The land that is now Dubuque County was first claimed by the white man in 1541. France, represented by Father Marquette and trapper Louis Joliet, was the first to claim the land for its own, in 1674. At the close of the French-Indian War in 1763, France ceded to Spain the right to all territory West of the Mississippi. The vast region then known as Louisiana was turned back to France in 1800, to become a part of the United States by purchase from Napoleon in 1803.
In the early formation of Iowa there were only two counties. One was Demoine County and the other was Dubuque County. Dubuque County and the county seat, Dubuque, are both named for Julien Dubuque, the first white settler of Iowa.
In the second session of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, Dubuque County was subdivided into 14 other counties: Benton, Buchanan, Cedar, Clayton, Clinton, Delaware, Fayette, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Keokuk, Linn, Scott, and Dubuque. So Dubuque County originally embraced more than half of the future State of Iowa, but was reduced to its present limits in 1837.
There was no question as to the location of the county seat when the county was organized in 1834. The City of Dubuque was established in 1833, making it the oldest settlement and county seat in Iowa. Dubuque was also the location of Iowa’s first church and the first newspaper published in Iowa (The Dubuque Visitor, which began on May 11, 1836.) Since its inception the city has been under five flags: the French, Spanish, English, the Imperial Flag of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Old Glory of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The first official meeting of the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors was held and the proceedings thereof recorded in the county auditor’s office on May 13, 1836, probably the earliest such record preserved in the State of Iowa.
The first Court House built in the county was completed in 1836. The 20-foot x 26-foot hewed-log structure was basically used as a jail and soon became outdated. It was then replaced by a brick structure, completed in 1843. After overcoming considerable opposition from taxpayers’, construction of a third Court House was begun in 1891. Since it took nearly two years to complete the Court House, the county offices were temporarily held in the city hall.
The Dubuque County Court House is a perfect example of Dubuque’s early Victorian architecture. The structure was designed by a native of Dubuque, architect Fridolin Heer. When the building was constructed, 12 massive figures were placed on the roof and ledges, at a cost to the county of $29,503.97. Since that time all but six statues remain, the most prominent being Justice which rises above the street more than 200 feet on the dome.
The climax of a complete renovation of the Court House between the years 1975 through 1984 was the gilding of the Court House dome through private donations. Re-gilding was done, again through private donations, in 1994. The Court House golden dome now dominates the Dubuque skyline.
Countless attempts have been made to construct a building combining city and county governments. The first came in 1949 when the federal government drew up plans for a building. This proposal failed, as have all the others dealing with this idea.
The Dubuque County Court House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, the first building to be placed on the Register in the State of Iowa. In 1989, the neighboring Egyptian-style Old Jail, designed by John Rague, was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior. The Old Jail is currently leased to the Dubuque County Historical Society.
In 1973, the County and City were successful in partnering for the construction of joint law enforcement center, including a 46-bed jail, located across the street from the original Jail and the Court House. In 2001, construction was started on an addition to the center, which includes an additional 152-beds.
Dubuque, Its History and Background., Dubuque County Historical Society, JoAnn Reynolds, Dubuque County Recorder; 1990
Denise Dolan, County Auditor; and Jan Hess, Administrative Assistant to the Board of Supervisors; 2002
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