Transcribed by Lin Ziemann

Established:  December 21, 1837
December 21, 1837
County Seat: 


Scott County (463 square miles) was named for Major General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) who played a prominent part in the Black Hawk War and negotiated the first treaty purchasing lands in Iowa from the Indians (Black Hawk Purchase.)  He was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army (1841-1861), and captured Vera Cruz and occupied Mexico City in 1847.  

The Sauks (Sacs) had established the Indian village of Saukenuk near the mouth of the Rock River , in Illinois , while the Foxes located their village on the opposite side of the Mississippi River , at what is now Davenport , Iowa .  For many years this area was the center of Indian opposition to white settlement.  Black Hawk was born at Saukenuk in 1767 and Keokuk in 1780, burning the Indians’ wickiups and destroying the crops.  The hostile Indians who laid siege to old Fort Madison came from Saukenuk, which then had a population estimated at “not fewer than 8,000 people.”  Also in this area, two battle of the War of 1812 were fought.  

In 1816, four military posts were erected in the Mississippi Valley , including Fort Armstrong , located on a “rocky cliff’ at the end of the picturesque Rock Island , opposite Davenport .  The Indians gradually moved on westward, across the Mississippi , but there was opposition leading to the tragic Black Hawk War, four in 1832.  A peace treaty was signed, under a large open tent, on September 21, 1832 .  

The strip of land that General Scott exacted from the Sac and Fox became the nucleus of Iowa .  Originally called Scott’s Purchase, this first cession of Indian land in Iowa came to be known as the Black Hawk Purchase.  Under the terms of the agreement, the Sac and Fox Indians were to move on west by June 1, 1833, and never again “reside, plant, fish, or hunt” on any portion of the land purchased.   

The original boundary lines of the county were defined by the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin.  The Act also provided that the location of the county seat should be decided by popular vote.  However, two years passed before the county seat was permanently located.  

Beginning in February 1838, elections to select a county seat were called to choose between Davenport , on the Mississippi River , and Rockingham, located nearby.  Buffalo had been another contender, but was eliminated earlier.  

Great importance was attached to these county seat elections which often decided the destiny of the competing towns.  The honor and prestige of becoming the seat of justice was sufficient to cause very spirited contests.  In later years, such activities might come to be looked upon as some of the “freaks and follies of frontier life,” but at the time it was a serious business, calling for extreme measures if that was what it took to win.  

It has been reported that, at the first county seat election, 11 sleighloads of laborers were recruited from Dubuque to be admitted to the polls and secure the necessary majority of votes for Davenport .  These men were described as “the most wretched looking rowdies that had ever appeared on the streets of Davenport .  They were the dregs of the mining districts of that early day, filled with impudence and profanity, soaked in whiskey and done up in rags.’  Bonfires and “illuminations” were used to express joy for this great triumph for Davenport .  The town was filled with “roaring patriotically drunk” miners, to whom perjury meant nothing.  During that brief sojourn, it was recorded they drank 300 gallons of whiskey and other liquors and cost those who brought them over $3,000.   

The election fraud was disclosed, however, and Governor Dodge declared the election void, so nothing resulted from this contest.  

A second election was set for August 8, 1838 , and a ruling was made requiring 60 days residence for voters to be qualified.  At this election, Rockingham “laid aside all conscientious scruples” to win – ballot boxes were stuffed and illegal voting permitted.  Laborers were imported to work in the mills 60 days before the election date, in order to be eligible.  Inhabitants of Illinois were invited over to vote.  When the election was over, the commissioners “purged the polls,” taking plenty of time and throwing out a good number of ballots.  This action gave the election to Davenport by a majority of two votes.

An appeal was made to the Supreme Court, but it was held that this Court had no original jurisdiction in the matter.  

There were four contestants in the next election, called by the Territorial Legislature of Iowa.  These were Davenport , Rockingham (opposite the mouth of the Rock River ), the “geographical center” or “Sloperville,” and Winfield (more commonly referred to as the “Duck Creek Cornfield.”) The “geographical center” dropped out.  The “Duck Creek” promoters of Winfield offered 90 acres of land and $100 in labor and materials for a courthouse.  Residents of Rockingham (which was originally laid out by Colonel John Sullivan of Ohio , and A.H. Davenport ) offered to build a courthouse and jail.  But all other offers were surpassed by Davenport , whose residents pledged gifts of land, cash, and building materials valued at $5,000.  They also stressed the central location, the high and dry site, and beautiful surroundings.  These inducements must have had the desired effect, for Davenport won out, ending one of the most interesting and brisk county seat contests recorded in Iowa history.  The decision was celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and speeches.  In time, the defeated town of Rockingham would become a part of the growing City of Davenport .  

Davenport was named for Colonel George Davenport (1783-1845) who, as agent for the American Fur Company, established a trading post at this location in 1826.  The town was surveyed in the spring of 1836 by Major William Gordon, and lots were offered for sale in May.  The original town site included 36 blocks and 6 half blocks.  At this time only a handful of pioneer families lived in the town.  

Territorial Governor Robert Lucas signed the measure providing for the incorporation of Davenport on January 25, 1839 .  By 1840, its population was about 600, and county residents numbered 2,140.  The first court in Scott County was held in St. Anthony’s Church in Davenport .  

Antoine LeClair donated the site for the county’s first courthouse.  A two-story brick courthouse, with stately columns and round cupola, was erected, free of cost to the county, in 1840.  But, by 1888, it had become so overcrowded and was in such a sad state of repair that the building was razed.  

The second courthouse was built in 1888 of natural, rough-chipped Bedford stone at a cost of $125,000.  Considered a masterpiece of workmanship, it was 100’ x 125’ in size, three stories high, and had a basement.  A large dome rose to a height of 150 feet, and there were turreted towers above each corner of the roof.  The outside of the building was adorned with decorations symbolizing pioneer times and life in the Mississippi Valley .  Unfortunately, the building was erected on sandy ground and slowly sank.  The large vault, originally built on the ground floor, dropped below ground level and a stairway had to be built leading down into the vault.  The building heaved and cracked and, by 1932, the authorities, alarmed at the degree to which the building had sunk, ordered the useless large dome, weighing 11,025 tons, removed.  However, the building continued to sag, so a tower wall was torn down in 1933 and 450 tons of brick which had supported the dome were removed.  Chemicals and other methods of treatment failed to eradicate the termites.  In this losing battle, a request for a federal grant of $6,480 for repairing and bolstering the foundation of the courthouse was approved, and work was begun in 1940.  

But eventually, the 1888 courthouse had to be abandoned.  The present courthouse was built in 1955-1956, and the previous courthouse was torn down.  

Excerpt taken from the pages of:
The Counties and Courthouses of
Iowa , by LeRoy G. Pratt
Copyright 1977
First Edition


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