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.