County Seat History In Hancock County, IA
From: History of Winnebago County and Hancock County, Iowa
A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement.
The Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


For several years after the organization of Hancock County the official business of the civil division was carried on at whatever place the county officials called home - sometimes at Upper Grove and sometimes at Ellington, as well as at other places in the county. The few books composing the county records were transported from place to place in a wagon, as new officials were elected. An attempt was made to locate the county seat permanently at Amsterdam and on December 1, 1860, a contract was entered into, by and between M. P. Rosecrans, then county judge, and B. A. Hill, by which the latter party agreed to build for the county a courthouse in the village of Amsterdam, Hancock County, for and in consideration of $2,000. All the papers were drawn and signed, and the plans and specifications made, but the county judge ceased to be the supreme ruler January 1st following, consequently the matter was dropped, the parties enjoined from proceeding by writ of injunction from the district court made on application of many of the legal voters of the county.

Then came the first location of the courthouse and county seat of Hancock. The minutes of the supervisors' meeting held on November 4, 1865, are as follows:

"Board met pursuant to adjournment. All members present this A. M. John I. Popejoy, Esq., of Franklin County, and James Goodwin of Cerro Gordo County, two of the commissioners appointed to locate the seat of justice of Hancock County and present the following report: In pursuance to the order issued by the Twelfth District Judge, W. B. Fairfield, to John I. Popejoy, James Goodwin and S. B. Hewitt to locate the county seat of Hancock County, Iowa. James Goodwin and John I. Popejoy met pursuant to said order and located said county seat on the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 31, Township 96, Range 23, at a point sixteen chains and fifty links north and one chain and fifteen links west from the quarter post on the south side of said section, then believing said site to be the best location in said county, taking into consideration the present as well as the future prospects of the inhabitants of said county.
"Dated November 4, 1865,

"On motion of C. Robbins the following resolution was unanimously adopted: Resolved that the board of supervisors of Hancock County proceed to build two buildings at the county seat, to be occupied by county officers, on the southeast quarter of southwest quarter of Section 31, Township 96, Range 23. (Record further gives sizes of buildings, sixteen by twenty four frame and other specifications.)

"On motion James Crow was appointed by the board to procure title to the land upon which the county seat is located and also to survey a village and furnish the board with a plan of the same.

"The board resolved itself into a building committee to superintend said buildings and appropriated $2,000 to pay for the same."

On December 4, 1865, the board held another meeting, the minutes of which follow:

"Board was notified by John Maben, chairman of the building committee, that the buildings were ready for occupancy by the officers, etc.

"A deed from Truman Seymour to Hancock County, dated February 27, 1866, conveying to said county the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 31, Township 96, Range 23, west of the fifth principal meridian, Iowa, was filed for record March 16, 1866, and duly recorded in book D, page 454, of the deed records of Hancock County "

The record further shows that proper notice of ten percent tax on all taxable property in Hancock County was ordered by the board.

The first county buildings owned by Hancock County were two frame edifices erected in November, 1865. These offices were each sixteen by twenty four feet and nine feet high. On the 5th of December of the same year the board of supervisors instructed the clerk that he was to notify the various officers that they must take possession of these and keep their books and papers therein.

During the year 1867 the board of supervisors submitted to the people of the county a proposition that they would levy a tax of ten mills on the dollar of taxable property, in the county, for the purpose of building a courthouse. At the special election ordered for that purpose, through some misunderstanding, the proposition was defeated by a vote of thirty five to nineteen However, at the next meeting of the board, a petition was presented, signed by about forty of the qualified voters of the county, asking a resubmittal of the question, and the board granted the same, and ordered the election to take place on the 23d of the following March. Upon this date the voters cast their ballots for the tax by a score of fifty five to eighteen. The board of supervisors at once proceeded to let the contract for the construction of the courthouse. The contract was let to Grove R. Maben. During the summer he constructed the building and about the last of the year 1868 turned it over to the county officials. It was built of brick, which Maben burned upon his own farm in Ellington and hauled to the chosen site. On the first floor on each side of a wide corridor were the our principal offices of the county and at the rear the safety vault. The court room was in the second story. The original contract with Maben called for the sum of $9,000, but alterations and additions brought the figure up to $10,000 before the building was completed.

