Monday, June 29, 2009

Visiting County Courthouses

Iowa’s county courthouses span the history of the state of Iowa. Two courthouses were built prior to Iowa’s statehood, and one courthouse was completed in 2008. Over one third of the courthouses still serving today were constructed prior to 1900.

Courthouses were designed to reflect the importance of government in the lives of citizens. Early courthouses, small log structures or frame buildings, were replaced with larger stone or brick courthouses as soon as the county could afford it. Only two courthouses date back to Iowa’s statehood, other counties have replaced their courthouses due to fire, weather, poor construction, or increasing needs of a growing population.

(Madison County Courthouse: A judge carved the walnut staircase railing)

A visit inside the courthouse tells more of the story of the county, the architect, and the time during which the courthouse was built. Although this author has just begun the journey to visit inside the courthouse, it is a delightful experience indeed!

(Page County Courthouse: beautiful doorknobs and hinges)

Be sure to contact the courthouse before your visit. Most of Iowa’s counties have a website with contact information for elected officials. Typically the auditor responded to my inquiries for permission for photography and arranged for assistance with information and/or tour guide. The clerk of court will let you know when the courtroom is available – and usually the courtroom is the most elaborate room.

(Marion County Courthouse: The courtroom has been remodeled, but the original carved bar and bench remain. The carving originally behind the judge's bench has a new place of honor outside the courtroom door.)

Do a bit of homework – the date of construction, architect, and major construction materials can be located with a bit of research: see My Iowa Genealogy or Internet Archive (search for Iowa County) for information dating back to the 1800’s.

(Keokuk County Courthouse: Original Gaslights have been converted to electricity)

That will allow you to refine your journey. Things this author looked for: original details (gas lights, fireplaces, doorknobs and hinges) detailed work (wrought iron, carved wood and stone, statues), features not apparent to the public (staircase from clerk’s office to the judge’s chamber, dumbwaiters, back door to jail area), things that tell the courthouse’s history (art, fire marks, changes for safety or modernization) and other details that were not available in research, such as clock manufacturer.

(Montgomery County Courthouse: Graffiti inside clocktower)

Visit some courthouses! You will meet wonderful hardworking public servants who are proud of their courthouses. You will be amazed at the construction of older courthouses, and how the design still serves the county today. You can see the influence of each decade in the art and architecture of courthouses through the years from 1840 to today.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Scales of Justice

The scales of justice is an ancient symbol of law. It represents how the law must weigh both sides of a dispute (Supreme Court). Some of Iowa's courthouses feature the symbol of the scales without the image of Lady Justice.

The scales of justice is seen in etched glass above the west entrance of Pottawattamie County's subcourthouse in Avoca.

The scales of justice are the prominent feature in a stained-glass window above the west entrance to Hancock County's courthouse in Garner

A modern scales of justice are depicted above the north door on the tall stone facade of the Blackhawk County courthouse in Waterloo.

The scales of justice are etched into the stone structure near the south entrance to the Story County courthouse in Nevada.

Supreme Court. Symbols of law. Online: .Updated 5/23/2002.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Symbols of Law

A courthouses serves many purposes for its county. County boundaries and the position of the county seat were originally designed to allow all citizens to be able to travel to the courthouse to conduct business and return home in one day. But the purpose of a courthouse is primarily to hold court. The presence of a courtroom in each county seat help to guarantee citizens the right to a speedy trial. (Goeldner).

Figures of the Greek goddess of Justice is prominently displayed on several of Iowa's courthouses. Justitia holds a balance in one hand, symbolizing impartiality, and a sword in the other hand, symbolizing power (Supreme Court).

Dallas County Courthouse: Adel, Iowa

Winneshiek County: Decorah, Iowa
Justice is in the center of the relief, centered below the balance.

Washington County: Washington, Iowa

Davis County: Bloomfield, Iowa

Jefferson County: Fairfield, Iowa
Justice is portrayed in terracotta relief

Sioux County: Orange City, Iowa
Sorry for the small image - hopefully I'll have a chance to take more photos this summer.

