Cottonwood County was organized July 29, 1870. It was named for the Cottonwood River, which touches the northeast corner of Germantown Township in Cottonwood County. The river was named for the abundance of cottonwood trees on its banks.
At the time of the organization, Minnesota Governor Austin appointed three county commissioners. Their first meeting was held at a private home located about six miles northwest of Windom on the Des Moines River at Big Bend.
At this meeting, the commissioner districts were designated and various county officers were changed. The first general election was held in the fall of 1870 so some of these officials changed at that time.
The first deed on record was filed January 10, 1870 and the first land assessments were made in 1871. The first taxes were paid in 1872.
In 1872, Windom was declared the county seat in the general election and a proclamation was signed by the governor. A small wooden building located at 355 9th Street was rented by the commissioners for offices. Later, the county moved to a rented two-story wooden building at 862 4th Avenue.
A permanent wooden structure was built in 1883. It was two stories high and measured 36 feet by 50 feet. The building was north of the present jail. The cost was $2,916.62.
On August 21, 1903, $50,000 was appropriated for courthouse construction. The commissioners traded Block 23, except for the jail, for Block 13. Block 13 contained a park with a bandstand in the center. The grounds were quite low and at times it became a virtual duck pond. Workmen filled the pond with 362 loads of dirt at a cost of $120.66.
Architects were asked to submit plans and the commissioners spent two days looking over the plans. O'Meyer and Thori, who had been the architects for the Hutton and Quevli buildings in Windom, were engaged. In Nordimedendene i Amerika (Norwegians in America) by Martin Ulvestad, Thori was described as "master of the saw".
The architects were paid $1,175.: when the plans and specifications were delivered, they were paid $500; when the walls were plastered, they were paid $250; and, when the building was finished, they were paid $425.
J.B. Nelson of North Mankato was hired as contractor on March 22, 1904 at a bid price of $59,949. The actual cost was $35,000 plus $5,200 for filling and grading the grounds. In 1905, $35,000 was borrowed from the State of Minnesota on a 20 year repayment schedule to pay for the remaining courthouse debt.