The founding & organization of Jefferson

By ROGER AEGERTERRoger Aegerter Profile Picture

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 1, 2016 — Our county seat town of Jefferson was laid out in 1854 on 160 acres purchased with money borrowed by Greene County from Fort Des Moines banker Hoyt Sherman. The initial loan was $200.

The original name was New Jefferson. There was already a Jefferson near Dubuque, so the “New” was added at the request of the U.S. Post Office.

The town had a public square, and the first courthouse was built in 1856.

Commercial lots around the square were sold for $10, with one lot on the southeast corner going for $60.

The first sawmill was constructed in 1856 and provided lumber for many buildings in Jefferson. The first public school was taught during the 1856 winter, and classes were held in the courthouse until a wood frame school was constructed in the late 1850s. The first brick schoolhouse was built in 1872.

Rail service to Jefferson came through town in 1866 when the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railway Company completed tracks from Boone to the Missouri River.

According to Census figures, Jefferson’s population was 779 in 1870. By 1880, that number had grown to 1,444. The total county population was 4,627 in 1870 and 12,727 in 1880.

The first municipal water works in Jefferson was built in 1889. The first telephone was installed in 1891, and the first electric utility plant was built in 1894.

The Jefferson Public Library was established in 1904 as a project of several women’s clubs. Andrew Carnegie donated $10,000 for the project. City streets were first paved in 1915. The city council awarded a contract for $50,000 to apply a high quality paving on the streets surrounding the courthouse square, as well as 2 ½ miles of Lincoln Way.

In 1917 a new courthouse was built. In 1918, the dedication ceremony of a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln drew hundreds of people to the south side of the courthouse.

“Black Friday” of the Great Depression hit Jefferson as hard as anywhere. But the town already knew economic adversity, for in early 1926, every bank in town failed. Jefferson was the largest town in the county without a bank.

A memorial armory was constructed in 1927 at a cost of $27,444, and you know that building today as the Elks Lodge.

A new post office was built at the present site in 1936. A municipal airport was built in 1937, and the new Greene County Hospital cornerstone was laid on May 4, 1937, The swimming pool was opened in July 1937.

To end the first hundred years of Jefferson, the Iowa Highway Commission designated that a new U.S. Highway 30 would bypass Jefferson to the north. Paving of that new highway was completed July 29, 1958.

I’ll write about early development of other areas of the county in future columns.

You can comment on this column in the space below here, or you can write directly to the author by email at roger.aegerter@gmail.com.

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How many courthouse structures have been built on the site of the current Greene County Courthouse?

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There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”

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