Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wapello County Courthouse

St. Louis Trip, Day 1 - Friday, July 24, 2015
In Ottumwa, Iowa, we stopped to see the Wapello County Courthouse, which was built in 1894.  The first county courthouse was a log cabin.  That was followed by a brick building, which cost $1000 to build.  This was sold to a church in 1855.  From 1855 to 1891 another courthouse served; construction costs for that building were $13,000.  Voters then approved $100,000 in bonds to build the courthouse currently in use today.
Wapello County was named for Fox Indian Chief Wapello.  The Fox Indian tribe is also known as the Meskwaki.  Chief Wapello had a friendly relationship with the European settlers, and moved his tribe west of the Mississippi to Iowa.  Wapello died in 1842.  After his death, the U.S. persuaded the Sac and Fox to sell their lands and move west of the Red Rock Line.  In 1845, they were forced to move to Kansas.  

Indians were not considered citizens by the U.S. government, and thus generally not permitted to buy land.  But in 1851, the Iowa legislature passed a new law that the Meskwaki could buy land and stay in the state.  In 1857, the Meskwaki Tribe bought 80 acres in Tama County.
The U.S. government tried to force them back into Kansas by withholding treaty-right annuities, but they failed, and 10 years later began paying annuities when they recognized the tribe as the "Sac and Fox of the Mississippi and Iowa."  Ever since the initial purchase, the Meskwaki Nation has been buying back more land.  They currently own over 8,000 acres in Tama and Palo Alto Counties.  During World War 2, several Meskwaki men served as code talkers.  

A statue of Chief Wapello stands above the courthouse.  As shown in the photo below, there originally was a clocktower on the courthouse as well.  It created too much strain on the structure, however, and had to be taken down.

The interior of the building was not awe-inspiring.  The staircases were pretty neat, but other than that, I had the impression it was just an old building, with some nice woodwork, used for business for the past 100+ years.  
 
In 1881, there was a gold rush in Wapello County when a man claimed he found gold in Bear Creek.  Land prices went up until the claim was discovered to be a fraud.  Coal was mined in the area from 1857 into the 1900s.  From 1890 to 1892, Ottumwa featured the magnificent but temporary Coal Palace, which was visited by President Benjamin Harrison and Congressman (later President) William McKinley.
Of the Coal Palace, President Harrison remarked, "If I should attempt to interpret the lesson of this structure, I should say it was an illustration of how much that is artistic and graceful is to be found in the common things of life, and if I should make an application of this lesson, it would be to suggest that we might profitably carry into all our homes and into all neighborly intercourse the same transforming spirit."

Driving through Ottumwa, I would never have guessed the palace existed.  Coal is prone to oxidation, so the building was not kept standing for long.  It is a striking example of how magnificent something can be at one time, and later be all but forgotten.  Across the street from the courthouse is the public library (below right), and a memorial dedicated "To Heroic Sons," dated 1918.

20 comments:

  1. i do like the stairway and the fireplace, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most of the courthouses we visit seem to have pretty nice stairways. Sometimes the steps are visibly worn/slightly warped from so many years of constant use, but the handrails are usually interesting.

      Delete
  2. Bethant interesting history about the courthouse. The courthouse look like in Europe

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wonderful collection of images and tour of the courthouse. The memorial is pretty. Thanks for sharing your visit, Bethany! Have a happy weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for interesting history lesson Bethany! :) The courthouse looks cool without the clock tower, but it's a shame it had to be taken down. Just out of curiosity, do you get most of your information about the places you visit from docents and locals or from online research? Do you write notes or have an incredible memory?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of times (including for this courthouse) my information is from online research. I don't remember talking with anyone at this courthouse, though we might have said hello to a security man or someone. It just depends where the place is, how friendly locals (and we) are, if we're just stopping by, or if we have an appointment for a tour. At the Marshall County courthouse, which we visited this Thursday, we made an appointment, and a lady who works on/for the Board of Supervisors gave us a fascinating tour up to the clock tower, giving us details and history for every room and floor we visited.

      I don't have a fantastic memory by any means. I keep a notepad and pen in my purse, so I can take notes if I need to remember anything, but I usually find taking pictures of information already written on plaques and such more efficient.

      Delete
  5. That is pretty neat that the Iowa legislature made a law that allowed the Meskwaki to buy land and stay there! I really like the stairway in the photo you posted--pretty!
    Blessings, Aimee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Aimee! Blessings to you as well!

      Delete
  6. This is a pretty nice place. Your stairwell photo is wonderful. Very nice composition! You'd make a great writer and photographer for tourism boards/websites, especially in your state.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a wonderful place to visit. I love history.

    Have a blessed evening.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting. We've spent some time in those areas, but never gone into Wapello.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me know next time you're back in the Iowa area! Would love to meet you!

      Delete
  9. Very beautiful building, both outside and inside!
    I particularly enjoyed the stairs' handrail - intricate work there.
    Nice write-up about the 'permissions' given to the native people by Iowa!
    I enjoyed this post, Bethany - very much enjoyed it!
    Have a Wonderful Week!
    Peace :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of the handrails at these courthouses seem to be pretty neat!

      Delete
  10. Interesting bit of history to do with Wapello County. It never ceases to amaze me just how far $1,000 would go back before the 1900's!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! A thousand dollars used to be a lot of money!

      Delete