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Desha County Courthouse

The Desha County Courthouse in Arkansas City (Desha County) is a two-and-a-half-story brick structure built in 1900 in the Romanesque Revival architectural style. The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 1976.

After the establishment of Desha County in 1838, the first county seat was located at Napoleon in 1843, a river port at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. Early courts were held at Wellington, a plantation in the Red Fork Township. In the fall of 1865, the old Marine Hospital building was leased by the county from the federal government for the purpose of conducting county business. By the 1870s, the county seat at Napoleon had been abandoned due to frequent flooding. In 1873, the seat was moved to Chicot City. The seat was moved to Watson (Desha County) in 1874 on five acres of land donated by L. W. Watson. Watson gave the county 10,000 feet of lumber to be used in the construction of county buildings, including the courthouse, at a cost of $376. The seat of justice remained at Watson until 1879.

In 1879, John W. Dickerson and his wife donated the land on which the original and present-day courthouses were built, at 608 Robert S. Moore Avenue in Arkansas City. The street was named for a longtime county sheriff. The original courthouse built in 1880 was destroyed by fire.

In October 1899, the Desha County Quorum Court voted to build a new brick courthouse at Arkansas City. It was to cost not less than $10,000 and was to be as fireproof as possible. A three-member commission was appointed to supervise construction of the courthouse. The commissioners were county judge J. S. Ross, a major in the Federal army during the Civil War; Henry Thane, a wealthy businessman who owned several banks in southeastern Arkansas; and G. E. Sweet, one of the largest contractors in southeastern Arkansas.

Thane put up $10,000 for a building in the Romanesque style that took forty train cars of Delta-made brick to complete. Little Rock (Pulaski County) architect Rome Harding designed the courthouse, which features a four-story clock tower at the southwestern corner, round arches, and decorative patterns worked in brick.

On January 2, 1900, a contract for construction of the courthouse was signed by the Desha County Courthouse Committee and the W. D. Holtzman Company of Little Rock. The courthouse was completed ten months later at a cost of $23,369.44.

Since 1997, the Desha County Courthouse has received grants from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program totaling $239,335. The grants have been used to restore, repair, and modernize the building. Updates to the building include repairs made to the windows and restoration of the interior and floors. An ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) restroom was added in the main building, and an elevator was partially funded for an ADA-compliant entrance.

For additional information:
“Desha 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/DE0018.nr.pdf (accessed May 20, 2015).

Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1978.

Schnedler, Marcia. “Arkansas City: Awash in History.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 2, 1996. Online at http://www.deshaark.com/desha_county_history.shtml (accessed July 9, 2013).

Pearl Lentz Sayles
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 9/27/2016

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