The town was established in 1856, and because of its central location it became the county seat in 1875. The downtown is oriented around a large public square that contains the Adair County Courthouse. This brick and stone-trim Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse was erected in 1891–1892, and was designed by S. E. Maxon, a Council Bluffs architect who designed several of Iowa's county courthouses. Like so many of these buildings, this one has lost its high, assertive central tower, so that the building now reads more as a school building than a courthouse.
Across from the courthouse, at 156 Public Square, is the Warren Opera House (1896), now an apartment building. For this commission the architects Bell and Kent (of Council Bluffs) provided a two-story block built of brick with stone trim; there are retail stores below, the opera house above, and a small playful bay tower at one corner. Its style is somewhat Queen Anne. The entrance to the opera house is emphasized by a pediment that projects from the parapet and contains the words “Opera House.” Next door is the smaller two-story Hetherington Building with its own small central pediment.
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