Decatur County

Decatur County

Decatur County was organized in 1850 and named for Stephen Decatur, a naval hero of the War of 1812.
An area for the county seat was selected by the county commissioners and named Decatur. The public objected, and prevailed upon the General Assembly to order a vote to establish a county seat. The majority vote in 1853 favored moving the county seat a few miles to the east and naming it Independence.
Citizens of Decatur refused to relinquish the county records, so the records were taken under cover of darkness to Independence with a wagon and a team of oxen.
Later it was discovered that there was another town by the same name in Buchanan County. Decatur County then changed its county seat’s name to South Independence. In 1855, the name was changed to Leon.
It is evident that not much business was transacted at the county seat in these first years, as it was said the county clerk of 1852 carried all the important papers of his office in his hat!
The first courthouse was 20 by 22 feet and 14 feet high, made of logs for $375 in 1851. After only a few years, the crude log structure was outgrown and a new courthouse built to replace it. The buildings which followed this old log courthouse, until the one which stands today, seemed to exist under a streak of bad luck. The first was a small frame building which was soon declared unusable. A new one was begun but a windstorm destroyed it before it could be finished. The next was razed by a fire on March 31, 1874. One book from the auditor’s office and one book from the clerk’s office survived. The safe in the treasurer’s office contained more than $33,000, and when the rubbish was cleared and the safe opened, the money was found intact. A snowstorm came just in time to keep the flames from destroying other parts of the town.
After the misfortune of the previous courthouses, the people of the county were determined to build one which would be more resistant to fire and wind. Consequently, in 1875, at an approximate cost of $20,000, a brick courthouse was completed. However it was not burglar-proof. On April 1, 1877, burglars, attempting to rob the treasurer’s office, broke into the courthouse, put a charge of dynamite under the safe, and blew the entire west side of the courthouse away. The sheriff and treasurer were called, the safe once again recovered from the rubbish, and once again, all money was found intact. Voters passed a resolution to build another courthouse in 1905. This time the courthouse was built of iron, steel, stone, tile, brick, marble and granite – completely fireproof and a safe place to keep valuable records. The structure, still in use today, was dedicated in 1908 and cost $70,000.

Sources:

The History of Decatur County, Iowa 1970 by Himena V. Hoffman.

William Greenwood, Decatur County Auditor, 2002

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