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Madison County Assessing Historic Value of 1876 Courthouse

WINTERSET, Iowa  --  The Madison County Historic Preservation Commission has conducted a study of the Madison County Courthouse to determine its historic value.

The current courthouse is the third building to serve the county for this purpose. It was built in 1876, after the prior courthouse on the same spot burned down.

“OPN Architects are putting the finishing touches on the Courthouse Historic Structures Report,” said Brenda Hollingsworth, Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission. “It appears that initial recommendations are for three phases of rehabilitation work spread over 10 years.”

Hollingsworth said it would be up to the Madison County Board of Supervisors to decide the timing and scope of any historic work.

The courthouse has undergone several renovations. Most notable is in the 1960s, when the courtroom was converted from a two-story to a single-story dropped ceiling courtroom.

“It has a secret second story. Originally it was two stories tall with a balcony, so they could hold many people to look at the goings-on of the court at that time,” said Madison County historian Linda Griffith Smith. “It was too hot in here, people were getting used to air conditioning. The second reason is it was too noisy, major Highways 92 and 169 ran right outside the door."

The second story of the courtroom is accessible from above, and the balcony is used to store various county items including old county records. Those records will eventually be moved to a county annex building.

The Madison County Courthouse also shares some of its history with the Iowa State Capitol; both buildings were designed by famous French architect Alfred H. Piquenard.

“I think they were searching for quality, and that’s probably why they asked the Piquenard, who was currently involved in  the state capitol and was very well-known to come and draw the design for this courthouse,” said Smith.

Piquenard died before either the Iowa Capitol or the Madison County Courthouse could be completed.