"In-roads to success, bridges to the future"
WASHINGTON COUNTY SECONDARY ROADS
210 West Main Street, Washington, IA 52353
Without history, who are we? History defines who we are today by looking to the past to see how far we have come.
This page is devoted to the history of the Secondary Roads Department, Washington County, and the State of Iowa. Hope you enjoy.
History of Washington County Engineers
The first County Engineer's Office was located in the Northwest corner of the Court House (currently the Law Library) and then moved in the late 1950's to the southwest corner next to the Court Room (currently Magistrate's Office) until 1972 when the Iowa State Legislature created the County Magistrate position. In 1973 the County Assessor and County Engineer's offices were moved next door and established in the McCreedy Building, 210 West Main Street. The County Assessor occupies the first floor of the McCreedy Building while the Engineer's offices are housed on the second floor.
The Secondary Roads Maintenance Building is located at 821 East 7th Street, Washington, Iowa. In 1980 the old Maintenance Shop was replaced with a 100' x 70' steel frame building. A 60' x 70' addition was erected in 1987. Washington County Secondary Roads Department purchased an additional three acre site adjacent to the existing site. First Commercial Construction Company of Burlington, Iowa began construction of a new 170' x 60' steel frame building in 1999.
Washington County Secondary Roads Department also owns 6 territory sheds that house equipment.
Ainsworth Shed -- 6th Street, Ainsworth, IA. Purchased in 1951.
Crawfordsville Shed -- Built in 1988 by Wood Construction, Washington, IA.
Riverside Shed -- Hwy. W61, South of Riverside, IA. Built in 1977, by Robert Bruty Construction, Washington, IA.
Rubio Shed -- Built in 1978, by Robert Bruty Construction, Washington, IA.
Wellman Shed -- 130th Street, Wellman, IA. Constructed in 2001 by H.E.S. Construction, Mt. Pleasant, IA.
West Chester Shed -- Built in 1996, by Conner/Pacemaker Construction, Washington, IA.
The following information is from IOWA, The World Almanac of the U.S.A., by Allen Carpenter and Carl Provorse, copyright 1998.
Many think of Iowa as a land of huge farms and small cities populated by people right out of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man". True, it is one of the greatest farming states in the country, producing about 1/5 of the nation's corn supply and containing about 1/4 of the country's richest farmlands. But it is also a leader in manufacturing cereals, tractors, and washing machines. Iowa also has one of the finest writing programs in the country at the University of Iowa, and among Iowa's notables are many authors and artists, including Grant Wood. The state capital is known as the "Hartford of the West" because of its many insurance company headquarters. The state is experiencing rapidly increasing growth in the manufacturing and service industries.
Did you know...
Admitted into Statehood: December 28, 1846
State Capital: Des Moines
Nickname: Hawkeye State
State Motto: "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."
State Bird: Eastern Goldfinch
State Flower: Wild Rose
State Stone: Geode
State Song: "Song of Iowa"
State Tree: Oak
Excerpts from "The Counties and Courthouses of Iowa" by LeRoy G. Pratt, published by Klipto Printing & Office Supply Company, Mason City, Iowa, copyright 1977.
Washington County was originally established January 16, 1837 and organized on January 18, 1838 under the name of Slaughter County, but the inhabitants did not like the sound of the name. One year later, the name was changed to Washington County in honor of George Washington, soldier, statesman, and our country's first President. The original county name was for William B. Slaughter, secretary of the Territory of Wisconsin.
The first white settlers to come to what is now Washington County arrived in 1835 and 1836. At this time, the Sac and Fox Indians had a village of nearly 600 near the site of Washington. This was abandoned around 1838, when the Indians moved to a place along the Skunk River, afterward called Sandy Hook. Their next settlement was near Wassonville, where they occupied territory until 1843.
The first seat of justice was at the town of Astoria, which was laid out in 1837, but only one log cabin was ever erected there. It was about 16 feet square, with a rear addition, and was intended to serve as a courthouse. Actually, even this building was never fully completed. The exact location of Astoria is not apparent today, but it was near Ainsworth, in Oregon Township, just east of the town of Washington.
After the organization of Washington (Slaughter) County, court sessions were held at private homes until a courthouse could be built. The first court was held on May 7, 1838 on the farm of David Goble, under the trees, with the jurors seated on a log. No cases were presented. According to a census taken by the sheriff in 1838, the county had a population of 283.
