History of Dallas County

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Dallas County was organized in 1847, and named for George Mifflin Dallas, Vice President under James K. Polk. The City of Dallas, Texas is also named in his honor. The County was made available for settlement on April 30, 1843. A year earlier the land was purchased from the Sac and Fox Indians and the contract stipulated that all Indians were to be removed by 1845. It is believed the first permanent settlers staked claims in the fall of that year. The nearest trading post was Ft. Des Moines and the nearest mill was at Oskaloosa.

The first County elections were held in a schoolhouse on April 15, 1857 east of present-day Adel. The county seat was originally called Penoach or Panouch, an Indian word meaning "far away." In 1849 the city's name was changed to Adel, where the county seat has remained despite numerous efforts in history to move the seat of government to Perry, Dallas Center, or Waukee.

The first session of the Circuit Court was held in 1847 and the principal act of record was an order by the judge, whose home was in Iowa City, that the eagle side of a twenty-five cent piece was to be used as the seal of the county until a proper seal could be obtained. The big gold rush in California in 1849 and 1850 caused an exodus of many settlers and necessitated elections to fill numerous vacancies in county offices.
Adel was the first relay station on the stagecoach line between Des Moines and "the wild west". Dexter was the home of Dexter Normal College, which flourished until 1896, when it was consolidated with the public school system there.

Among Dallas County's better known residents are Bob Feller, famous baseball pitcher; Nile Kinnick, University of Iowa football player, after whom the stadium in Iowa City is named; George W. Clarke, Governor of Iowa, 1913-1917; Edwin H. Conger, Treasurer of State, 1881-1885, appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as Minister to Brazil where he served four years, appointed again Minister to Brazil by President McKinley in 1897, later serving in China during and after the Boxer uprising; Robert K. Goodwin, member of Congress in 1940.

The first courthouse was built by Buel Lathrop in July of 1848 on Lot 8, Block 9, City of Adel, Iowa. The building was a double log cabin, consisting of two rooms built some distance apart, with the space between being covered and forming an entrance into each floor. Crude looking chimneys on each end made of sod and sticks and daubed with mud were used for heating. The covering was made of clapboards from native timber, which probably warped and twisted, allowing the water to leak in and disturb the dignity of the Court.

In 1853 a new courthouse was built on Lot 4, Block 17 in Adel. This second building is described as a great improvement over the first one, being a one story frame structure about 40 feet in length by 20 feet in width. It was "comfortably finished and furnished". Although it was better than the previous courthouse, it was outgrown in and a small brick building was built in the southwest part of the town square to house some of the county offices. It cost $5000.00.

The third courthouse came about after an election in 1858 authorized its construction by a vote of 401 to 240. This structure was two stories high and constructed of bricks. The $20,000.00 building was located on the town square.
The present courthouse of white Bedford stone was completed on July 10, 1902, by the contracting firm of Jones, Rowson & Son. The cost was $109,000.00. The architects were Proudfoot & Bird with John Olson as the superintendent of construction. A crowd of 2,000 people attended the dedication in September of 1902. The design was adapted from a French Chateau named Azay-Le-Rideau located in the Loire River Valley 150 miles southwest of Paris. (The chateau survived the French revolution, and is open to the public. It is surrounded by a moat and has only one entrance making it easier to defend.) The courthouse is also somewhat larger than the chateau. Some of the blocks in the main wall weigh up to three and one-half tons each. The tower is 128 feet tall with a clock that was
donated by the people of Adel at a cost of $1,000.00. It is decorated by statues of blind Justice, and a stone engraving of the 1858 courthouse embedded in the east wall. This courthouse, like many others in Iowa, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the residents of Dallas County are justly proud of this lovely building.