Early History of Hardin County
Established in 1851
Hardin County was established by act of the Iowa General Assembly on January 15, 1851. It was named in memory of Colonel John J. Hardin, an Illinois legislator, who commanded the First Regiment of Illinois Volunteers in the Mexican-American War. Col. Hardin died February 23, 1847, in the Battle of Buena Vista. Hardin County was attached to Marshall County for court purposes. It was divided into townships, Latham in the south, and Morgan in the north, for election precincts.
In July of 1853, a judicially appointed commission selected the site of the county seat. The site was centrally located between the existing settlements along the Iowa River. The town was named Eldora, by Lois Beal Edgington, after a daughter who died at birth months earlier.
Records are sketchy, but it appears that two buildings served as the Hardin County Courthouse prior to the present structure. The first courthouse has been described as a small frame building, which burned down in 1854 or 1855. Research suggests that it was on the north side of Marian Street, east of the present courthouse square. After the fire it was replaced with a two-story wooden courthouse, on the site of the present county jail. This second building served until 1892.
Several notable events shook the Hardin County Courthouse during its first few decades. In the dead of the night in August 14, 1865, the safe in the County Treasurer's Office was robbed of $13,000. Holes had been drilled and gunpowder used to blow the door off its hinges. Although a Sheriff's posse formed the very next day, and detectives were brought in from Chicago, the culprits were never found.
The county was also wracked by the financial misdealings of two of its officials in its early days. County Auditor D.B. Morse was charged with the misappropriation of thousands of dollars of public money during his term of office from 1876-1877. Morse disappeared after an arrest warrant was issued, and the Board of Supervisors placed a $200 bounty on his head. He was found guilty of charges in 1879 and eventually served six months in the county jail. In 1885, an audit disclosed the shortfall of $9,000 in the accounts of out-going County Treasurer P.J. Cowan. Bondsmen eventually repaid $7,812 and Cowan repaid the balance.