The first two offices constructed by the county were built of pine broughout from the flooring to the shingles. A report was made to the board of supervisors showing that these first buildings cost the county the sum of $1,797.55, but a stable had been erected at the same time and place for $582.90, making in the aggregate $2,380.45. This amount was swelled by $180, allowed or time employed by John Maben, chairman of the board, in overseeing the work of building and $19.55 for fencing the lot. The bids for the erection of the 1867 courthouse ran as follows: G. R. Knapp, $9,800; G. W. Beadle, $8,500; J. C. Bonar, $8,900; John Christie, Sr., $8,500; Charles Bice, $8,449; H. N. Brockway, $9,441.44; G. R. Maben, $9,000; J. P. Gardner and Robert Clark, $9,000; A. D. Hiams, $9,000; George Butts, $9,000; David Lean and L. Hill, $9,000. As mentioned before, the contract was let to G. R. Maben.

In the latter part of the year 1898 there arose the noted county seat fight between Garner and Britt, which struggle was not definitely decided until over five years later. The bitterness and hostility aroused by this county seat trouble was an unfortunate thing for Hancock County, although the old feeling has largely been eradicated. Britt desired the county seat to be removed to her site from Concord and in February, 1898, donated a block of ground and bonded itself for $25,000 to insure the erection of a courthouse without expense to the county. On March 30, 1898, a petition was filed in the county auditor's office, formally asking that the county seat be relocated in the town of Britt. Garner donated $30,000 in cash for the erection of a courthouse. During the summer of 1898 the petition of Britt was acted upon by the board of county supervisors and found insufficient. The affair dragged through the trial court and then was taken to the Iowa supreme court. The courthouse at Garner was built during the interval. The supreme court rendered a decision on October 17, 1899, the text of which is quoted below, as giving a concise history of the case up until this time:

"Thos. A. Way, et al.)
E. P. Fox, et al.
Two cases.

"These two cases involve the same question. The first is a certiorari proceeding to test the legality of the proceedings of the defendants sitting as a board of supervisors on changing the site of the county buildings of Hancock County. The second is an injunction suit to restrain the defendants from removing the county seat from what was theretofore known as the village of Concord, to the town of Garner. "The trial court quashed the writ issued in the first case and sustained a demurrer to the petition in the second, and plaintiff's appeal. "About thirty years ago the county seat or seat of justice of Hancock County was located on a block of ground known as the courthouse square, situated on the southeast quarter of Section 31, Township 96, Range 23, west of the 5th P. M., the said forty acres being known as the town plat of Concord. A small unincorporated village grew up on this town plat and ever since the location of the county seat a courthouse and other county buildings have been maintained upon the courthouse square or block. During the whole of the said thirty years the courts have been held at this courthouse and all the official business of the county has been transacted at the seat of justice so established. In February, 1898, the citizens of the incorporated town of Britt, also located in said county, attempted to secure a relocation of the county seat at their town. While these citizens were circulating their petition the inhabitants of the town of Garner, which is also a municipality, duly incorporated, and located in Hancock County, but a short distance from the village of Concord, began proceedings to annex that part of the village of Concord to their town. An election was held and said territory with all that intervened was duly annexed to the town of Garner. Between the original limits of the town of Garner and the plat of the village of Concord is a large amount of land used wholly for agricultural purposes which has not been platted, and which the petitions allege was in no way needed for municipal purposes nor for the prospective future growth and development of the town of Garner. It is further alleged that these annexation proceedings were for the sole purpose of relocating the county seat at Garner.

"After the annexation proceedings were concluded, certain citizens of the town of Garner filed with the board of supervisors of the county a proposition offering the county the sum of $30,000 to be expended in purchasing a site and erecting a courthouse in the incorporated town of Garner, as it existed before the annexation proceedings were bad. Shortly thereafter the petition for removal to the town of Britt was presented to the board of supervisors and found insufficient. After this finding was made the board of supervisors accepted the proposition made by the citizens of Garner and decided to erect a courthouse with the money procured for that purpose and to locate the same upon what is known as Block 12, Tallman's Addition to the town of Garner. This Block 12 is not within the limits of the village or town plat. of Concord, but is about one mile north of the same and within the territory of the incorporated town of Garner as it existed prior to the annexation proceedings.

"The county auditor was authorized to expend $4,000 for the site and a committee was appointed to procure plans and specifications for the new courthouse. - A postoffice has been maintained by the government at the village of Concord during all of the thirty years heretofore

"It is alleged in the injunction proceedings that unless restrained the defendants will remove the county seat and all the records of the county to the site so purchased; that they will build a courthouse at the new site and thus effectually relocate the county seat.

