Greene County was organized in 1854, with a population of 150 and Jefferson (for Thomas Jefferson) as the county seat. The county was named after General Nathanial Greene, a hero of the Revolutionary War.
The first courthouse was the log cabin of Judge William Phillips about four miles southeast of Jefferson. Jefferson was chosen as the county seat in 1854. A true courthouse was built in 1856. A new one was erected in 1870. The courthouse bell was used for calling court, curfew, and as a fire alarm. The present courthouse was built in 1917 for $179,752.66.
In the spring of 1857, rumors of a gold strike on a small stream west of Jefferson caused great excitement without much result.
Roads played an important part in Greene County history. In 1904, the first concrete span bridge in Greene County was built over Hardin Creek east of Jefferson on the old Lincoln Highway. In 1909, led by a Jefferson banker and good roads advocate, a small group of men spent several days filling holes on 35 miles of county road. This work was done to prepare for an auto touring caravan. The tourists stopped for 10 minutes or so and “sang the praises of our Greene County roads which they pronounced the best-kept country roads they had struck in their journey!”
For a few weeks early in 1926, all Jefferson banks had failed and were closed, making Jefferson the largest city in the U. S. without a bank.
Greene County was apparently a popular stop for presidential candidates. Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota launched his 1948 presidential campaign by making an address from the south balcony of the Greene County Courthouse. In 1952, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower made a whistle stop an Jefferson depot on a presidential campaign train tour.
The 162-foot carillon of Jefferson recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, named for its founders Floyd and Dora Mahanay, has been the trademark of Jefferson ever since its construction 25 years ago. The dedication of the tower will also kick off the “Bell Tower Community Foundation.” They hope to raise $300,000 to renovate and add 34 new bells to the carillon.