From the past; comes our future...

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Preserving the past of Marshall County for future generations since 1908


The beautiful Marshall County Courthouse we see today was not always the building used by the local government. In fact, the current courthouse, constructed in the mid 1880s, is the third courthouse for Marshall County. On August 19, 1851, a legislative commission chose the site for the Marshall County seat as Marietta. The following year the building of the first courthouse commenced. It was a 32’ x 22’ building, contracted for $905. The building was completed in 1853, and it quickly became a symbol of conflict between those who wanted the county seat to remain in Marietta and those who wanted to move it to Marshall (later called Marshalltown). This struggle was ended in 1859 by a decision from the Iowa Supreme Court. The county seat was moved to Marshall and records were moved to the second courthouse. 


This 40’ x 60’ building was located at 10 South First Avenue. It was a two story brick building constructed in late 1857 and early 1858 by donated labor and materials. The building had an upstairs courthouse, and County offices were on either side of a central hall downstairs. It served as the Marshall County Courthouse for 26 years before being replaced by the currently used building in 1886. By 1898 the second courthouse was pushed to the back of the lot and a grocery store was built in front of it. It came to be used as a warehouse before being torn down. 


The first courthouse in Marshall County was moved to Marshall after being purchased in April 1860 for $150. It was placed on West Main Street and used by a hardware merchant. Later, it was moved to 610 West State, and converted to an apartment building. 


Marshall County’s first Courthouse.

Pins from the roof framework of Marshall County’s second courthouse.




The fourth artifact of the virtual museum is a model of the courthouse, made 20 years ago by Grigori Fatayev, an architect who was originally from Russia before moving to the United States. It is complete with intricate detail both inside and out, including figurines and lighting. The model was donated by Bob Norris in September 2021 during the 1950s Marshalltown High School reunion. 

The Marshall County Courthouse holds great significance to the Norris family, as Bob’s father, John W. Norris was an influential advocate for courthouse renovation during the 1970s. By 1972, the courthouse was looking terribly neglected inside and out. The state fire marshal was threatening to evict the county government due to the building not meeting code requirements. County supervisors were preparing to ask voters for a 3rd time since 1954 to approve a bond issue to finance a new courthouse.  The courthouse had been well maintained from its dedication in 1886 until the Great Depression, but by that time it began needing repairs. The taxpayers could not afford to finance them, so the repairs were delayed. During the Second World War materials and labor were unavailable, so repairs were again delayed and deterioration continued. Some people around this time thought that the building looked so out-of-date that it was time for it to be replaced. 


After three votes falling short of a 50% majority to build a new courthouse, citizens of the Marshall County community organized as the “Friends of the Courthouse” to prove to voters that the old courthouse should be renovated. In 1972, they got the courthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, Frank B. Dennis, a structural engineer, was hired to report to the public on the structural soundness of the courthouse. He indicated that the walls and floor systems were in excellent condition, but the roof and gutters were deteriorating, the dome and lantern should be rebuilt, and much of the mechanical systems needed to be modernized. This encouraged the Friends of the Courthouse to search for other authorities to persuade voters that the courthouse was able to be renovated. Ben Weese, noted Chicago Renovation architect, determined that it was possible to renovate the courthouse at less cost than building a new structure of comparable size. Mary Means, regional director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, also endorsed the preservation of the courthouse. 


In February of 1974, “Save the Courthouse Corporation,” a nonprofit organization, sponsored by a business oriented group who believed in renovation and proper maintenance, took leadership of the “Save the Courthouse” movement. The group’s president was John W. Norris, and he was surrounded by several other prominent community members including Douglas J. Boyd, Cecil J. Porter, Mariel Oldham, Mary Helen Bradbury, and Dorothy Apgar, who was later presented the key to the courthouse for her efforts in its preservation. The county supervisors were not yet convinced, as they still had some support for a new building. The League of Women Voters agreed to coordinate a referendum held on February 26, 1974. Of 8,949 votes cast, 60.3% were in favor of renovation. On October 1, 1974, 70.8% of voters approved a $3.2 million bond issue for renovation. 


