that some sort of agreement was made with the City of Pella and that the county prisoners were for a time confined in the Pella city prison.

About 1879 a proposition was submitted to the voters of the county to erect a county jail, but it was defeated at the polls. In June, 1881, the board of supervisors ordered that the question be again submitted to the voters at the November election in that year. The majority of votes again defeated the proposition and still Marion County was without a jail. A little later an arrangement was made with the supervisors of Monroe County by which prisoners from Marion County could be confined in the jail at Albia. This continued for some time, when a room in the courthouse at Knoxville was fitted up with cells and used as a jail. On December 15, 1896, the board allowed Charles L. Wund the sum of $481 for placing jail cells in the new courthouse, where county prisoners were incarcerated until the erection of the present jail, in the southern part of the City of Knoxville, under the following resolution of April 3, 1900:

Be it resolved by the Board of Supervisors of Marion County, Iowa, at their regular April session, to construct a county jail for the use and benefit of said county. Having a proposition on file by the Pauly Jail Manufacturing Company to erect and complete said jail ready for occupancy as per plans and specifications now on file in the auditor’s office, said jail not to cost exceeding $4,583, on motion of John D. Bates, seconded by R. A. Pilmer, to award said Pauly Jail Company said contract, was carried unanimously by said board, said jail to be ready for occupancy by August 15, 1900.

The jail was completed and occupied in September, 1900. It is a plain, substantial brick structure, with stone foundation, iron roof and doors and steel cells and while not as large as the jails of some other counties, it has so far been ample for the needs of the county. By the order of the board of supervisors on January 16, 1902, the sheriff was directed to employ the prisoners in the jail upon the streets of the City of Knoxville and the public highways; to purchase such tools as might be necessary, and to appoint a special deputy, to be approved by the board of supervisors, to guard the prisoners while at work or in going to and from the jail.


Most of the early settlers of Marion County were of that hardy, robust type, well calculated by nature and training to overcome the difficulties to be found in a frontier settlement, and were as a rule self-sustaining. There were a few, however, who became public charges through misfortune, such as ill health, etc., and these unfortunates were boarded by the county in private families. Aid in the way of fuel and provisions was supplied by the county to families partially indigent, and sometimes a pauper was sent out of the state at the public expense.

This plan of caring for the poor was found to be quite expensive and subject to abuse. It is said that in some cases the county has paid as high as $4 per week for boarding a pauper, when others were obtaining equally as good accommodations for three-fourths that sum. Provisions, clothing and other supplies bought and paid for by the supervisors, commissioners or County Court, frequently helped to support those who were physically able to earn a living. Under these conditions it was proposed to establish a home for the poor.

The first record that can be found pertaining to the subject of a poor farm is that of October 15, 1861, when a committee of the board of supervisors, appointed to investigate the matter, reported. W. P. Cowman and William Blain, a majority of the committee, reported: “That owing to the great pecuniary depression we would not recommend any proceedings in regard to the purchase of a farm for the poor at present.”

This report was rejected by the board and the minority report (name of committeeman submitting it not given) was adopted, recommending the purchase of a farm and the erection thereon of a poor house, etc. The next day the board appointed J. F. Baldwin, Joseph Clark and J. B. Davis a committee “to ascertain the most suitable location for a poor farm,” the cost of which was not to exceed $2,000. On January 11, 1862, the committee reported in favor of buying Samuel Fortner’s farm of 220 acres located five and one half miles east of Knoxville. The report also stated that there were valuable coal deposits on the farm, and that the property could be bought for $3,000, or perhaps a little less. As this sum was in excess of that authorized by the board and the nation was then involved in civil war, which entailed heavy expense upon every county in the Union, no further action was taken and the question of establishing a home for the poor was permitted to lie dormant until the close of the war.

To enable the county board to meet the necessary expenditures incident to the building and equipment of a county infirmary, it was decided to levy a special tax upon the property of the county. But no special tax could be levied without first receiving the approval of those who would have to pay such a tax. consequently the question was submitted to the voters of the county in 1865, when a majority expressed themselves in favor of the establishment of such an institution. D. F. Young, Joseph Metcalf and David T. Durham were appointed a committee to select and recommend a location. They reported in favor of a tract of land belonging to Elisha Elliott, located in section 14, township 75, range 20, about two miles southwest of the City of Knoxville. This tract was purchased on December 15, 1865, for a consideration of $1,200. In the spring of 1866 the land was fenced and a part of it was broken for cultivation. In July of that year a contract was awarded to Jacob Reichard for the erection of a three-story frame building for $4,450. In this building the lower floor was arranged for kitchen, dining room and stores, and the second and third floors were fitted up for living rooms and sleeping apartments.

Such was Marion County’s first poorhouse. The original building is still standing, but a large addition has since been erected and more land purchased, so that the farm now consists of 280 acres. A heating plant was installed a few years ago, at a cost of over fifteen hundred dollars, and a waterworks system, at a cost of about eight hundred dollars. The value of the entire property, as given in the auditor’s report for 1913, was $42,000, and the income from the farm for that year amounted to $2,303.63. The total cost of maintenance for the tear was $6, 797.57. While some of the other counties of the state may have more imposing structures for housing the poor, the accommodations offered by Marion County are of such a character that a comfortable home is assured to those who, through misfortunes, are unable to support themselves. But not all the poor of the county are kept in the institution established for their benefit. During the year 1913 nearly as much money was expended by the county in caring for the poor outside of the infirmary as was expended in its support, the amount, according to the auditor’s report, being $6, 590.98.