"These facts are not in dispute and the questions presented for our solution are: Have the defendants as a board of supervisors of Hancock County exceeded their jurisdiction or otherwise acted illegally, and shall they be enjoined from relocating the county seat at a point within the town limits of Garner as they existed before the annexation proceedings were begun.

"Some of the questions suggested by these records are so well settled as to be beyond the range of controversy. First, there is no doubt that the town of Garner had the right by proper proceedings to annex adjacent and outlying territory, and in so doing to include the village of Concord within its litmits. Second, the board of supervisors had no right to relocate the county seat without following the express provisions of the statute as found in the Code, Section 394 to 409 inclusive. Third, the board had no right to purchase real estate for county purposes when the expense exceeded $2,000, nor to order the erection of a courthouse when the probable cost would exceed $5,000, without submitting the proposition to the legal voters of the county. Code, Section 423.

"Subject to these limitations it had the right to purchase the necessary real estate for the use of the county and to remove the site of, or to designate for any county buildings required to be at the county seat; provided the site shall not be beyond the limits of the town, village or city, at which the county seat is located. Code, Section 422; sub. div. 9.

"With these questions settled we come now to the controlling one in the case and that is: did the board of supervisors in making the order heretofore cited, and purchasing the site for the new courthouse in the town of Garner, relocate the county seat?

"Appellees contend that this was the effect of the proceedings. On the other hand, it is insisted that the board did nothing more than remove the site of, or designate a new site for the courthouse, and that the site selected by them was within the limits of what we may call the greater town of Garner, at which the county seat is located.

"In solving the questions thus presented we must first determine what was the county seat of Hancock County at the time the preced were had, of which complaint is made. The county seat is the place properly designated for doing the business of the county, the place at which the public buildings are erected, where the courts are held and the county officers are located. The term does not necessarily mean the county buildings or the land on which they are situated. In common parlance it means the town or municipality where the buildings are located and the business transacted.

"Whallon vs. Cir. Ct. Judge, 51 Mich. 503.
"It is not necessarily coextensive with the town where located.
"State vs. Atchison County, 44 Kas. 186.
"State vs. Smith, 46 Mo. 50.
"State vs. Harwi, 36 Kas. 503.

"In the absence of statute it seems to be well settled that when a city or town is selected as a county seat the boundaries of such city or town as they then exist become the boundaries of the county seat and the subsequent inclusions of more territory does not remove the county seat. See authorities last cited.

"One of the statutes to which we have referred seems to authorize a change of site for the courthouse, provided, the place selected is within the limits of the town at which the county seat is located.

"Now, the county seat of Hancock County was located at Concord, and a pertinent inquiry is, when, if ever, was it changed to Garner? Appellees say that was done when Garner extended her limits. But is that proposition sound? True it is, that Garner has extended her limits and has taken in the village of Concord, but did that act alone change the location of the county seat? Had Concord incorporated and extended her limits so as to take in what is now the town of Garner, there would be less doubt of the legality of the procedings. But that was not done. Here Garner extended her limits so as to take in the county seat and by that act alone she claims the county seat.

"It does not seem to us that the propositions advanced by appellee's counsel are sound. If they are, then all that is necessary to effectuate a relocation of the county seat is for the town that seeks to secure the relocation to extend its boundaries in such a manner as to absorb the seat of justice and the act is accomplished. In this manner county seats could be removed without the vote of the people affected thereby and the provisions of the law be made wholly ineffectual. There is no doubt that the county seat was located at the village of Concord and it is doubtless true that the village as a village has been absorbed. But the mere absorption of the territory did not remove the seat of the county government. That was just as definitely fixed after the extension of the city limits of Garner as it was before. The platted portion of the village of Concord is just as easily identified now as it was before the change, and that part of it which constituted the county seat is just as much the county seat now as it was before the inhabitants concluded to become, for municipal purposes, a part of the town of Garner.

"A village is defined to be a town site platted and incorporated. The question as to when the county seat was located at the town of Garner has not been satisfactorily answered by appellee's counsel. Of course, we will grant that, if Garner ever became the county seat the board of supervisors had the right to select a new site for the courthouse, provided they located it within the limits of the town. But we ask again: When did the legislature or the people of the county determine that Garner was the county seat? When did the people of the county, who alone could determine upon a relocation, say that it should be changed from what is known as the village of Concord to the incorporated town of Gamer? As the electors of the county are the only persons who can relocate the county seat, surely the inhabitants of a town adjoining the seat of justice cannot by proceeding to annex territory contiguous to the town in which they live, relocate the 'county seat.

