Early History of Franklin County

Franklin County was created in 1851 by an act of the State Legislature, but it was not organized until 1855. Until that time there were not enough settlers in the vicinity to hold an election; therefore Franklin County was attached to Hardin and Chickasaw counties for judicial and civil purposes. The new county was called Franklin for Benjamin Franklin, although it remained nameless from its creation in 1851 until 1855.

Franklin County was the 5th county west of the Mississippi in the 3rd tier from the northern boundary of the state, lying between the 93rd and 94th meridians. The records state that James M. Marsh had a surveying contract, in pursuance of which about the 20th of August 1849, began running the township lines of this county finishing in the latter part of September 1849.

Morgan township was comprised of the territory now embraced in the townships of Morgan, Oakland, Scott and Wisner, being twenty-four miles north and south, and six miles east and west. Reeve comprised the present townships of Osceola, Grant, Lee, Geneva, Reeve and Hamilton and was twelve miles north and south, and eighteen miles east and west. Washington township included Ingham, Mott, Washington, Marion, West Fork, Clinton, Ross and Richland, being the same size as Reeve.
The lower tier of townships of Osceola, Grant, Lee and Oakland were surveyed soon after by another crew and the lines separating the rest were done at a later date, roughly 1851 or 1852. Since 1856, there have been many changes made in the boundaries of townships, until they have assumed their present limits. At present, Franklin County contains 16 Congressional townships, each one 6 miles each way, finally named Reeve, Morgan, West Fork, Osceola, Ingham, Geneva, Oakland, Hamilton, Grant, Lee, Wisner, Richland, Scott, Marion, Ross and Mott.

On August 5, 1855, by an order of the county judge in Chickasaw county, an election was held at the home of James B. Reeve. Forty-eight men voted and chose the following officers; James B. Reeve as County Judge; Isaac Miller as Treasurer and Recorder; Dr. Mitchell as Clerk of Courts; John Popejoy as Assessor; H.P. Allen as Surveyor; A.A. Jordan as Prosecuting Attorney; C.M. Leggett and Jones as Justices of the Peace; and Solomon Staley as Sheriff.

After the election the returns were sent to Bradford, the Chickasaw county seat, the newly elected Judge James Reeve and the Treasurer Isaac Miller made the long journey to Davenport to get the books and various blanks to be used in the business of the county. Solomon Staley went to Bradford and qualified, and upon his return, swore in the balance of the first officials. The Reeve home became the first courthouse, sometimes leaving the family little room for themselves. The first census was taken in the new county in 1856; the population at that time was found to be 780. Four years later, it was 1,309.

After Franklin County had been organized, a county seat was needed. The people were nearly made the victim of a group of speculators. District Judge McFarland disregarded the petition presented by the settlers asking men whom they had chosen to be appointed as commissioners. He said flatly: I appoint Dr. Rult one of the commissioners, and I don't care if the people of Franklin County like it or not. And, I also appoint M.M. Trumbull, of Butler County, and J.D. Thompson, of Hardin County, who voted for me, as the other two commissioners.

The commissioners met several times, and in spite of Trumbull's protests, decided to locate the county seat on land owned by Thomas Abel and to call the new town Jefferson. Trumbull voted for a site on property owned by Job Garner. The Franklin County settlers did not like the commissioners' choice, for Thomas Abel actually made his residence in Marshall County to the south. They felt it was a plan to make money at their expense, for any town site always becomes a valuable piece of land when it is divided up into lots and sold. The Franklin County citizens, believing that the county seat question had become an excuse for land speculation, filed a petition asking the commissioners to order a vote on the subject at the next April (1856) election. A condition of this petition required the site for the new town to be located on the farm of Job Garner, a resident of the county. The petition was properly posted, signed and filed in Judge James B Reeve's court.

At the April election, the settlers gathered to defeat the commissioners and land speculators, decided almost unanimously for the Garner site. Thus, with the help of Judge Reeve, who wanted to see fair play, and the untiring work of another man, M. M. Trumbull, the pioneer's wishes were respected and their rights maintained.
Two Franklin County men, Job Garner and George Ryan, gave 40 acres of land, which was platted and sold for town lots. The sale of these lots made the county enough money to build the courthouse and do necessary work such as laying city streets, building roads, and paying for the cost of the surveying and platting. On June 2, 1856, H. P. Allen, the county surveyor, finished the work of platting the village and the plat was recorded.

The name Benjamin, honoring Benjamin Franklin, was chosen for the new town by both Garner and Ryan, was used for some time. When R. F. Piatt objected on the ground that there was already another Benjamin in the state, Judge Reeve was induced to change the name to Hampton, after Hampton Roads, Virginia. Piatt, who was among the first lawyers to practice in Franklin County, had taken a prominent part in its early development.

