When Adair County was originally established in 1851, the county seat was in the community of Summerset, which is now known as Fontanelle. The first courthouse was built in 1856 and contained offices for the Clerk of Court and Sheriff. The county’s first jail was built in either 1855 or 1856 and also housed offices for the Treasurer, Auditor, and Recorder.
In the spring of 1864 a long-standing neighborhood feud resulted in the murder of a solider who was home on furlough. The murderer was arrested and placed in the county jail in Fontanelle. Relatives of the dead man battered down the jail door against the earnest protest of Sheriff John Shreves and proceeded to take the prisoner from the jail, hang him from a tree, and riddle his body with bullets. Efforts were made to bring the mob to justice but no testimony could be secured against them.
Move to Greenfield
Between 1865 and 1874, three votes were held to move the county seat to Greenfield. The vote of 1874 was finally in favor of the move, but the vote was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. On March 22, 1875, about 250 men with 75 wagons not wanting to wait out the appeal process went to Fontanelle and removed the records and furniture from the courthouse and jail.
Sheriff C.B. Hunt strongly opposed these proceedings but was powerless against the group. Judge Mitchell issued a court order and ordered the sheriff to see that all items were returned to Fontanelle. Sheriff Hunt attempted to carry out the order but the order was snatched from his hands and destroyed. On March 23, 1875, General N.B. Baker the State Adjutant General succeeded in getting the items returned to Fontanelle.
In June 1875 the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the election and announced Greenfield as the legal county seat.
1873 to 2012
Records indicate that there was no formal county jail between 1875 and 1903 as prisoners were taken to other counties for safekeeping. The next Adair County Jail in Greenfield was built in 1903 at a cost of $11,990.00. The two-story jail building contained seven living rooms for the sheriff or jail employees in the front part of the building and six steel cells for prisoners in the rear of the building. The carpentry, plumbing and heating were considered state-of-the-art for the time. Prior to October of 1978 the Sheriffs’ Office and dispatch center was located in the courthouse. In October of 1978 the living quarters at the jail were remodeled into offices and a communications center and the Sheriffs’ Office was moved to the jail building.
Public Safety Center
By the 21st century, the 1903 building had many liabilities including structural deterioration, technical systems, public safety, and not meeting standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act. A new Adair County Public Safety Center was funded by a $3 million bond issue and built to house the Sheriff’s Office along with the City of Greenfield Police. Following its opening in 2012, the previous jail building was demolished.