Edward Graham’s Legacy: The Forgotten DeWitt Courthouse of 1854

   In 1853, Edward Graham was made the County Judge of Clinton County, Iowa, when his predecessor unexpectedly vacated the position. While the new promotion may have come as a surprise, he was more than up to the task.

   Born in Pennsylvania, he decided to become a lawyer. Seven years later, he and his family moved west in 1849, settling in DeWitt, Iowa.

   He immediately started practicing law again, and by 1851 he had been elected Prosecuting Attorney for Clinton County. A few years later, he was Acting County Judge. It was in that capacity that Graham would both settle a long-standing dispute in the region while cementing his legacy.  

   The dispute had started in 1841, when the county seat was moved from Camanche, Iowa to DeWitt. Camanche was a little upset by this outcome, but there was nothing they could do.

Clinton County Map
Clinton County, Iowa. DeWitt was chosen as the county seat because it was located in the approximate middle of the county. Courtesy Google Images


   A log courthouse was constructed in DeWitt in 1842, but the county had outgrown the humble building by 1846. For the next several years, a number of different locations around DeWitt were used as temporary courthouses.

   By 1853, the cities of Lyons, Clinton and Camanche had experienced enormous growth, and started to grumble that one of them should be the county seat, not DeWitt.

   One of their primary arguments was that there was no permanent courthouse, with court shifting from building to building. And so the bickering began.

   Graham stepped in and decided to settle the issue.

   As County Judge, Graham had the ability to secure funds to put towards the erection of a permanent courthouse building without any vote from the people of the county. Knowing this, he ordered a new courthouse be built in DeWitt.

   Graham knew exactly what the new building would look like.  It was going to be built from brick, with offices on the main floor and the courtroom on the second floor. It was going to big, bold, and impressive. In short, it was going to look almost exactly like the Scott County courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. 

   By 1854, a permanent Clinton County Courthouse was built, settling the issue for a little over a decade.   The following year, Graham stepped down as County Judge. He still practiced law, but his time as a judge was finished.


1854 Clinton County Courthouse
The second and final county courthouse built in the 1860’s. Courtesy of the Central Community Historical Society. 


   In 1860, Graham got sick. He had a bad fever, and, as he had done in the past, went to use a medicine called quinine to help take care of it. He told his wife where to find it and she kindly went to get it for him. Whether the bottle was mislabeled, or Graham gave poor directions of where to find it doesn’t really matter. His kind spouse made a horrifying mistake and brought him strychnine instead.

   Not realizing what it was, Graham took it, and died from accidental poisoning less than an hour later at the age of 42.

   While his life was relatively short, Edward Graham had still managed to make an impact on the county he called home by settling an old dispute.

   You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please check in every week or so for brand new true stories of triumph, tragedy, and everything in-between. If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can subscribe to John’s blog and have new entries sent directly to your inbox, or you can ‘Like’ the Kitchen Table Historian Facebook page, and receive them in your news feed.

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The History of Clinton County, Iowa.” Chicago; Western Historical Company, 1879.

Sad Accident.” Daily Democrat and News. 5/17/1860 p.1

Death of An Iowa Publisher.” Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye. 5/26/1860

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-population Census Schedules for Iowa, 1850-1880; Archive Collection: T1156; Archive Roll Number: 55; Census Year: 1860; Census Place: Waterford, Clinton, Iowa

Ancestry.com. Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.


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