Franklin County: Hampton, Iowa

Marshall County: Marshalltown, Iowa
The goddess of Justice is centered above the north entrance, between two other goddesses.

Dubuque County: Dubuque, Iowa
The goddess of Justice on the top of the dome.

Polk County: Des Moines, Iowa
Justice is blindfolded

Shelby County: Harlan, Iowa
Justice wears a blindfold, in the arch above the south entrance

Dubuque County: Dubuque, Iowa
Three goddesses at a roof peak: the seated goddess on the left holds a tablet; the seated goddess on the right wears a blindbold.

Hardin County: Eldora, Iowa
Three goddesses rest in an alcove. The seated goddess on the left holds a tablet; the seated goddess on the right wears a blindbold.

Marshall County: Marshalltown, Iowa
Two goddesses are seated on both sides of Justice: one with a staff; the other holds a sickle.

Goeldner, Paul. (1971) Temples of justice: nineteenth century county courthouses in the midwest and Texas. Doctoral dissertation: Columbia University.

Supreme Court. Symbols of Justice. Online: updated 5/23/2003.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Free-standing Clocks

Many of Iowa's courthouses have large clocks installed on the courthouse - on a tower, dome, or high on the face of the building. However, a few feature free-standing clocks. These add the traditional function of a community clock for these modern courthouses, all constructed after 1950.
We may have missed some of these gems - if you know of other Iowa courthouse square clocks, please click on "comments" to reply to this email!

Mills County Courthouse Square
The prior courthouse's Seth Thomas clock installation was listed in the company’s 1911 catalog. The 1857 courthouse was enhanced by addition of a clock tower in 1910. The face and hands from the former courthouse, along with new tower and clockworks, were used in the free-standing clock tower in 1959. It is located just west of the courthouse. (information provided by Vicki McClintic, Mills County Recorder)

Kossuth County Courthouse Square
This street clock is located in the southeast corner of the square. A plaque on the north side of the base says "Dedicated this 11th Day of July 2003 - Kossuth on State Committee." It was obtained from Electric Time in Medfield, Massachusetts.

Cedar County Courthouse Square
This street clock says "Tipton" in the metal frame above the clock face. The clock is owned by Tipton's Chamber of Commerce. It is west of the courthouse entrance in the courthouse square.
More information coming soon!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Courthouse Clocks Continued

Several courthouse clocks were not listed in the 1911 Seth Thomas catalog. In my research, I initially did not locate additional information on other clocks. I used individual county websites, My Iowa Genealogy website, and "The Counties and Courthouses of Iowa" by LeRoy G. Pratt for information. I recently found a site with E. Howard Clock installations - details on those clocks have been updated.
Information on the history and interesting facts about courthouse clocks are always welcome! (just click on "comments" to this post)

Greene County Courthouse
Two outside clocks, each five feet in diameter, were financed “by popular subscription”

Hardin County Courthouse
The original courthouse clock, a Howard clock model 2 installation in 1900, is shown in photos circa 1896-1900 with a black face. The clock was destroyed by fire in 1921; the clock tower's iron floor prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the courthouse. The clock was running inaccurately in 1967, and extensive remodeling and repair was done to the courthouse in 1970, including the clock.

Franklin County Courthouse
A four-sided clock in the large dome.

Webster County Courthouse
The copper clock tower was restored in 1985

Marshall County Courthouse
The Marshall County Courthouse's clock is a Howard clock model #3, installed in 1900. The tower and clock reaches 175 feet into the sky.

Sioux County Courthouse
Its large clock tower is topped by a statue of Justice.

Marion County Courthouse
The tower’s clock struck the hour throughout the city. The clock and bell are both the E. Howard Clock Company. The bell bears the date 1905.

Jefferson County Courthouse
The Jefferson County Courthouse clock in Fairfield has a Howard clock model # 2, installed in 1892. It features an illuminated clock in the large dome
Wayne County Courthouse

Mahaska County Courthouse
The Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa has a Howard clock model #2, installed in 1889. It requires hand winding about twice a week.

