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Lee County Courthouses

Lee County is the only county of Iowa's 99 with two separate and distinct county seats one in North Lee (Fort Madison) and the other in South Lee (Keokuk). Fort Madison was first established as the county seat in 1837, and Keokuk became the second one in 1848 by special act of the Iowa General Assembly.

The line that separates north and south Lee County follows the Sullivan Line, referring to the surveyor J.C. Sullivan, who was in charge of drawing a boundary line between Missouri and Iowa in 1816. His line actually stopped at the western Lee County border at the Des Moines River and failed to extend all the way to the Mississippi River. However, in treaties from 1824, the Ioway, Sac and Fox tribes ceded their land in Missouri to the United States and implied that the Sullivan Line was Missouri's northern border all the way to the Mississippi River and the land currently considered North Lee became their property. Hence, the original Sullivan Line appears to have been extended by treaty, thus forming the two separate parts of Lee County which still exist today. Almost all government services (state courts and county offices) in South Lee can be found within a single courthouse in Keokuk, in a former federal courthouse and post office building dating back to 1890.

Almost all government services (state courts and county offices) in South Lee can be found within a single courthouse in Keokuk, in a former federal courthouse and post office building dating back to 1890.

In Fort Madison, the state courts are housed in one of the oldest courthouses in Iowa dating from 1841. The basement walls were made of stone and the upper walls of brick. The total cost of the courthouse and the jail, which were both completed in 1842, was about $12,000. In 1876, the old courthouse in Fort Madison was completely overhauled and reconstructed. In 1911, fire damaged the courthouse, but insurance money was used to rebuild it that same year. The four immense Tuscan columns still stand and accent the Greek revival architecture.

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