Hampton, 2 miles east of the center of the county, was later to be connected with the rest of the world by good roads and 3 railroads, but at the time of the organization of the county there was no road at all and very few horses or oxen. Before post offices were established in Franklin County, one had to go to Cedar Falls, usually on horseback. In 1857, a post office was established at Maysville where most of the mail for Hampton was delivered. Later that year, an office was chartered for Hampton. On December 19, Robert F. Piatt was commissioned the first postmaster.

During the winter of 1856-57, Franklin County had a private school in a small building on the corner of Reeve and Second Street; the parents subscribed a certain sum of money for its upkeep. In the spring of 1857, a real schoolhouse was built in Hampton. It cost a little more than $100.00 and was not equipped with desks. The second school, a frame structure built in the following year, was paid for with public funds raised by taxation as soon as the county was completely organized.

In 1857, Franklin County had even been crossed, although only in the extreme south-east corner, by its first railroad, the Dubuque- Sioux City line. 

County Settlement Timeline

1849- Platting the county townships begins
1852- Settlement at Maynes Grove in SW Reeve Twsp. By John Mayne
1853- Lewis H. Morgan settled near the Iowa River in Morgan Twsp.
1854- Job Garner settled by Squaw Creek, Sec 28, Washington Twsp. Settlement at Tharp's Grove in Sec. 1, Marion Twsp. by William Tharp Settlement along Iowa River in Oakland Twsp by John Popejoy Maysville platted east of Maynes Grove in Reeve Twsp. by William May
1856- County seat founded and named Benjamin but later named Hampton
1857- Otisville platted Chapin platted in Richland and Clinton Twsp. by J.B. Grinnell Shobes Grove settlement on Richland, Sec 1, by John Shobe
1858- Settlement in Sec 30, Geneva Twsp.
1871- Geneva platted in September along Iowa Central Railroad Chapin Station depot built along Iowa Central Railroad
1872- Chapin Station platted on Sec 29, Ross Twsp.; then later became Chapin
1873- Depot built in Sec 32, Ingham Twsp.
1874- Sheffield platted by Iowa Central Railroad
1878- Faulkner platted by Iowa Central Railroad
1880- Hansell platted Settlement along proposed Chicago Great western Railroad in Sec 31, Marion Carleton platted and later named Popejoy Dows platted along Rock Island Railroad
1882- Latimer platted along Iowa Central Railroad in Sec 19, Marion
1885- Alexander platted around railroad station in Scott Twsp
1890- Burdette platted along railroad
1891- Coulter platted
1906- Bradford

Ghost Towns

Chapin, Burdette and Maysville are the three ghost towns of Franklin County.

Maysville lost the competition against Hampton for the Franklin County seat, due to its central location. In 1870, Maysville was missed by the Iowa Central Railroad and eventually, Geneva sprang up leaving Maysville a ghost town. All that is left of Maysville is the stone school, which is located five miles south of Hampton and the cemetery along US highway 65.

Burdette was a station on the Rock Island Railroad that traveled west from Iowa Falls to Popejoy, Dows and Belmond. Primarily, it was a shipping point. It was first known as Hazel Boddy's Switch, then Elevator's gap and finally as Burdette.

Chapin was platted by J.B. Grinnell, founder of Grinnell and Grinnell College in Iowa. It was first called Four Corners, Ross and Saratoga until 1859. When a new school was erected and the 500 pound bell was donated by his wife, the town was named Chapin for her maiden name. When a place was being selected for Grinnell's college, eight communities replied and Chapin was considered "too far west". Today, only a stone marks the location of the town and one half mile south is the Old Chapin Cemetery. The current Chapin actually started as Chapin Station.

Early Courthouses

There have been three courthouses in Franklin County.

The first was located on the south east corner of the present square. It was a one-room frame building 18' x 30' built in the summer of 1857 by F. A. Denton. Dr. Mitchell was the contractor; the lumber was cut in Mayne's Grove and sawed in his steam mills at Maysville. The contract price of this building was $720.00. Dedication was on the 4th of July and the town was full of settlers; they came by foot, horseback, and open oxen drawn wagons.

This was an all-purpose center of activities. A place for judge, jury, lawyer, a place to seek wedding license, religious and political meetings, entertainment and even dances were held. The first meeting held within its walls convened May 10, 1858, the Hon. J.D. Thompson of Eldora, presiding. It was a heavy term as all the suits that had accumulated for a year or two came up for trial. In 1866, it was moved to a lot on Main Street, used as a dwelling, then moved to the end of Reeve Street for a stable.

The second courthouse was built in Hampton in 1866 at its present location. It was a two story limestone building 48'x 70' constructed at a cost of $12,500.00. Records were moved to the new grout and stone school while the building was under construction. The building was enclosed by a board fence. When it was 23 years old, it was condemned "by reason of decrepitude and indications of falling down".

