Adair County was established in 1851, and named for John Adair, General during the War of 1812 and 6th Governor of Kentucky. The General Assembly appointed three commissioners to locate a county seat. They selected Summerset (now Fontanelle) in 1855. The first courthouse was built a year later. Native lumber and hardware were hauled by wagon from Keokuk for the building. This building burned down in 1910.
The town of Greenfield, located near the center of the county, was laid out in 1856. From this time on, people of Greenfield fought to have the county seat moved to Greenfield. A petition was signed by 91 voters in 1858 to have it moved, but at the same time, another petition containing 137 signatures was presented to keep the seat in Summerset.
During the Civil War, the people were content with the idea of Fontanelle as the county seat, but at the end of the war it was brought to a vote. Changing the seat was defeated by seven votes. Again in 1869 the change was defeated. Finally, in 1874, voters approved the move to Greenfield. The decision was challenged and taken to the Supreme Court. Even though the decision wasn’t final, the people of Greenfield moved the county records to their town. More than 200 men and 75 wagons made the trip to Fontanelle and, against the orders of the sheriff, loaded the records and furniture into their wagons and returned to Greenfield. It surprised Fontanelle’s townspeople so much, they didn’t resist.
Judge Mitchell ordered the sheriff to direct the people of Greenfield to return the county records, but when the sheriff presented the order to the Board of Supervisors, a person snatched the order and tore it up. The next morning the sheriff came again to Greenfield and presented a warrant, but was resisted by an angry mob, so did nothing. The following day General N.B. Baker arrived from Des Moines and persuaded the people to return the records to Summerset.
About one month later, the “county seat war” came to an end when the court’s final decision moved the county seat to Greenfield.
In preparation for this move, the Greenfield Building Association had erected a two-story frame building on the East side of the square, which was used by county officials until it burned in 1883. Following the fire, court was held in the Opera House and a temporary office building was built over the vaults of the burned down building.
Eight years later, on July 4, 1891, the cornerstone of the present courthouse was laid. Some items placed in the cornerstone were: histories and lists of members of local organizations, a Bible, an 1891 nickel, several copies of various newspapers of the day, and one bottle each of corn, oil, and wine.
The building was completed in March 1892. It was originally adorned with a large square tower rising 100 feet in the air, which was removed in 1935 when it became unsafe. The total cost of construction, including the furniture, was $26,768. In comparison, it cost $40,448 to install the elevator in 1988.
The Adair County Historical Society helped Adair County to organize an open house and program to celebrate the courthouse centennial July 4, 1991.
History of Adair County, Iowa, and Its People, Lucian M. Kilburn, Supervising Editor.
Jenice Wallace, Adair County Auditor, 2002.