Courthouse Contests

Next to having the state capital, the possession of the county seat was the most coveted distinction for the first settlers in Iowa. Many exciting incidents grew from the county seat contests in Hardin County, as was true in many of Iowa's counties.

It appears Steamboat Rock was the first town in this county to challenge Eldora as a popular place for the county seat of justice. At the election held in April 1856, the question was submitted, resulting in a vote of 452 for Eldora and 100 for Steamboat Rock, thus defeating Steamboat Rock's bid for the courthouse.

In February 1857, a petition was circulated, and 514 signatures were secured, requesting the county judge to order an election for the removal of the county seat to Berlin. The election was held and resulted in the fact that Eldora was still the favored location.

Eldora v. Point Pleasant


Point Pleasant was the next aspirant for the county seat. This brought about one of the most exciting of all county contests ever staged in Iowa. Every township and school district in the entire county was canvassed pro and con. The election was held and on the first Monday in April 1858, the board convassed the vote. The "board" consisted of John W. Jones, county judge; Ellis Parker; and Joseph Edgington, justice of the peace. The board announced the vote to be 540 for Point Pleasant and 521 for Eldora, giving the former a bare majority of 19. Point Pleasant won...the first round.

In the same month, and before any removal of items from Eldora, application was made to the district court, asking the board of canvassers to re-canvass the votes cast at the election for the relocation of the county seat. The petition asked that the board reject a "certain alleged mutilated and spurious return" which had been allowed by the board, and canvass the vote for Pleasant Township. The court permitted the protest and the board re-canvassed the vote, rejecting the poll book in question from Pleasant Township. It declared the results to be 520 for Eldora and 440 for Point Pleasant. Eldora thus won out again and remained the county seat. But the story wasn't over.

A fellow by the name of Isaac S. Moore was a leader of the faction wanting the county seat at Point Pleasant. A few days later, Moore made his affidavit of the facts, as he claimed them, in relation to the election returns from Pleasant Township, and asked that the affidavit be taken as an answer to the writ and that the former return by the board of canvassers be set aside and the proceedings under it declared null and void. By some oversight, the affidavit was not marked, filed, nor any entry made upon the record in relation to it. The court refused the affidavit and afterwards made a memorandum of it upon the judge's docket.

A few days later, John van Houton and several others applied to the court with an application for an alternative writ of mandamus against the county judge to require him to remove the county offices, books, papers, etc. to Point Pleasant. The judge refused to do this, under advice of his attorney, James M. Wood. He who was later Judge H.C. Henderson of Marshalltown, appeared for the other side, and took exceptions, which the court overruled and the case was submitted to the supreme court of Iowa. The result was that the ruling of the district court was reversed.

At the May term, 1859, of the district court of Hardin County, Moore again attempted to get the election results reversed, saying that the Pleasant township votes should be counted. He appealed to the Supreme Court, but the case was dismissed. The case again, in another form, was presented to the district court. Ellis Parker was now serving as county judge, rather than Judge Jones. This made the county judge a defendant in the case, so Judge Porter served as judge of the district court. He upheld the original decision. From this decision, Van Houton appealed to the Supreme Court, and the judgment of the district court was affirmed. For the time being, Eldora was still the county seat.

But the battle was not yet finished.

A suit was brought in the district court of Hardin County in April 1863 by Isaac Moore and Thoms Sheldon, against John Alderson, John W. Jones, Ellis Parker and Joseph Edgington, setting aside the previous proceedings, and charging that the judgment in the first case, by which the vote was re-canvassed, was obtained by collusion and fraud of the parties mentioned, and asked to have the vote set aside, declaring that Point Pleasant is the county seat and that the county records be taken to Point Pleasant. When the case was called in district court, the plaintiffs, Moore and Sheldon, asked that a change of venue be granted. The case was transferred to Grundy County.

The board of county supervisors refused to be a party to the suit and default was entered against them. After hearing the case, the district court judged Point Pleasant to be the county seat and ordered the removal of the offices to that location. Following this decision, Alderson, Jones, Parker, and Edgington appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was heard at the July term with Judge C.C. Cole presiding. Judge Cole said that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that there was fraud in obtaining the judgment which they had charged, and for that reason the judgment of the district court was reversed and the petition dismissed absolutely.

Thus ended the long contest, lasting from April 9, 1858, to July 22, 1868. Eldora was decided to be the county seat - legally. In the time frame, a structure, which was later to become known as the Point Pleasant Church, was constructed specifically to house the seat of county business there. However, that was not the end of the contests which would find Eldora fighting for the county seat designation.

Eldora v. Iowa Falls


Just when things appeared to be going fairly well, in 1870 the Hardin County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution inviting propositions for the location of the county seat at any point in the county, which invitation was accepted on the part of Iowa Falls. That community agreed to donate the sum of $32,000 toward the erection of suitable buildings in their community. This lead to the final contest for the location of the county seat of justice. Eldora citizens rallied and gathered $40,000 in contributions. In the lively competition which followed, the rivalry began between the two communities.

An election between the two towns to decide the construction location of the new courthouse was held on March 24, 1891, with Eldora being the victor by a margin of 432 votes - 1,428 to 1,060. According to the Eldora Herald, the townships voting in favor of Eldora over Iowa Falls included Etna, Alden, Clay, Jackson, Eldora, Pleasant, Sherman, Union, Providence, and Concord. Those townships favoring Iowa Falls as the county seat were Hardin, Ellis, Buckeye, Tipton, and Grant.

The article in the March 26, 1891 Eldora Herald, which told about election results noted, "The agony is over and the people of Hardin county rejoice that they are to have the second best courthouse in central Iowa without a cent of tax, and at the expense of only $20,000 to the county. Eldora's subscription of $40,000 will be paid into the county treasury according to the terms thereof as soon as the result is declared by the Board of Supervisors. This amount, supplemented by the $20,000 voted by the people will secure public buildings that will be a credit to Hardin County. The contest on Tuesday was spirited, and notwithstanding the rough roads, a large vote was polled. Eldora's friends were alert and active, and met the enemy at every turn. The people of Eldora and Hardin county are to be congratulated at the happy termination of this vexatious question, which, had Iowa Falls had her way, would have been continued for years until per chance the county records would have been destroyed by fire. Many who voted against the propositions to build a new courthouse and jail were deceived by circulars sent out from Iowa Falls on the eve of election, while some few others were misled by false issues. The verdict of the people has been given, and they will never have occasion to regret the result."

In other areas of the newspaper, editorial comments were made about the results of the election, such as:

"Ta, ta, Iowa Falls."
"Eldora is the best town in Hardin County."
"The people have voted with both eyes open."
"The people have decided not to move the county seat up into Franklin County for the present, but will build magnificent county buildings at Eldora, the best town in Hardin County."

And thus rivalry between Iowa Falls and Eldora has continued through the decades.

The vote approved the proposal calling for construction of a new courthouse at a cost of $50,000 and for a new jail at a cost of $10,000. Through four contests from 1856 through 1891 - not to mention all the legal battles which resulted from the competitions - Eldora has retained the designation as the seat of justice for Hardin County.

And so it has remained for over 139 years.