Three commissioners were named to locate the county seat for the convenience of "the future as well as the present population of the county." Meanwhile, the county seat was to remain at Astoria. When the commissioners met on June 1, 1839, they disagreed on the site, but finally compromised on the location later that month.
Washington, which had been laid out in 1838, was designated as the county seat. Lots were sold to provide funds for a building, and at a meeting of the county commissioners held on September 7, 1839, an order was made and an appropriation of funds voted for "erecting and building a temporary courthouse." This so-called "temporary" courthouse was erected in 1839, but the building was actually made to last for nearly eight years. The contract price for constructing it was $759, but the contractor, Joseph Neil, was docked $100 for non-fulfillment of the contract as agreed upon. Erected on the southwest corner of the public square, the 18' x 28' building was two stories high, resting on six "good, substantial rock pillars." Native oak and walnut lumber was used in its construction. The first court was held here on November 8, 1841. In addition, this building was used as a school, church, town hall, and "resting place for weary travelers." It also provided space for a tailor shop and a shoe shop. When it was moved to the north part of town in 1848, the old courthouse was converted into a stable.
A second courthouse was begun in February 1845 and completed in July 1847. This quaint old brick building, with a center spire or cupola, stood in the center of the public square. The architect and contractor, Alex Lee, was docked $50 on the cupola and $100 on the rest of the building. He was allowed to have any of the unsold lots in Washington for $5 each -- a price that now appears ridiculously low. However, Mr. Lee does not appear to have taken advantage of the offer.
There are many interesting facts connected with this second courthouse during its 20-year existence. Runaway teams were stopped by the fence around the public square. Wolf hunts were organized at the courthouse, and the sheriff held tax sales at the south door. He drummed on the windows to attract a crowd. The courthouse also served as a civic center, schoolhouse, and theater. Dr. Fuller lectured there on "Family Remedies to Make at Home," and Dr. Dewey, a dentist, had his office there. He used poetry in his advertising and charged 25 cents to pull a tooth. Annie Wittenmyer visited the courthouse in 1863 on behalf of the U.S, Sanitary Commission to collect food for Civil War hospitals. When Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, the courthouse was lighted up and buildings all around the square blazed with lamp and lantern light. A cannon was hauled out and "100 guns fired." In spite of muddy streets and sidewalks, large crowds turned out. This courthouse continued in use until 1868, when it was pronounced unsafe and the old firetrap was demolished and sold for its brick, which was bought by Andrew Maxwell for $470.
Everson's Opera House, located on the northwest corner of the square, served as a courthouse from 1869 until the next courthouse was built. This red brick opera house was later used by the Masonic Lodge. A spectacular fire destroyed the structure in 1930.
The town was divided on the location of the new courthouse. There was a feeling by some that the park in the public square was better off without the county building. Before its construction was decided upon, one writer of the period commented that, "The time for Washington County to advertise itself through the medium of a showy courthouse has passed: Washing County needs no advertising, and if it did, there are ways much more effectual than through the medium of a brag courthouse." When the third courthouse was built, it was located one block west of the northwest corner of the square, where it stands today.
Construction on this third courthouse was commenced in 1885 and completed two years later -- or 40 years after the completion of the second courthouse. The cost of the 98' x 80' building and the furniture was $75,000. Designed by William Foister and his partner, Henry F. Liebbe, of Des Moines, the building contract was let to T. and H. Colwell, of LaSalle, Illinois, for $63,472. At the same time the courthouse was being built, a $10,000 jail and a $20,000 opera house were also under construction in Washington.
Stone for the basement of the courthouse came from Sagetown, Illinois. The Muscatine pressed brick for the outside walls did not meet the specified requirements and appeared "as mottled as a speckled hen." A new supply of brick was ordered from LaSalle, Illinois, and one and one-half days of bricklaying was replaced. Although the contractor added $100 to his bill "for tearing down a wall," this was not paid as the supervisors felt that if the wall had been built right in the first place, it wouldn't have been necessary to tear it down. The brick for the inside came from the local kilns of F.E. Swift. The granite columns and other stone trim came from Cleveland and Berea, Ohio.
With the iron joists in place, the courthouse was covered and fires were used to dry out the walls. By October 1886, the attic was ready for the big iron water tank, which was hoisted into place.
