Muscatine County was organized on Jan. 8, 1837 with Bloomington (renamed Muscatine in 1849) named as the county seat. Bloomington’s nickname was “Town of Pinch’em Silly.” The name Muscatine is said to come from either an Indian tribe, the Indian word for prairie, or an island in the Mississippi River.
By an Act of Congress, any county could select a quarter section of government land for the county seat at a minimum price of $1.25 per acre. Muscatine County took the Southeast one-fourth of Sec. 35, T77, R2W; the courthouse now stands near the center of that area.
Using plans and specifications which cost $200, the Board of Commissioners, in 1840, began construction of a courthouse. The building was 50-foot x 60-foot, with a portico across the end, and it cost $15,000. The original courthouse was burned out in 1864 and rebuilt at a cost of $29,000. No records were lost in the fire, as far as can be determined.
The contract for the present courthouse was awarded by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 26, 1907. Six pillars and a porch had to be removed from the old courthouse as there was only two feet separating the present courthouse and the original courthouse. The new courthouse was constructed at a cost of $150,000, of which approximately $15,000 was for electrical work. When it came time to move, some of the records were passed from the second floor of the old courthouse out the window to the new one. Court was first held in the new courthouse on June 9, 1909.
The first jail was ordered built in January 1839 on the Northwest corner of the public square. The “old” jail that stands across Fourth Street from the courthouse was built in 1857. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the courthouse. The “old” jail was replaced in 1907 at a cost of $15,000 for the building and $6,000 for the steel cage and fittings. On November 6, 1990 an 8.5 million dollar bond issue was passed to fund the construction of a new jail on Walnut street west of the Courthouse and Old Jail. The new state of the art jail was dedicated July 5, 1996.
The cannon on wheels on the Southeast lawn of the courthouse is a Gunfield six-pounder, bronze, smoothbore, made in 1857 by the Cyrus Alger Co., Boston, Massachusetts. The mortars, mounted on cement pedestals on the Southwest lawn are Howitzer, siege 24-pounders, made in 1849 by the Cyrus Alger Co. They are pointed South . . . and not by accident! If you visit some older courthouses in the South you will find their cannons pointed in the direction of us Yankees!
Prior to World War II, the cannon on wheels was wheeled down to the riverfront each Fourth of July. The cannon was stuffed with wet newspapers instead of ammunition and fired as part of the annual celebration.
Source: Leslie Soule, Muscatine County Auditor