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The Square that almost was

Posted January 23, 2013 in Community Featured
The Federal Building at the corner of Main and Maple.

The Federal Building at the corner of Main and Maple.

In 1902, the city fathers were presented with an opportunity for a $50,000 grant to build a Federal Building. This building was actually to be a post office, but officially, it was called the Federal Building.

Letter-writing campaigns ensued, and Centerville was one of 10 cities in Iowa to be chosen to receive a grant of this type. The catch was Centerville had to provide the lot on which to build the new Federal Building, and sell it to the government for $1.

Searches for a suitable — and affordable — site got underway. During this same time, Appanoose County was preparing to build a new, grand courthouse, which was a very expensive undertaking. Money to buy a building site for the Federal Building was scarce.

Then, a remarkable idea occurred to the city fathers. Why not use the large courtyard? In 1902, the existing courthouse was known as “The Sheep Shed.” It was the unsightly capped-off remains of the ornate courthouse built in 1863 that had suffered fire damage to the cupola in the 1881 Independence Day fireworks display. After several votes on the matter, it was decided in 1902 to replace the courthouse with a new one. Two new, grand government buildings at the same time in the same place.

The idea was to simply extend Main Street through the courtyard, and extend State Street through the courtyard, making four separate lots. Their idea was to build the new Federal Building on one corner lot, and the new courthouse on an opposite corner, leaving the two existing lots as parks. Best of all, they already owned the land. No more money would have to be invested apart from the engineering to extend the streets through the courtyard. This idea was favored for several months, and looked to be the winning plan.

After a few weeks, a few naysayers began to mention that this idea would affect the symmetry on the square, plus there were issues with ownership being turned over to the federal government. The committee in charge of finding a building site for the new Federal Building was once again looking, and now time was running out. If they didn’t find a site soon, the grant opportunity would disappear.

A suitable site was located on the corner of Main and Maple, and the Federal Building was built and dedicated on Aug. 16, 1904, just 27 days before the new Appanoose County Courthouse was dedicated, sitting squarely in the center of the courtyard.

Information submitted by Lisa Eddy, curator, Appanoose County Historical Society, 100 West Maple, Centerville, 856-8040,

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