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VBCCourthouse - Copy (2)

About Van Buren County

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Van Buren County was established on December 7, 1836, and was named in honor of then Vice President Martin Van Buren.  In the spring of 1837, the first court and county commissioners meeting was held at Farmington. On December 16, 1837, the Legislature of the Wisconsin territory passed an Act changing the county seat from Farmington to Rochester. This Act was vetoed by the territorial governor. At an election held in 1838, the city of Keosauqua edged out Bentonsport for the honor of being the county seat.  Another legislative Act approved on January 25, 1839, required the town to contribute at least $5000 in lots or materials for the erecting of a courthouse, if it wished to remain the county seat. On May 30, 1840, the county commissioners accepted a contract in the amount of $6500 from John Fairman and James Hall to build the courthouse. Sewall Kenny and Henry King were appointed as building agents. On January 7, 1841, the county commissioners rescinded the appointment of the building agents, transferring that responsibility to Edwin Manning, who finished the courthouse at a cost of $6712 in September of 1843. The Van Buren County Courthouse is the oldest in Iowa and second oldest in the nation that has been in continuous use since its completion in 1843. It is of Greek Revival Style of architecture. Its massive support structure, framing material, and finish trims were taken from nearby trees. The brick was also of local production. At the time of its building, the courtroom on the second floor was the largest auditorium in Iowa unbroken by columns or pillars. Although the 10 foot square tower, which rose 16 feet above the comb of the building and the two walnut circular staircases have been gone for over 140 years, much that remains of the building is original. Major restoration of interior of the courthouse took place in 1981-83, with exterior renovations completed in 1997.  The first legal death penalty in Iowa, the only one in Van Buren County, was handed down in the courtroom in 1845, a case on a change of venue from Washington County. The subject was found guilty and hanged north of the courthouse in “Hangman's Hollow” on April 4, 1846.  The walls of the courthouse display pictures of many of the attorneys and judges that practiced in the courtroom. Included in those is a picture of U.S. District Court Judge, Henry C. Caldwell, who was the last judge named by President Abraham Lincoln.  Other buildings making up the courthouse complex include a Law Enforcement Center located directly north of the courthouse. It was completed in 1993 with an addition added in 1998, replacing an old jail that was built in 1856. The county office building, located directly south of the courthouse was built in 1896, replacing one that was built in 1855 and destroyed by fire in 1896. An annex addition was constructed to the east of the county office building in 1978-79.