The Marshall County Courthouse was rededicated on November 19, 1978, on the 92nd anniversary of its original dedication. Locals who were once doubted the courthouse could or should be renovated were convinced that it was the correct solution. Today, locals are proud of its prominent presence in the city and visitors enjoy the building’s 19th century beauty. 




The third artifact of the virtual museum is a set of tools used in the building of Marshall County’s courthouse. The set includes 22 different tools, including a rip saw, cross cut saw, firmer chisel, and a compass plane, made by Stanley tools, a company that still finds success today. 

These tools were owned by Charles O. Thornblade (1838-1914), Who was born in Kalmar, Sweden. He moved to America in 1870, and Marshalltown in 1878. Thornblade worked on the construction of the Marshall County Courthouse during the period of its construction from 1884-1886. The $150,000 building was designed by John C. Cochrane, whose firm had designed the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. 




The second artifact for the virtual museum is a moustache cup and saucer with an image of Marshall County’s courthouse on them. These items were owned by William Benton Williams, and later donated to the Historical Society of Marshall County by his granddaughter Elizabeth Roupp.


W. B. Williams was born in New Alexandria, Pennsylvania, on April 27, 1846. Later, his family moved to Spring Hill, Illinois, near Davenport, Iowa, and at the young age of 16, W. B. Williams enlisted in Company B, Ninth Iowa Cavalry during the U.S. Civil War. He served for 3 years and was mustered out in March, 1866. Afterwards, Williams came to Marshall county with his parents preceding him to settle on a farm in the area. 


On March 7, 1872, W. B. Williams married Nancy Elizabeth Ferguson, whose parents were among the early settlers of Marshall County, arriving in 1849. Mrs. Williams was one of the first white children to be born in the county. Soon after their marriage they moved to a farm near Ferguson, but they moved back to Marshalltown in 1898. In the 1890s a $2,580 clock was installed in the courthouse tower. At this time W. B. Williams was a County Supervisor.


Nancy Williams died suddenly at her home in 1920 after being stricken with apoplexy. In 1933, W. B. Williams suffered death from pneumonia, while spending the winter in San Diego, California as he had done the last fourteen years of his life.



The Marshall County Courthouse was designed by Architect John C. Cochrane of Chicago, who also designed the Iowa State capitol. The cornerstone was laid in 1884, and the building was dedicated in 1886. 

The first artifact is a masonry trowel with the square and compasses symbolizing Freemasonry. The text on the back reads 

“Presented to

Past Grand Master

A. C. Abbott

On the occasion of

Laying the corner stone

of the

Marshall County Court House

By the Masonic Fraternity

Nov 25th A.D. 1884

A. B. 5884”


Albert Cutler Abbott was born in 1836, and died in 1903. In October, 1862, A. C. Abbott participated in a conference where it was decided to the suffix -town to Marshall, because there was another Marshall in Iowa. With Marshalltown being incorporated in July, 1863, A. C. Abbott served as an officer of the city’s government for the years 1865-66, and 1867-68. In 1868, at age 32, Abbot became the treasurer of the first vestry of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Marshalltown, today known as St. Paul’s. Abbott was also the founder of Abbott Hardware and the secretary of the school board in Marshalltown for the years 1866 to 1868. One of the original ward schools was named Abbott school for A. C. Abbott. built in the Fourth Ward in 1868 at 4th Avenue at Linn Street, on the site of the present post office. The building was later remodeled and enlarged to serve the ward for approximately 85 years until it closed in 1953.  A. C. Abbott was also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, A.F. & A.M. in 1879. As a Past Grand Master, member of Marshall Lodge No. 108, A.F. & A.M. and resident of Marshalltown, Abbott presided at the Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony for the Marshall County Courthouse in 1884. This picture is shown as displayed on the 5th floor of the Masonic Temple in Marshalltown.