Page County Courthouse
The original tower featured a four-faced clock, which was removed in 1950. $175,000 was raised in private donations to replace the clock tower. Reconstruction was completed in 1994.

Montgomery County Courthouse
The Montgomery County Courthouse clock in Red Oak is a Howard clock model #2, installed in 1896. The tall clock tower with four-faced clock was a gift from the Red Oak Monday Club.

Washington County Courthouse
The courthouse also contains a large 181-foot tower, complete with the former Washington Academy clock. This clock is a Howard Clock #2, installed in 1874 in the Academy building. The clock became unreliable over time, so the Washington County Historical Society and the Carlton "Tug" Wilson estate funded the clock’s renovation in 1967.

Muscatine County Courthouse
The dome is supported by stone pillars

Clinton County Courthouse

Delaware County Courthouse
The Delaware County Courthouse clock in Manchester is a Howard clock model #2. Seven hundred county citizens bought a clock that was placed in the tower in 1895.

Fayette County Courthouse

Clayton County Courthouse
A 45-foot clock tower was added in 1896. The clock is a Howard clock model #1, records indicate its installation was in 1890. The clock was paid by the citizens of Elkader. The clock required daily winding, then was electrified in 1980. The cupola was expanded in 1896 to include a clock tower.

Winneshiek County Courthouse

Benton County Courthouse
112 foot tall tower with illuminated clock and 1,500 bell B-Flat donated by farmer & merchant Paul Correll

Dallas County Courthouse
The tower is 128-foot-tall with a clock that was donated by the people of Adel. In addition, there is a $1,000 clock that rests in the tower.

Polk County Courthouse

Monday, April 13, 2009

Courthouse Clocks

Many of Iowa's county courthouses are crowned with beautiful towers with a large clock. The courthouse typically was built in the middle of the business district, and the large clock, usually with a bell to sound each hour and quarter hour, served as the official timepiece to keep the community on time. Over time many of these tall towers were removed: the weight of the stone or brick threatening the structure of the courthouse, or pieces of the clock tower started falling.

This article features clocks listed in a Seth Thomas catalog, circa 1911. Iowa's installations of Seth Thomas clocks, including these courthouses, are listed on page 44.

Appanoose County Courthouse
The clock tower, rising from the center of the courthouse, features the four-faced clock. The Seth Thomas Clock, Model #15, was manufactured in 1905. It underwent major repairs in 1936, and in 1975 after it was struck by lightning. It was restored in 2003 by Rory DeMesy.

Chickasaw County Courthouse

Clay County Courthouse
The clock tower was added in 1910 to the 1901 courthouse.

Davis County Courthouse
The four-sided clock is the pride of Bloomfield. The clock tower is 123 feet above the ground. The 1876 Seth Thomas clock and 1878 Kimberly Bell underwent recent restoration by Rory DeMesy.

Decatur County Courthouse

Grundy County Courthouse
The clock was installed in the tower in 1900 - five years after the courthouse was completed.

Jasper County Courthouse
The clock has four dials, each 8 feet high, and was provided through private donations. The self-winding clock automatically turns on its lighted face at night and turns off at dawn.

Keokuk County Courthouse
The clock was paid through contributions

South Lee County Courthouse

Lucas County Courthouse
The tower's clock was donated by Smith Henderson Mallory in 1894.

Madison County Courthouse
The bell and fourth-faced illuminated clock grace the dome, which is 136 feet above the ground. The clock was restored with new hands and cast aluminum gears in 1975.

Monroe County Courthouse

Tama County Courthouse
The 1914 courthouse clock was restored in 2003 by Lloyd Larish of Faribault, MN

Taylor County Courthouse
The Seth Thomas clock in the dome and the building itself are illuminated at night. Only 82 clocks of this model were built.

Winnebago County Courthouse

Wright County Courthouse