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A Brief History

Jefferson County, Iowa

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Jefferson County, Iowa

Jefferson County is located in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Iowa. It was established on January 21, 1839, and named after Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. The county has played a significant role in the development of Iowa and witnessed various historical events over the years. Here’s a brief history of Jefferson County:

Early History

Prior to European settlement, the area that is now Jefferson County was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Sac and Fox tribes. The first European-American settler, James Walker, arrived in 1833, and others soon followed, attracted by the fertile soil and natural resources.

County Establishment

Jefferson County was officially established on January 21, 1839, becoming the seventh county in the state of Iowa. The county seat was initially located in Packwood and later moved to Fairfield, where it remains today.

Pioneer Era

The 1840s saw a significant influx of pioneers into the county. These settlers were primarily farmers who cultivated the rich soil, growing crops such as corn, wheat, oats, and livestock. The county’s population grew rapidly during this time.

Civil War Era

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Jefferson County residents played an active role. Many men from the county enlisted in the Union Army, fighting in major battles such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg. The war brought economic challenges and changes to the county’s agricultural practices.

Transportation and Infrastructure

In the late 19th century, the arrival of railroads had a transformative effect on Jefferson County. The rail lines facilitated the transportation of goods and people, leading to increased trade and the growth of towns along the railway routes. Fairfield, the county seat, became a hub of commerce and industry.

Educational Institutions

Jefferson County is home to several renowned educational institutions. Iowa Wesleyan University, one of the state’s oldest four-year colleges, offers a diverse range of academic programs and has a long-standing commitment to liberal arts education. Parsons College, once located in Fairfield, gained national recognition for its innovative educational programs but closed in 1973 due to financial difficulties. However, its impact on education in Jefferson County is still remembered. Maharishi School, founded in the 1970s in Fairfield, offers a unique approach by integrating Transcendental Meditation into its curriculum, providing a distinctive learning environment. These educational institutions have played a significant role in shaping the educational landscape of Jefferson County.

Notable Landmarks

Jefferson County is home to a multitude of historical landmarks that showcase its rich heritage. The Jefferson County Courthouse, constructed in 1893, stands as a prominent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Carnegie Historical Museum in Fairfield preserves the county’s history through its diverse collection of artifacts and exhibits. The McElhinny House, an elegant Victorian mansion built in 1878 still stands strong, as one of the oldest building in Fairfield. The Maasdam Barns in Jefferson County are a treasured historic site, featuring a collection of well-preserved barns that showcase the county’s agricultural heritage. The Bonnifield Log House Cabin, dating back to the 1840s, offers a glimpse into pioneer life with its well-preserved log cabin structure. These historical landmarks, along with others contribute to the preservation of Jefferson County’s history and offer visitors a fascinating journey into its past.

Today, Jefferson County remains an agricultural community while also embracing education, culture, technology, and tourism. Its historical significance, natural beauty, and thriving communities make it an important part of Iowa’s heritage.

Notice: County offices will be closed on Monday, February 19, 2024 in observance of Presidents' Day. The County Auditor's Office will be open.