Clayton County

Clayton County

Clayton County derives its name from U. S. senator and cabinet member John Middleton Clayton. Clayton assisted in the passage of the Wisconsin Territorial bill. During its early years, Clayton County had a very mobile county seat. The first county business was conducted in Prairie La Porte, established in 1837. Since 1847 the town has been called Guttenburg, in honor of Johannes Guttenburg. Court was held in this first county seat in 1838, in rooms rented from Graybill’s Tavern at a cost of $5 per day.

The first courthouse was built in Prairie La Porte in 1840. Robert Hatfield was paid $73.50 for the delivery of materials and David Hastings was given $23 for the construction, making the total cost of the building $96.50. An act to relocate the county seat was approved by the Territorial Governor in January 1840. The new site was to be Allotat, but residents of the county voted it down and retained Prairie La Porte in an August 1840 election. Later, in 1843, the voters approved the relocation of the county seat, this time to Jacksonville.

The second courthouse, first at Jacksonville, was built in 1844. Total cost of the project was $675. In May 1846, the town’s name was changed to Garnavillo, after a town in Ireland. Garnavillo remained the county seat for a decade. Then it was removed to the town of Elkader, for only one year. It was then returned to Guttenburg until 1860, when it again was moved back to Elkader. It has remained at Elkader since then, fighting off challenges by McGregor and Garnavillo. The present courthouse was begun in the summer of 1867. Land for the building was provided by the town of Elkader, and county funds were appropriated for the $5,000 project. The cornerstone, laid in 1887, reads “July 4, A.L. 5877”. The A.L. stands for Anno Lucis, or Year of Light, a date used by Freemasons to indicate the number of years that have elapsed since 4000 B.C., which is assumed to be the date the Ten Commandments were revealed to Moses.

When it became apparent that Elkader was to become the permanent county seat, the project was completed in 1878, at a cost of $10,000. The extra $5,000 was due to the “work having been done in a more substantial manner than the contract called for”; the extra cost was paid for by the citizens of Elkader. A 45-foot clock tower was added in 1896 at cost of $1,860. It was constructed by Wm. F. Feulling of Farmersburg. It required daily winding until 1980, when it was electrified.

Clayton County has lots of historic buildings and sites, including Spook Cave, which is listed as the longest underground boat tour, and the Indian Mounds at Effigy Park, which are more than 2,000 years old. The county is also proud of Keystone Arch Bridge, a twin-arch bridge built in 1889 of local quarried limestone. It took nine months to build the 346-foot bridge at a cost of $16,282.49. The bridge is reputed to be the longest of its type west of the Mississippi. Both the bridge and the courthouse have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


“Courthouse”, The Clayton County Register, 26 July, 1989:3

Jean Welsh, Clayton County Recorder

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Clayton Edgewood Elkader Elkport
Farmersburg Froelich Garber Garnavillo
Giard Gunder Guttenberg Littleport
Luana Marquette McGregor Millville
Monona N Buena Vista National Osterdock
St Olaf Strawberry Point Volga
Clayton County
Clayton County Development Group