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  Polk County

Date of Origin - 1846

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Polk County is named for the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk. The county was formally organized on January 17, 1846.

May 1843 saw the arrival of Captain James Allen and his company at the present site of Des Moines. He proposed the name of Fort Raccoon but used Fort Des Moines at the suggestion of General Winfield Scott. The term "des moines" refers to the principal river between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Soon a fort was erected that consisted of 25 buildings, which included stables and a barracks. A trading post was built by Indian traders George Washington and Washington George Ewing. It was erected across the river.

The towns of Brooklyn, Polk City, Dudley, and Fort Des Moines competed for the county seat. They all sent representatives to the Iowa Territorial Legislature in 1845 to lobby the legislators to establish the boundaries of Polk County.

On January 13, 1845 the Legislature passed an Act establishing the boundaries of Polk County. The delegation from Brooklyn returned home confident that they had captured the county seat. The delegation from Fort Des Moines had other plans, however. Four days later they succeeded in securing an amendment to a supplementary bill that altered the boundaries of Polk County once more. This was done so that Fort Des Moines would be nearer to the geographical center than Brooklyn. It was accomplished by "borrowing" 144 square miles of territory from Warren County.

Three commissioners were appointed to establish the county seat. Since Fort Des Moines was centrally located, it was chosen as the county seat on May 25, 1846. The town of Brooklyn is now part of Des Moines.

In 1849, when Warren County was organized, the residents of Warren County ordered the land "borrowed" by Polk County returned. In 1853 the Legislature did just that, except for a few sections in Camp Township.

The first courthouse was built by John Saylor in 1846. The two story structure, complete with cellar, cost $2,015 and was used for ten years.

Construction on a second courthouse was begun in 1858. Due to slow construction and the Civil War the building was not completed and operational until October 1866. Around 1887-1888 a new roof, cupola and wing were added. Total cost was estimated at $103,268. This courthouse was used for 40 years.

The present courthouse was erected in 1900 at a cost of $750,000. It was designed by George W. Bird and W. T. Proudfoot in a modified Renaissance style. It was officially dedicated on October 31, 1906. In 1962, $220,000 was used for remodeling of the courthouse. This, however, was not enough to alleviate the problems of overcrowding.

In 1975 the voters approved spending $5.8 million to purchase and renovate the old U.S. Post Office.

The auditor, recorder, treasurer, board of supervisors, and personnel and general services departments are all housed in this building. Long range plans for the courthouse have been started. They include extensive remodeling at an estimated cost of $6 million.


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