The first Adams County seat was established by act of the Iowa Legislature on January 12, 1853, at Quincy, Iowa (now non-existent). The courthouse was a frame building but official court records were kept in private dwellings. Quincy would remain the county seat for the next eighteen years. The building was later used as a schoolhouse and in 1932 it was torn down. In November, 1872, the people voted to remove the courthouse from Quincy and locate the county seat in Corning.
The first courthouse in Corning was built in 1872 at the present site of the Adams County courthouse. It was also a wood frame structure. The county jail was built in 1877 and used until 1955. This courthouse was destroyed by fire on February 1, 1888. Business buildings in Corning then served as temporary quarters for the county offices.
On November 5, 1889, Adams County voters approved a bond issue not to exceed $30,000 for construction of a new courthouse. Money was to be raised by taxation of not to exceed 2 mils on the dollar each year. The new courthouse was dedicated on June 20, 1890. Barely 40 years later, this building, called one of the most modern in the country with its Queen Anne style of architecture, began to deteriorate and was razed in 1955.
After three previous attempts, a bond issue finally carried in 1954 and a three-story building costing $225,000 was constructed at the current site. In October, 1955, the new offices of the Adams County Courthouse opened — they were painted in contemporary color schemes evoking “the feeling of the good taste of the Museum of Modern Art of New York.” The fourth Adams County Courthouse was billed by the Des Moines Register’s Picture Magazine in 1955 as the most exciting thing to happen in public building in Iowa in about 40 years. Chuck Offenburger, the Iowa Boy, of the Des Moines Register would later give this coral and turquoise courthouse building the distinction of being “the ugliest courthouse in the State of Iowa.”
The flat roof design of this new modern courthouse would prove to cause considerable problems and it was replaced with a slant roof design in the 1980’s. In 1985, Federal Revenue Sharing funds made it possible to add a handicap accessible entry and install an elevator.
In August, 1998, a courthouse renovation project was started taking one year to complete. Improvements totaling $850,000 included: new energy-efficient windows and doors, a new exterior finish, insulation, new sign and entrance canopy. The remodeled jail and jail addition (all now handicapped accessible) accommodates 4, 6, and 8 beds in a dormitory-type setting plus a 2-bed holding cell. The interior of the courthouse was all repainted. Ceiling fans, new lighting, heating/cooling units, radiator valves, and actuators were installed in most of the offices.