Johnson County

Johnson County

Johnson County is named for Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson and not Andrew Johnson, as some believe. Colonel Johnson was in the War of 1812, senator from Michigan and the vice-president during the Van Buren administration.

Until the late 1830s the area known today as Johnson County was nothing more than wilderness and a hunting ground for the Fox and Sac Indians. Between 1832 and 1837 the Indians were stripped of their lands by treaty. Soon settlers began to move into the county. By 1838 there were two towns competing for the county seat–Osceola and Napoleon. An Act of the Wisconsin Assembly selected Napoleon as the county seat on June 22, 1838. A two-story log cabin courthouse was then constructed at Napoleon.

When the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa met at Burlington a bill was approved to locate the seat of government for the Territory of Iowa. The site was to be within the boundaries of Johnson County, and it was to be named Iowa City. Three commissioners met and selected a site two miles north of Napoleon on May 1, 1839.

On December 31, 1839, an Act was passed to relocate the county seat of Johnson County with orders to keep present and future populations in mind. The site of the new county seat was easily chosen as Iowa City, the “capital” of the Iowa Territory. In January 1855, the Fifth General Assembly voted to move the state capital to Des Moines.

The first courthouse built in Iowa City was a temporary two-story structure constructed of bricks. This courthouse burned to the ground in 1856. In 1857 this building was replaced by another courthouse, which was insured for $30,000. This brick building was used until 1899, when it was condemned.

The cornerstone of the present courthouse was laid on December 2, 1899. It was constructed by James Rowson and Son at a cost of $135,000. Bands, balloons and a parade were part of the dedication ceremonies held on June 8, 1901.

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Johnson County