An act approved by the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature on December 21, 1837 established boundaries for the county lying west of Delaware County and running to the western edge of the territory at the Missouri River. The county was in all other respects a part of Dubuque County, but this was the first step towards the growth of a new county, Buchanan County. It is said that S. P. Stoughton, a strong Democrat, suggested naming the county after Senator James Buchanan, for Buchanan was instrumental in the acquisition of the Wisconsin Territory. In 1843 the county was reduced to its present limits of 571 square miles or 365,627 acres.
Buchanan County was not open for settlement until 1842. In February 1842, William Bennett came to the area now known as Quasqueton and built a cabin. Other early settlers included: S. G. and H. T. Sanford, Ezra A. Allen, Dr. Edward Brewer, Rufus B. Clark and family, Seth Clark, J. Lambert, and Frederick Kessler and family. The first county election was in August of 1847 when John Scott, Frederick Kessler and B. D. Springer were elected county commissioners and Dr. Edward Brewer was elected clerk. Buchanan County towns include Independence (the county seat), Quasqueton, Fairbank, Brandon, Jesup, Winthrop, Hazleton, Aurora, Lamont, Stanley, Rowley, as well as, the unincorporated villages of Littleton, Chatham and Otterville.
Examples of Buchanan County politicians include such people as George W. Bemis who served as Iowa State Treasurer from 1877-1881, William G. Donnan who was elected to the Iowa state legislature in 1867, as well as, serving as U. S. Representative from Iowa’s 3rd District 1871-1875 and John W. Anderson who served as district judge of Iowa from 1915-1921 and justice of Iowa state supreme court from 1933-1938.
Proposals for the first Buchanan County Courthouse were accepted in the spring of 1857. The county had rented a building previous to this. The courthouse was completed and ready for occupancy in May of 1858. The cost of construction included $517.94 for the 1856-57 fiscal year and $9,240.57 for the 1857-58 fiscal year, making it one of the cheapest public buildings around to erect. The construction on the current courthouse began in Nov. of 1938 and cost the county $253,921. One interesting tidbit that makes the current courthouse unique is the fact hat some employees believe it is haunted by the friendly ghost of Officer Harold Pearce. Harold was shot in the elevator by a prisoner in 1956, but some offices have discovered misplaced items on occasion, especially around Halloween time.
Buchanan County’s first courthouse sat east of the present courthouse (now the parking lot) on 6th Ave. NE. South of the courthouse is where the county’s fire-proof office building was located and just north of the courthouse sat the sheriff’s residence with the jail directly behind.
Article Written By: Anthony Bengston, Independence, IA