Current Courthouse

The third courthouse began in the spring of 1890 and was completed in 1891. A building of "harmonious proportions, pleasing architectural lines and substantial construction". The bond issue for this building was $42,000.00, approved by the voters in November, 1889. The actual cost was $60,000.00. It measures 76' x 102' on the ground and 133' to the top of the dome. The material is pressed brick, with cut and carved stone trimmings from Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, and a slate roof.

The courthouse Tower Clock was installed at the same time and was donated by the graduating class of 1892. The clock and chime were operated by two great weights and were wound by hand cranking until the late 1930's or early 1940's when the clock caretaker devised a cream separator motor to do the winding. It was purchased from Meneely Bell Company out of Troy, New York. The bell itself weighs 1,500 pounds and is forty-two inches in diameter. The clock works were replaced in 1946 with a combination of electricity and weights. If the power goes off, the weight unit, at the east end of the rotunda, will keep the clock in operation for up to eight days. At the time the clock was installed, the original clock works were sold; however, the buyer found the size and weight of the clock, about the size and weight of a tractor, impossible to move, and they were removed at the time of the renovation.

The expanding duties of local government outgrew the existing room, and like all older buildings, the courthouse was showing signs of wear. In 1972 or 1973, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors appointed a committee composed of members from all parts of the county to study and make recommendations concerning the alternatives of restoration or replacement. A public meeting was held in the Franklin County Courtroom, and a strong statement for restoration and remodeling was made by the standing-room only crowd of Franklin Countians present. The public voted in 1973 by an overwhelming 74% yes vote to issue bonds for the restoration and remodeling project. The reconstruction project was started in 1975 and completed in 1976. The Courthouse was rededicated on July 31, 1976. The project was paid for by Revenue Sharing Funds and general obligations bonds. The cost was about $1,025,000.

Since the original project, the structure has been carefully maintained. Great care has been taken to make any changes in the same style as the original construction. It looks like the same courthouse from the outside that has stood since 1890, with the exception of a new roof, new windows and new doors. The entire interior was renovated. When first built, the basement was wooden boards directly over black dirt. New concrete floor was poured, new offices and restrooms were constructed.
The entire main floor was kept almost historically intact. The rotunda still has its original floor of Italian marble called "Isle La Motte". The original fireplaces in the four corner offices were preserved (though not functional), and the original woodwork and colonnades remain. The chandelier was new at the time of reconstruction in the early 1970's though the original Courthouse chandelier is housed at the Franklin County Historical Museum.

The third level was a large courtroom. The former courtroom height was from the 2nd floor to the ceiling of the 3rd floor. The ceiling was lowered so the courtroom fills only one tenth of its original air space. Now it fills about a third of its original floor space. There is an entirely new floor built by reducing the height of the courtroom. This made a new fourth level possible. The original wood beams were preserved and glass used in wall construction to highlight them. In the hallway outside of the Magistrate's court there is a stained glass window with the Iowa Motto "OUR LIBERTY WE PRIZE, AND OUR RIGHTS WE WILL MAINTAIN." This window was restored in the remodeling project. Pictures on the east wall are of the deceased members of the Franklin County Bar Association. Inside the main courtroom pictures of the current District Court Judges from Franklin County hang on the north wall and deceased judges are on the east wall. Note, Judge Evans and Judge Uhlenhopp later served as Justices on the Iowa Supreme Court.

Note, the European Larch tree at the north entrance to the court house. This was planted in 1876 to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence a century before.

Courthouse Statues

In reconstruction, the statues had been removed. There were four statues remaining at the time. In 1977, Clifford Carlsen, Sculptor from Wesley, Iowa, was commissioned to restore the four statues and create a new "Justice" statue for the top of the Courthouse. The original "Justice" was damaged during a severe windstorm during the night. The next morning when one arm and "balance scales had fallen off and lit on the south steps of the courthouse, by way of joke, someone said, "Now there is no more justice left in Hampton." The cost for restoring the four statues was $12,000, and the cost for creating the new statue of "Justice" was $10,000. The completed statues were brought to the Courthouse and displayed in the rotunda early in 1979 so that the public could get a close view of them. They were raised to the top of the Courthouse in 1979.

"Justice" is the figure on the extreme top of the Courthouse. The statue denoting "Law" (holding the tablet of laws) is located on the northwest corner. The statue denoting "Agriculture" (holding the sheaf of wheat and the grain cradle) is located on the southwest corner. The statue denoting "Commerce or Industry" (showing the barrel, etc.) is located on the southeast corner. The statue denoting "Mercy or Peace" (shown with head bowed and arms outstretched) is on the northeast corner.