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Dual Seats Arkansas County has two courthouses with vastly different architectural styles

Story by Mark Christ and Photography by Holly Hope Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Deco style even as it houses some of the oldest records in Arkan- sas; the Northern District Courthouse in Stuttgart, exhibiting the Colonial Revival style drawing from the nation’s earliest architecture, was built to serve an area that was experiencing an agricultural boom. Te Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, an agency of the

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Department of Arkansas Heritage, has worked with Arkansas County on both buildings to keep them in service, using Real Estate Transfer Tax funds from the Arkansas Natural and Cul- tural Resources Council (see sidebar). Arkansas County was formed on Dec. 31, 1813, by the Mis- souri legislature, which governed the area that would eventually become the state of Arkansas, and Arkansas Post (which had housed an American military presence since 1804) became its seat. It also became the capitol when Arkansas Territory was cre- ated in 1819, a position it would hold a mere two years before the seat of government moved to Little Rock. With the eclipse of Arkansas Post, a new, more central location was desired for the county seat. DeWitt is named for DeWitt Clinton, then governor of New York. Te name was selected from among three names placed in a hat and pulled at random —

rkansas County’s dual courthouses are testaments to the old and the new in a region that is home to the oldest settlement in the state. Te Southern District Courthouse in DeWitt reflects the 20th-century Art

DeWitt being among the contenders because there already was a town called Clinton in north-central Arkansas. A log courthouse was built in 1855, and the county records were moved there from the Post. Te first county court and probate sessions were held in October of that year. Te log building was used until a more substantial two-story brick building was erected in 1862. Tis building served until replaced by a three-story brick edifice in 1893, but because of a faulty foundation, the third courthouse deteriorated to the point that it had to be condemned. Tis building was replaced by the current Arkansas County

Courthouse — Southern District in 1932. Built on the same site as the previous brick courthouses, the new building sported a modern Art Deco design by noted Little Rock architect H. Ray Burks and was constructed by the E.V. Bird Construction Company. Noteworthy features include the overall symmetry of the facades, the employment of such stylized Classical elements as the fluted pilasters and the pseudo-Classical, almost abstract “zig-zag” detail common to such early Art Deco designs, and the square, blocky lettering used for the name panel near the cornices on both the eastern and western elevations. Interior features such as the ceramic tile floor and shallow, stylized “bracket” details at the tops of the columns also survive. Te new building in DeWitt may have been inspired by friendly competition with its neighbor to the north, which had constructed a brand-new courthouse four years earlier. Stuttgart


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