Osceola County, located in the northwest corner of the state, is Iowa's youngest and smallest county, consisting of 397 square miles.
Besides being the smallest and youngest county in Iowa, Osceola is also the highest. The highest point in Iowa is just north of Sibley and is named Hawkeye Point.
Osceola is named after a famous Seminole Indian Chief who fought brilliantly against the United States to preserve the land and the rights of his people. He was finally captured and died a prisoner at Ft. Moultrie, South Carolina. in 1838. The settlers liked to talk about his exploits and his romance with the Creek Indian Princess, Ouscaloosa.
The word Osceola is said to translate to "Black Drink Singer" and originates from a Seminole warrior purification rite. During this rite, the warrior would drink a black liquid brewed from the leaves of holly bushes. The word "Assin-ye-o-la" was a long drawn outcry that accompanied the ceremonial drinking.
Osceola County was organized in 1871. The first permanent settlement took place that same year by Captain Eldred Huff when he took up residence on a claim he had filed the previous November. Since the county was void of any timber (early settlers called it the "American Desert"), Captain Huff hauled a load of lumber from Sioux City for his house. This lack of timber also caused a fuel problem in the winter. Settlers were urged to plant giant sunflowers, as an acre of sunflowers would yield a good burning material equal to six cords of good dry wood.
The first session of the Osceola County Board of Supervisors was held on January 1, 1872. The following Thursday they passed their first resolution. It read "Resolved - that Sibley, Osceola County, Iowa, shall be the county seat of said Osceola County and that the County Auditor be authorized to petition the Legislature through our representation to have the action of the Board of Supervisors legalized." The fact that the railroad went through Sibley and that the land for the courthouse was donated by the railroad promoters probably did not hurt this decision by the board.
The first courthouse was built in November of 1872 by Henry Pfingsten (or Phringston) at a cost of $4,500. The wooden frame structure also served as a school and a church. It contained a 6-foot x 10-foot privy, coal shed, front and rear steps, vane and ball on the flagstaff, and a room under the stairway inside the courthouse.
In 1901 it was decided that Osceola needed a new courthouse. A special election was held in November, and a $50,000 bond issue was passed. The contract was awarded to C.E. Atkinson, and construction was completed by 1902. It was formally dedicated in September of 1903. In October of 1915, the building was wired for electricity.
The original courthouse contained a dome which held a statue of Justice. In 1925 the dome was removed and replaced by a square-shaped cupola and the statue of Justice was replaced. This construction was done to modernize the building. On August of 1961, the square cupola was removed, leaving the upper portion of the courthouse as it is at the present time.
Constant upkeep and repairs have kept the building's beauty there for all to enjoy and admire. A major entrance change was made in 1974 to make the building more handicapped accessible. Even with the addition of an elevator, the continuity of the original design is still there.
Text derived from History of County Governments in Iowa, published in 1992 by Iowa State Association of Counties, Des Moines, Iowa
The Seminole chief Osceola's grave site is located on the grounds of Ft. Moultrie, on Sullivans Island , South Carolina, part of the Fort Sumter National Monument of the National Park Service.