Cheap and productive farm land attracted early settlers to the present area of Story County around the 1850s. In 1853 the county was formed and named after the Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Story County grew slower than surrounding areas and counties. This was due to the large numbers of lowlands, marshes, ponds and slough areas. These greatly hindered the development of large tracts of farmland and transportation, such as roads and the railroad. For example, early roads were sometimes nothing more than furrows created by sod-breaking teams. They were often muddy and concealed by high grasses, often making travel an adventure.
This is why the railroads played such a big part in the early development of Story County. With more than 6,700 acres of land donated to it by the county, the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad began construction in 1863. By 1864 it had passed through Nevada, reached Ames and had become the furthest western railway terminus in the United States. In the 1870s a North-South route was added to the county by the Des Moines and Minnesota Railroads, later named the Northwestern. It reached Ames in 1874 and Story City in 1877. This rail line gave birth to the towns of Gilbert, Kelly, and Sheldahl. By the end of the 1880s and the addition of two more east-west rail lines, every farmer was within six miles of markets and shipping accommodations. The first courthouse was built in Nevada in 1856, costing around $1,500. It was a two-story frame building. Ames was also an early contender for the county seat but in June of 1859 the Iowa Agricultural College and Farm were located there, thus making Nevada’s claim to the honor more secure. The first courthouse caught fire and burned on December 31, 1863.
A second similar courthouse was built in its place. The building of a third courthouse was proposed in 1857. Designed by William Foster and constructed of locally made bricks the finished cost was $50,000. It is told that the contractor, J. B. Randall, went bankrupt because of the fine materials, rising cost of labor, and the careful craftsmanship that went into building the structure. Finished in 1877, the three-story building was situated on the town square. In the building was a tower in which school children could climb to see a panoramic view of the landscape. It was later torn down due to safety reasons.After almost 90 years the third courthouse was declared unsafe, and a modern courthouse construction was begun. The new, Y-shaped courthouse was situated next to the old and cost an impressive $1.2 million to build in 1967.It was dedicated on May 18, 1968 and occupied and operational on August 5.
An old Civil War cannon is present on the front lawn of the Story County courthouse. The Story County cannon has been there since 1901. The cannon, the first built by A. B. Reading and Bro., Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1861, reached Story via the Rock Island Arsenal on January 29, 1901. It was shipped to Jason D. Ferguson G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic). By 1911 the G.A.R. was not too active, and it is speculated that the cannon was donated to the county before the G.A.R. expired.
After a 12.7 million dollar bond issue was passed by the voters, Story County broke ground in the year 2000 for a new Justice Center that houses the Sheriff, Attorney, and Clerk of Court departments, as well as the Judges, the Courts, and the jail. A statue names Lady Justice graces the entrance. The opening dedication ceremony was held June 30, 2002. The Y-shaped building was renamed Story County Administration.
Source: Mary Mosiman, Story County Auditor, 2002