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The Saline County Courthouse, located at 200 North Main Street, is in the historic commercial district of Benton (Saline County). The courthouse square is surrounded by Conway and Sevier streets, named after two Arkansas families that joined together to create an influential political faction in the nineteenth century called “the Family.” The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the structure as architecturally and historically significant due to its Romanesque Revival architecture. The Saline County Courthouse, featured in the 1973 movie White Lightning because filmmakers considered it to be a typical Southern courthouse, is the third seat of justice in the county’s history. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 22, 1979.
In 1836, William Woodruff, editor of the Arkansas Gazette, offered 120 acres of land to Saline County for its first courthouse. The land was sufficient not only for a courthouse, but for the plat of the town of Benton as well. The county auctioned off surplus acreage in June 1836, and the receipts were used to fund the courthouse project. Sales netted $3,381.71.
Jacob Hoover built the sixty-square-foot county courthouse in 1839, a two-story brick building costing $3,574. A jail, made entirely of logs, was also completed at a cost of $975. The courthouse stood until 1855, when it was condemned. The second courthouse was built partially out of materials from the first one. It was constructed in 1856 by Green B. Hughes and stood until the beginning of the twentieth century.
With the discovery of bauxite in the area in 1887, new economic development entered Saline County, and county services outgrew the courthouse. The quorum court appropriated $4,000 for the present courthouse’s construction in 1902. Prolific architect Charles L. Thompson designed the courthouse: a two-story, pressed yellow brick building with a clock tower. There are Romanesque Revival characteristics that include the use of rounded arches and multiple towers of different shapes and sizes. John Odum oversaw its construction, which cost $31,000. Construction started in 1902 on the site of the demolished 1856 courthouse, and the first session of court in the new building was held that September.
In 1939, Saline County launched a $24,000 renovation project on the building that included redecorated offices, new vaults for county records, and the construction of one-story northern and southern wings. A new county jail was housed in the northern wing, and additional office space filled the southern wing. The northern wing expanded in 1983 to include more jail space. This accommodated Saline County’s inmates until a new jail southeast of downtown Benton was built in 2007. The county remodeled the northern wing for storage and offices for a variety of county services including the IT department, the coroner, appraisers, security, and segments of the circuit clerk’s office.
A New Deal–era mural by artist Julius Woeltz hangs inside the courthouse. It depicts local bauxite miners drilling holes and filling train cars with the mineral. Benton’s post office, at the corner of Main and Sevier streets, originally housed the mural. It was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Section of Fine Arts in 1941 and was completed the following year. On December 7, 1941, the date of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, a Texas newspaper published a photo of Woeltz standing in front of the canvas as he sketched the miners in charcoal. Bauxite is a material necessary for the production of aluminum and would be needed to make war planes in the coming months and years, much of it provided by Saline County mines.
For additional information:Arkansas Historical Records Survey Project. “Inventory of the County Archives of Arkansas: Saline County.” Butler Center of Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.
“Saline County Courthouse.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/SA0023.nr.pdf (accessed September 29, 2016).
“Saline County Courthouse Mural.” The Living New Deal. http://livingnewdeal.org/projects/saline-county-courthouse-bauxite-mines-mural-benton-ar/ (accessed September 29, 2016)
Jared Craig Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 7/25/2018
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