Dickinson County, the smallest Iowa county in land area, is named in honor of Daniel S. Dickinson, a lawyer and senator from New York.
In the summer of 1856 Rowland Gardner came from Cerro Gordo County to settle. He and his family erected cabins, which came to be known as Gardners Grove. Soon after many families started to settle in the area. But by the end of the year the population was only 40 residents, half of that being children.
In the winter of 1856-1857 a renegade band of Sioux Indians attacked the settlers around the lake, killing all but four women. Later, two of the four women were murdered and the remaining two were rescued. For six days the ravaging and pillaging of settlements and killing of livestock continued. Word of the “Spirit Lake Massacre” finally reached Fort Dodge. An expedition was launched to pursue the Indians, but the main job turned out to be burying the dead.
Following the massacre there was a large increase in settlers, especially in the summer. This second wave of pioneers organized the county for independence. A petition was sent to the judge in Woodbury County, a seven-day journey by horseback, asking for a separate organization. An election was held calling for county officials, and on August 4, 1857 Dickinson County was formed.
The first courthouse was built in Spirit Lake. It was begun in 1859 and partially finished in 1860. In 1860 it was used as a barracks for Civil War troops and was completed in 1868. This building was destroyed by fire in 1872.
A second courthouse was constructed using the salvageable bricks of the first courthouse, but it was soon deemed unsatisfactory and condemned in 1880.
In September 1889 a $15,000 bond issue was proposed for the construction of a new courthouse. It was passed by a large majority. Construction of the third courthouse began on October 4, 1890 and was completed in 1891. Since its completion the building has seen three additions, one in 1957 and two more in 1976 and 1978. The funding for these additions came from the Federal Revenue Sharing fund.
Taken from “History of County Governments in Iowa”, published in 1992 by the Iowa State Association of Counties, Des Moines, Iowa