ALGONA, Iowa- You’ve heard a number of politicians do a “99 County Tour of Iowa.”
But many may not realize, Iowa once had 100 counties.
After Iowa had already formed as a state in 1846, Iowa formed 51 counties, which covered the entire state, in the year 1851. One of those counties was named Bancroft County, it was located north of Kossuth County, to the Minnesota State line.
"The western part of the state, the counties were established by the legislature, there were 50 counties in existence that time," said Richard Shiek, retired Kossuth County Engineer. "They finished platting out all of the counties in the state, and they ended up with a total of 100 counties, and Bancroft was one of those counties."
Bancroft County had one major drawback, it was mainly covered with wetlands and sloughs, not suitable for settlers to farm and make a living there.
"We’re within what’s called the prairie pothole region, with is the youngest land for, region of the state," said Tom Skilling of the Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge, which houses some of the left over wetlands from Iowa's 1800's. "What created it was glaciers,it left behind this area that was flat not well-drained."
Nearby Algona leaders petitioned the Iowa Legislature to rescind that county, and make it part of Kossuth County, where Algona was located, because it was covered from wetlands, and would never be productive farmland. Algona petitioned the legislature to withdraw Bancroft County.
Four years after Bancroft County was formed, it was disbanded, very few people, if any lived there back then.
In 1870, there was another effort to form a new county north of Kossuth. Several former soldiers from the Civil War came up north to settle and farm the land. they petitioned the state to form Crocker County, named after Iowa Civil War General Marcellus Crocker.
Residents of Algona took that to the Supreme Court to ask that Crocker County be abolished on grounds, it was not large enough, 432 square miles,as set out by the State Constitution. The High Court ordered Crocker County, again become a part of Kossuth County.
"It was declared unconstitutional and restored back to Kossuth County, it would have met the test of the state constitution, counties in the north tier were able to exist," said Richard Shiek. "If they would have been called Bancroft County, it wouldn’t have been a new county." It could have stood as an earlier established county, had the name not been changed.
Land speculators eventually bought land in the north half of Kossuth County. There was a massive effort to build large steam-powered dredges to dig drainage ditches to drain the marsh land.
A small part of the wet lands remains, Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge, where visitors can get an idea of what northern Iowa looked like in the 1850’s
Efforts to drain that area east of Bancroft, Iowa were not successful, so officials decided to make that into a wildlife refuge.
Today Kossuth County is Iowa's largest county at 972 square miles, beating Pottawatamie County with 950 square miles.
Shots of 1800's era Iowa maps of counties,and towns of Kossuth County