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The Lawrence County Courthouse is located in Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County), within the city’s commercial district on Main Street. The building, completed in 1966, stands as one of the newer county seats of justice in Arkansas, with its cohorts erected largely at the end of the nineteenth century or during the New Deal era of the 1930s. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program considers this mid-century building in the New Formalism style as architecturally and historically significant to Lawrence County’s legal history. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 28, 2015.
In 1870, the Arkansas General Assembly split Lawrence County into two judicial districts to accommodate residents traveling long distances for county business. Legislators designated Walnut Ridge as the eastern seat, with Powhatan (Lawrence County)—whose 1888 courthouse still stands in the twenty-first century—as the western seat. While the location or any other details of the first courthouse in Walnut Ridge are unknown, a two-story courthouse was built by 1897. It housed county services until only 1900. County Commissioners S. C. Dowell, P. B. Sharum, and H. L. Ponder gained an appropriation of $20,000 for a new building and selected architect Charles Thompson’s Romanesque Revival design, which called for an orange-brick courthouse complete with a tower. The commissioners purchased land that included segments of a wheat field that a state legislator owned. The Steward Brothers contracting company of Newport (Jackson County) won the bidding process, and the building opened in 1901.
Powhatan’s courthouse suffered after decades of population depletion in the town, a weakened commerce, and neglect. Lawrence County attempted to consolidate the county seats to Walnut Ridge three times, but voters turned down each measure. Meanwhile, Walnut Ridge’s own courthouse deteriorated, and county officials warned that both courthouses “probably should be condemned.” In 1963, county residents finally voted to consolidate the county seats to Walnut Ridge and approved the construction of a new courthouse. A record turnout voted in the special election, which was likely due to a $500 prize the Lawrence County Development Council awarded in a drawing to a participating voter. Additionally, Walnut Ridge merchants contributed money for another drawing, signaling the business community’s support. County officials alleviated residents’ concern of funding with an extension of a two-mill hospital tax and a hefty Accelerated Public Works grant from the federal government, which Congressman Wilbur Mills advocated. The courthouse cost $450,000.
The architectural firm of Erhart, Eichenbaum, Rauch, and Blass designed a one-story courthouse made of cast stone and dark-brown brick. McDaniel Construction Company from Jonesboro (Craighead County) won the bid to construct the building, which the county slated to be on the 1901 courthouse’s site. Behind the masonry walls and buff brick panels, the lobby connects to the courtroom of black walnut and exposed brick columns. The county purchased furniture from the Gene Lewis Company of Little Rock (Pulaski County), which fills the county offices, including the sheriff’s department, located in the building’s northeastern corner. Many features mark the exterior: a plaza, a covered entrance, a war memorial installed in 1986, and a retired tank dedicated in 1995. The courthouse has changed little since its dedication in 1966.
For additional information:
“All Over the State.” Arkansas Democrat, May 8, 1900, p. 6.
“Biggest Special Election Vote in History Expected Tuesday on Consolidation, New Courthouse.” The Times Dispatch, August 22, 1963, p. 1A.
“For a New Courthouse.” Arkansas Democrat, March 3, 1900, p. 1.
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.
“Lawrence 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/LW0138_nr.pdf (accessed May 22, 2017).
“State Notes.” Fort Smith Times, June 22, 1900, p. 4.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 7/19/2017
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