Jackson County, Iowa history including information about: Andrew Jackson, Bellevue War, John Francis, the Bear River and Ansel Briggs.

  Jackson County, Iowa History Information

Jackson County (656 square miles) was named after Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), hero of the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and seventh President of the United States (1829-1837).

The Winnebago and the Sac and Fox Indians and their enemy, the Sioux, hunted and fished in the area before the first white settlers came there in 1833. In the early days, desperadoes settled in the woods along the Maquoketa River and occupied themselves with horse stealing, counterfeiting, and murder. In 1840, a posse of outraged citizens rounded up these outlaws, called the Brown gang, in what came to be known as the "Bellevue War." Several people were killed and others wounded during the fighting and 13 prisoners were taken and presumed guilty. The jury of 80 men then voted on the penalty. Those who wanted the outlaws hanged dropped a white bean into the "ballot" box passed around, while those who wanted them whipped dropped a colored bean. The judge totaled the result. By a margin of only 3 colored beans, the jury decided on whipping and exile, and each prisoner was lashed on his bare back, then sent by boat down the Mississippi with a warning never to return. This punishment did not keep some members of the old Brown gang from continuing their lives of crime. On July 4, 1845, seven of them were involved in the robbery and murder of Colonel George Davenport in his home at Rock Island; they were apprehended and convicted.

The first county seat of Jackson County was Bellevue - spelled on early records as "Belleview" or "Bellview" - named in honor of John D. Bell, an early resident and the first postmaster. The town is located on the Mississippi River and is surrounded on the north, west, and south by high bluffs or hills. The first meeting of the Jackson County Commissioners was held on April 2, 1838, at Bellevue, which was then the only town of consequence in the county and the natural choice for the county seat. The first term of court was held two months later. A one mill tax was levied by the commissioners for the county fund and a one-half mill tax for the court fund. Since money was scarce, payments in commodities, such as coonskins and maple sugar, were accepted for tax payments.

Iowa officially became a Territory on July 4, 1838 and the Territorial Assembly set up procedures for the location and survey of a new seat of county government at a point centrally located. Andrew was chosen by the three locating commissioners, who met on April 15, 1841. An election between Bellevue and Andrew was then held in May. Andrew was the winner, receiving 208 votes against 111 for Bellevue. The new town of Andrew was then laid out by John G. McDonald, county surveyor.

It was more than a year later, on July 5, 1842, that lots were put up for sale at auction and the town of Andrew, "less the public square," was acquired by John Francis and Ansel Briggs, who later became the first governor of Iowa (1846-1850).

The first courthouse at Andrew was a log structure, about 30' x 40', built by local citizens just north of the public square. It was used until 1848, then became a stable. About this time, a brick courthouse was erected at Bellevue. With the removal of the county seat from Bellevue again, however, this building was used as a public school.

After 1849, there followed a long period during which the county seat was ever changing. It was moved back and forth between Bellevue and Andrew, while Centreville (within one mile of Andrew) and Fulton were unsuccessful contenders for the honor. Voters became more and more agitated over the constant attempts to relocate the county seat, and stuffing the ballot box was a common occurrence during these days of heated elections. It was discovered in the election of 1857 that the total vote in each of the rival towns, Bellevue and Fulton, was larger than ever polled before - or for some years after. Bellevue won by 20 votes and the victory may be attributed to John A. Weston, owner of a large Illinois timber lot on an island opposite Bellevue, who came to the polls with 30 of his woodchoppers, some of whom spoke no English. Before the 1861 election, however, it was required that no one could vote who was not a citizen, and many received their naturalization papers with full citizenship status in time to vote in the this county seat election.

Another courthouse was built at Andrew in 1861, at a cost of $6,000, and was offered to the county rent-free for a period of five years. This three-story, stone building was purchased by the county in 1866 for only $2,000. After serving as a courthouse for 12 years, the building became a mill and was subsequently occupied by the Andrew Cooperative Creamery Co. The top floor of the building was destroyed in a 1961 fire.

It was not until 1873 that the long drawn-out county seat contest ended in Jackson County when Maquoketa (an Indian name given to the Bear River) won out in an election over Andrew by a majority of 179 votes. The railroads had reached Maquoketa and the town's population had increased substantially. The city council of Maquoketa built a large "city hall" after $8,000 was appropriated from the city treasury to purchase a lot and erect a building. The basement walls were two feet thick, and were built of dressed stone. The entire building was 45' x 81' and cost the city over $14,000. The plan was to lease this building to Jackson County for use as a courthouse. The city reserved the right to use part of the building for their purposes under the 99-year lease, as long as Maquoketa remained the county seat. County records were moved into this new building November 9, 1873, with the gratuitous help of about 75 farmers and their teams.

The jail remained at Andrew, however, for the time being. The original jail of 1848 had been declared unfit for human habitation by 1867, and a new stone jail was built at Andrew in 1871. Since it was eight miles from the new county seat, prisoners had to be brought to Maquoketa by the sheriff and confined in cages in the courthouse basement when they were arraigned in court. This situation continued until 1896, when a jail was erected in Maquoketa.

Once again, in the fall of 1876, citizens of Andrew made another determined effort to recapture the county seat, and special policemen were placed inside the courthouse at Maquoketa to watch over the county records. Three men from Andrew were captured trying to gain entrance to the courthouse under cover of darkness. They were placed under arrest and tried. Two were discharged, but the other man was fined for resisting an officer.

Up to this time there had been two embezzlements by officials of Jackson County. When the clerk of the district court retired from office in 1865, it was discovered that he had not reported some $5,532.48 in fees. How much more might have been appropriated could not be known as the shortages went back for a number of years. The county brought suit against the sureties and, after two years, a judgment was secured for $2,442.98 and costs. This was finally reduced to $2,000.

In 1873, after the county seat was changed for the last time - from Andrew to Maquoketa - the front door of the courthouse was standing open. The county treasurer's office was "in a disordered condition," with the safe open and papers scattered about the floor. The treasurer reported that the safe had been robbed of $20,000. His report made out a few days later showed a shortage of about $41,000. Authorities then became suspicious of the burglary story. Upon examining the books of the treasurer, who had held office for six years, a deficit of $51,000 was reported. The ex-treasurer then filed for bankruptcy and the county collected about 25 percent of the shortage. Suit was brought against the defaulter's bondsmen to recover the balance. A judgment for $25,000 was obtained, but the bondsmen were released after paying a little more than $5,000. Criminal proceedings were brought against the embezzler, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined $41,000, however, the fine was remitted and the prison term was shortened by executive clemency.

By 1938, the courthouse had long since been outgrown, and some county offices were housed in another building. There was not enough vault space, and many records were stored in the courthouse attic and the basement. Officials were hampered in the overcrowded working space. But a bond issue election for a new courthouse was defeated, having carried in only 7 out of 25 precincts - 2,003 against, and 1,868 for the issue. In April 1954, the Jackson County Grand Jury declared the courthouse as "Thoroughly unsatisfactory for the safe-keeping of records."

The present Jackson County Courthouse was finally constructed in 1958-59 at a cost of $400,000. The architect was William J. McNeil; the general contractor was Roth & Associates. The one-story building, of modern design, is located at the same site as the previous courthouse, which was torn down before the new building was constructed. The last county officials moved in on January 1, 1961. Meanwhile, county offices had been scattered around town.


History in Jackson County, Iowa

History in Jackson County, Iowa

History in Jackson County, Iowa

History in Jackson County, Iowa