Work continued through the winter, but some of the slate roof had to be removed because it was laid so late the previous fall that the mortar froze. A lightning rod was installed atop the courthouse tower to "avoid tempting Jove." Mosaic tiles were laid in the corridors. Two "life size" figures -- the "Lusty Dames" or "busters" -- were placed above the doors; Justice, above the south entrance, and the Goddess of Liberty at the west. Actually, these metal statues stand eight feet tall. Justice (or "Jess," for "Let jess-tice be done") has lost the sword she once held in her right hand, and one of the balances from her scales is missing. The west entrance was closed and the steps were removed in 1927.
After the architect had inspected the nearly completed courthouse, he directed that a few changes be made and two cracked steps replaced. The board then accepted the final Foster and Liebbe report, but voters refused to approve equipping the building by a vote of 2,378 to 1,300. Local newspaper editor Howard A. Burrell reported there were "12 old chairs, a judge chair and 2 tables. No seats for the bar, witnesses, prisoners, plaintiffs, defendants or spectators. Everybody will have to sit on the floor and let his feet hang down. The fattest official has the softest seat." Later, voters did get around to authorizing new furnishings.
"Retiring rooms" were located in the basement, but there was no water. Milk crocks filled with sand served as spittoons, but there was the complaint that "some people would squirt nicotine on the streets of Jerusalem." The courthouse janitor had to put up 36 signs saying "Use the Spittoons, Don't Spit on the Floor," before the cuds and tobacco juice started to accumulate in the milk crock spittoons.
According to a local historian at the time the courthouse was completed, the building "became the standard of beauty in the county seat" and "exerted an esthetic influence on every townsman and farmer who has put up a fine house." The courthouse "set the pace," and many delegations from other counties came to inspect the building.
The local press stated, "The builders have certainly done an excellent job. Washington County has reason to be proud of its new courthouse and can congratulate itself on its being built for a reasonable figure, and without the usual charges of corruption being made against the board who supervised it and the builders."
The most elaborate part of the building is the tower, extending 181 feet above the basement floor. This tower contains a clock with dials eight feet in diameter. The clock was moved to the courthouse tower from the Washington Academy in 1920, and installed by the E. Howard Clock Company of Waltham, Massachusetts for $204.24. The same firm originally sold the clock when it was installed at the Academy by Walter Ja Ka, of Ottawa, Illinois -- one of eight generations of clockmakers originating in Alsace-Lorraine. Carris Manufacturing Company of Washington took over the maintenance of the clock at the courthouse for $40 per month. It had to be wound twice each week in its new location because the weights were too short. In 1951, Wallace Ja Ka, a son of Walter, overhauled the clock in the courthouse tower.
The bell was cast of bronze, tin, and brass at the Troy Bell foundry. A 50-pound hammer strikes the outside of the bell. Any change in the point of contact would cause the tone to be different.
Back in Academy days, students would climb to the belfry and start the clock striking in the middle of the night. On another occasion, one of the clock weights broke loose from the supporting cable and crashed through the building to the basement, burying itself in the earth. Classes were in session at the time and someone remarked, "I was afraid for a moment it might do something to injure the institution." The appropriateness of the comment is better appreciated when considered in connection with the constant admonition of the school's principal, Professor McKee, to his students: "Don't do anything that will injure the institution."
Because of this danger of falling weights, the local Carris firm later devised a way to wind the town clock electrically. When the clock hands ice over sometimes, this also caused concern, and in 1965, lightning struck the clock, causing it to become quite irregular in its habits. Pigeons or starlings roosting on the minute hands also have caused the clock to speed up or slow down.
After more than nine decades, the Washington town clock in the courthouse tower was not as reliable as when it was first installed in the old Washington Academy building in 1874, although it was "made to last 150 years." The working parts of the clock had become so worn over the years that it no longer kept accurate time and sometimes failed to toll the hour it should. On one occasion the 36-inch bell wouldn't stop ringing until it had struck 60 times.
The responsibility for repairing the clock was denied by the county, and the city didn't have the funds needed. Yet, the people of Washington had become attached to the old clock, and everyone came to depend upon it to ring out the hour. In 1967, The Washington County Historical Society voted to accept the responsibility for raising the $4,000 to $5,000 needed to replace the clock mechanism. But the problem was finally solved when a local attorney, Carlton "Tug" Wilson, who died November 19, 1967, provided in his will that the sum of $6,000 be given "to repair or replace the town clock in the town of the courthouse." Mr. Wilson lived to be 89 years of age, almost as old as the clock he saved from the ravages of time.
The courthouse is a product of the Victorian period when people like their buildings fancy and covered with ornamentation. This was an expression of the new prosperity and indicated a gracious way of life. This building has been described by someone as "looking like a courthouse" -- and, it does.