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The Iowa Territory's legislative body authorized the creation and establishment of twelve counties. They also provided general descriptions of their boundaries. They also passed a resolution on January 17 that set the effective date for Jasper and Polk Counties' county government as March 1, 1846. The name Polk County was named after James K. Polk, the United States President who served from 1845-1849.
In Des Moines, Iowa, the first courthouse was built, a two-story structure in 1846. Due to rapid settlement and the growth of the county, this building became insufficient. The construction of a larger building began in 1858. The structure was not finished until 1866 due to delays in construction and the Civil War. In 1906, the current courthouse was built. It was then extensively renovated and expanded in 1962.