Waukon History

Waukon History
The City of Waukon is named after John Waukon, a member of the Winnebago Indians, who roamed the prairies of Allamakee County.

In June of 1849 Geo C. Shattuck came to Allamakee County. That fall he built himself a hay shanty to shelter his family until he could build a log cabin. This was the beginning of the town of Waukon.

In Allamakee County, the towns of Lansing and Waukon had a prolonged and bitter fight over which would be the county seat. Originally, the Iowa legislature selected Jefferson Township as the county seat. At an 1851 election the county voters rejected this place and others, and Columbus became the seat of justice. In 1853, the legislature granted a petition to seek a county seat closer to the geographic center of the county. Waukon was approved in a two-thirds vote. The battle continued into early 1859, when Lansing offered to build an $8,000 courthouse if the county seat was moved there. Waukon countered with their own offer and won the issue by 420 votes.

A courthouse was completed in Waukon in 1861 for a cost of $13,635. In 1861, Columbus and Lansing teamed up to fight for the county seat. They beat out Waukon by 22 votes in an 1862 election. Waukon was unsuccessful in getting the county seat back in an 1864 election. In June of 1866, the county sheriff, also a resident of Waukon, led a posse to the courthouse site in Lansing and removed the county records. On their way back to Waukon, Lansing horsemen who subdued the men and returned the records to Lansing intercepted the posse.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 1867 that Waukon was indeed the county seat and the present county courthouse was erected there in 1939.

The courthouse built in 1861 stood empty for many years till the Wan Tan Ye Club decided Waukon should have a museum. In 1964 the Allamakee County Historical Society was formed.

The Allamakee County Historical Society has completed not only a museum for your touring but also a Red School House and Gjefle Log Cabin. The museum offers a tour of the original second floor courtroom which includes a display of law books, judge's chair and bench, witness chair and the jury box. Court can still be held in the 1861 courthouse if agreeable with all parties and if the present courthouse is full or busy.

A medical exhibit includes an operating table and instruments used by physicians during the early years of the county's settlement.

Photos of John Waukon, John Waukon-Decorah and others are also found in the museum, along with Winnebago baskets and Emma Big Bear baskets.
The Gjefle Log Cabin takes you back to an earlier time. The Gjefle family who came from Norway built the log cabin in 1872. At one time there were eight people living there.
The Red School House is open only during the fair and by appointment only. Classes were held in the building until 1967. During this time, over 100 teachers taught 100s of children in grades Kindergarten through 8.

You are also welcome to contact the museum to do research with you. We have all of the Waukon and Lansing newspapers on microfilm, 5,000 old wills, and several family trees. Many old photos are also found here.
121 Allamakee Street, PO Box 95, Waukon, Iowa 52172
Phone: 563.568.2954 or 563.568.3234
Email: info@allamakeehistory.org

Open June and July, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Please call before coming. We can also open any other time by appointment.

The Allamakee County Historical Society & Research Center is a non-profit corporation.