"For county seat purposes the territorial limits of the village of Concord are as well defined and as distinct now as ever they were, and the electors of the county have never indicated in any proper manner that they desired a change.

"The limitations of Section 423 of the code with reference to the amount that may be expended by the board in erecting a courthouse, or in purchasing a site therefor have no application in the case before us, for it clearly appears that the money which the defendants proposed to expend was donated by the citizens of Garner.

"Appellees further contend that neither certiorari nor injunction is the proper remedy to correct the evils complained of. We think that certiorari is the proper remedy by which to test the legality of the proceedings of the board of supervisors, and that injunction will lie to restrain the removal of the books and records.

"In the first case the action of the board of supervisors in ordering a relocation and change of the county seat is annulled.

"And in the second case the ruling on the demurrer will be reversed and the case remanded for a decree in harmony with this opinion. Annulled and reversed."

This momentous decision of the Iowa supreme court was regarded as a victory by the people of Britt, as it would force the question to a vote of the people. Consequently, the "Garnerites" and the "Brittishers" assembled their forces for the fight during the next four years before such an election could be held. Much ill feeling was engendered and the newspapers of Garner and Britt kept up a lively skirmish. The Britt Tribune christened the Garner people by the amusing term of "Whispering Willies," and attributed to them during the course of the next few years every trait in the criminal category. Likewise vice versa. The Tribune, immediately after the decision was handed down from the supreme court, took occasion to remark: "The county seat will remain in the 'dove cote of dilapidation' for about four years now. (Meaning Concord.) The people will walk over the intervening farm lands for a mile and a half every time they want to go to the county seat. Our good friends of Garner will doubtless find some good use to put their private courthouse to and then we will bring the county seat question to a vote of the people and Britt will build one that will equal in magnificence the Temple of Solomon, and we may possibly buy Garner's private courthouse to set up on top of ours for a bird house." The Garner people organized a railroad company and started to build a line to Crystal Lake in order to make sure of the votes of the people in the latter vicinity when the question came to a show down.

Notwithstanding the decision of the supreme court the board of supervisors, on January 4, 1900, voted to pay for heating the new courthouse, which had been constructed by the citizens of Garner, for the use of rooms for three county officials - the sheriff, county attorney and superintendent of schools. Injunction proceedings were instituted immediately by the other side and on March 12, 1901, the district court handed down a final decree in the case. It follows:

"In district court of Hancock County, state of Iowa, February term, A. D. 1901. Thomas A. Way et al., plaintiffs, vs. E. P. Fox et al., defendants, judgment and decree.

"Be it remembered that on this 12th day of March, A. D. 1901, being the 15th day of February, 1901, term of this court, this cause coming on for hearing and decision upon the defendants' default and upon offers made and upon the plaintiffs' verbal application for a decree and the court being fully advised in the premises, it is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed by the court that the defendants, E. P. Fox, R. M. Day, H. T. Rose, W. C. Richards and F. J. Oxley, being individually county supervisors of said county and their successors in office and E. F. Brummond, county auditor of said county and his successors in office be and they are hereby perpetually enjoined and restrained, as follows:

"1st. From removing and moving the county seat and courthouse site of said county from its present location on the original town or village site of Concord in said county.

"2d. From removing and moving the county offices and county records, books and papers from the courthouse and said courthouse block in said village of Concord to any point or place outside of said original town or village of Concord, that is to any point outside of the land described as the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 31, Township 96, Range 23.

"3d. From establishing the county seat of said county at or within the limits of the original town of Garner in said county as it existed before the annexation of the territory which was annexed in the year 1898.

"4th. From establishing the courthouse of the said county or any county offices or office at or upon block No. 12 of Tallman's Addition to the town of Garner, in said county or elsewhere than at the county seat at Concord on said forty acre tract of land above described.

"5th. From declaring or making or using said block No. 12 as the site of county buildings or for any county offices.

"6th. From establishing the courthouse or any of the county offices of said county including the offices of said county superintendent, sheriff, and county attorney, at or upon the new courthouse so called situated upon said block 12 in Tallman's Addition to the town of Garner, in said county, and from providing and furnishing county offices therein and paying from the funds of said county for the coal and heating of said new courthouse or any part or room thereof on said block and from ordering or drawing any warrants from said county funds therefor and that the defendants pay the costs.