While this is not a public institution in the sense that it is supported by the county, it is of such a character that it is entitled to a place in this chapter. The Home for the Aged is located at Pella and is under the control of an organization known as the Christian Benevolent Association, which was incorporated on April 30, 1907. Article 3 of the articles of incorporation sets forth that:

The object and purpose of this corporation shall be to erect and provide a comfortable house, which shall be named ‘Home for the Aged,’ and to that end it shall have the power to raise money by subscription, and to acquire title to both real estate and personal property of whatsoever nature, by gift, purchase, bequest or devise, and to hold and dispose of the same for the benefit of the corporation and to borrow money and execute notes and mortgages on its property therefore. The object is also to acquire title to the ‘East Market Square’ in the City of Pella, Marion County, Iowa, according to the plat thereof recorded June 12, 1848, and to erect a ‘Home for the Aged’ and other buildings thereon for the use of those who may become its inmates under the provisions of it by-laws.”

Title to the East Market Square was acquired and before the close of the year 1907 a building was erected thereon for the “Home,” at a cost of $12,000. subsequently a $4,000 addition was built, the money for the original building and the addition having been raised by subscription. The institution is under the management of a board of twelve directors - eight men and four women - but is under the immediate supervision of a “Father and Mother,” who are subject to certain rules and regulations. In 1914 J. Dykstra was president of the board of directors; J. S. Rhynsburger was secretary, and Mr. and Mrs. A. Bliek held the positions of father and mother. The annual election of directors is held on the first Tuesday in May. Every person who contributes one dollar or more annually is entitled to vote. A life membership in the association may be obtained for twenty dollars, and the directors have the power to issue stock, not exceeding $10,000 at any one time, for the purpose of perpetuating the institution. Persons sixty years of age or older are eligible for admission to the home, upon payment of a certain sum and agreeing to abide by the rules and regulations laid down by the board. The institution has been a popular one from the beginning and has been kept constantly filled to its capacity, with a number of applications on file for admission.


Although this is a state institution, it is located at Knoxville and its history constitutes a part of that of Marion County. In 1888 the Legislature made an appropriation of $1,000 and appointed commissioners to investigate and report on the best method of furnishing employment to the adult blind within the State of Iowa. Upon the reception of their report the Legislature passed an act, which was approved by the governor on April 23, 1890, appropriating $40,000 to build and equip an “Industrial Home for the Blind,” with a capacity of 200 inmates. Half the appropriation was to be expended on workshops and a steam heating plant; $4,000 for a men’s building and a similar sum for a women’s building, the remainder to be used as the commissioners might elect. The act also authorized the governor to appoint five commissioners, one of whom should be a woman, to select a location and erect the buildings.

It was also provided in the act that the commissioners might purchase a site, in case a suitable one was not donated by some county or city that wanted the institution. The people of Knoxville became interested and offered the commissioners fifty acres of land, which was accepted and the Industrial Home for the Blind was opened on January 1, 1892, with F. S. Whiting as superintendent. The first board of trustees consisted of J. H. Nichols, L. T. Richmond, John R. Elliott, Miss Lorana Mattice, John Killen and Robert Colbert. The first three as above named were president, secretary and treasurer of the board, respectively.

Mr. Whiting was succeeded as superintendents by M. C. Gebhart, who served until 1896, when Cambridge Culbertson, of Knoxville, was appointed and held the position until the institution was abandoned in 1900. During the time the home was in existence its inmates made brooms, hammocks, cane chair seats, bead work and some other articles. The institution was intended as a home for such adult blind as were able to work at some occupation, but the opinion became prevalent that it was intended for all the adult blind, without regard to whether they were workers or not, and this may have had some influence upon the situation that led to the discontinuance of the home by the state.

By the act of the Legislature, approved on April 12, 1902, it was provided that “dipsomaniacs, inebriates and persons addicted to the excessive use of narcotics” might be treated in one or more of the insane hospitals of the state. After trying this plan for about two years the state decided, through the Legislature, to convert the abandoned home for the blind into a hospital for such cases. Accordingly, on April 6, 1904, Governor Cummins approved an act, the first section of which is as follows:

The Industrial Home for the Adult Blind at Knoxville shall hereafter be called the State Hospital for Inebriates and shall be used for the detention care and treatment of all male dipsomaniacs, inebriates, and persons addicted tot he excessive use of morphine, cocaine or other narcotic drugs.”

An appropriation of $125,000 was made for the purchase of additional land, domestic animals, tools, implements, etc., and before the summer was over the new institution was opened for the reception of patients. Since then 300 acres of land adjoining the original site have been purchased, giving the hospital a tract of 350 acres immediately outside the city limits of Knoxville to the northwest. Additional buildings have been erected, an artesian well drilled, and in 1914 a large clay working industry was established. At the time the institution was discontinued as the Industrial Home for the Adult Blind it had thirty-seven inmates, who were returned to the counties from which they had been admitted at the expense of the state. At the beginning of the year 1915 the number of inmates in the Inebriate Hospital was 187, with Dr. George Donahoe in charge as superintendent. About that time Doctor Donahoe was appointed superintendent of the Cherokee State Hospital and was succeeded in the Knoxville institution by Doctor Mackin.

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, December 2006, reformatted by Al Hibbard 11 Oct 2013