"A permanent writ of injunction may issue herein as provided by this decree and reciting in substance of this decree.

"But nothing herein contained shall prevent the legal electors of said county from hereafter beginning and completing proceedings as provided by law for the relocation of the county seat of said county and if such proceedings shall be commenced hereafter nothing herein contained shall prevent the defendants or their successors in office from doing any of those acts in reference to such proceedings which boards of supervisors and auditors can lawfully perform in like proceedings.

"And to the above decree both parties and both sides now in open court agree and consent.

"Dated this 12th day of March, A. D. 1901. Signed in open court.
"J. F. CLYDE, Judge."

This practically ended the contest, except the customary verbal exchanges, until the election on November 3, 1903. The contest at the polls was a hot one, notwithstanding the vote of 2057 to 568 in favor of Garner. The board of supervisors of Hancock County met within a few days after the election and the minutes of the meeting show what action they took.

"Relocation of county seat: Shall the proposition to change the county seat to Garner, Iowa, be adopted? Yes, 2057; No, 568.

"Whereas, the board of supervisors of Hancock County, Iowa, find upon canvassing the vote upon the proposition submitted to the voters of said county at the election held therein, on November 3, 1903, to wit: `Shall the proposition to change the county seat to Garner, Iowa, be adopted?' that 2057 votes were cast for said proposition and 568 votes against the same and the board find that a majority of all the votes cast on said proposition were in favor thereof, be it resolved by the board of supervisors that said proposition is hereby declared carried, and the said town of Garner as now constituted is hereby declared to be the county seat of said Hancock County, Iowa.

"Be it further resolved, that the respective county officers of said county, required to keep their offices at the county seat, shall as early as practicable hereafter, not to exceed thirty days from the passage of this resolution, remove the records and documents of their respective offices, to the location in said town of Garner, selected by this board as the courthouse site. And the county auditor is hereby directed to make the necessary and proper record of all the facts, findings and orders.

"On motion the foregoing was unanimously adopted.

"On motion the board unanimously accepted the following confirmation of the gift of building and grounds:

"To the board of supervisors of Hancock County, Iowa:

"The undersigned trustees of what is known as the Garner courthouse fund, having on the 10th day of September, 1898, made, executed and delivered to Hancock County, Iowa, a deed to the following described real estate, to wit:

"Block No. Twelve (12), of Tallman's Addition to the town of Gamer, Hancock. County, Iowa, as a gift to said county for certain prescribed purposes, which deed is recorded in the records of Hancock County, Iowa, in Book 10 of deeds on page 575, and whereas circumstances have up until this time prevented said Hancock County, Iowa, from taking possession and occupying said premises for the purposes for which they were so donated, and whereas said county can now legally take possession and occupy the same:

"We do therefore hereby ratify and confirm the said gift so made of said premises, and hereby ratify and confirm according to its terms, the conveyance thereof, executed as aforesaid, and do hereby ratify and confirm the gift of thirty thousand dollars made to said Hancock County by citizens of Garner, Iowa, and vicinity through us as such trustees for the purpose of purchasing said site and erecting the building now erected thereon.

"In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hand, this 9th day of November, A. D. 1903.

On motion the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
"Be it resolved: That whereas in the year 1898 certain citizens of the town of Garner, in Hancock County, caused to be deeded to Hancock County block No. 12, Tallman's Addition to the town of Garner, and which is within the corporate limits of said town, and which deed was so made and delivered as a donation to said county, with intent that said block would be accepted and used by said county as a site for a new courthouse, and which deed is now of record in said county, and in force according to its terms,

"And whereas, the citizens of Garner and vicinity did donate and furnish to the said county a fund of money with which a substantial and suitable courthouse has been erected on said block No. 12; and which is now in suitable condition to be accepted for court and office purposes: "Now, therefore be it resolved, by the board of supervisors of Hancock County, Iowa, that the said block No. 12 in Tallman's Addition to the town of Garner be designated as the new site for a courthouse for said county and such offices as may be kept therein.

"That the donations of said funds with which said block was bought and said courthouse was built be accepted, and that said block No. 12 be henceforth known as the courthouse site of said Hancock County."

Thus ended the county seat fight in Hancock County

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