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Madison County Courthouse

The Madison County Courthouse, built in 1939, is located at 1 Main Street in downtown Huntsville (Madison County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the three-story building as architecturally and historically significant as a visible result of the New Deal and as an example of Art Deco architecture in Madison County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 9, 1992.

The 1905 Madison County Courthouse sustained roof damage in the 1930s that totaled $600. This, along with the fact that the building was no longer adequate to house county affairs, prompted administrators to seek a new courthouse. At that time, the Great Depression had devastated local government budgets, leaving no money for a public works project like a new courthouse. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs offered appropriations that stimulated economies and provided unemployment relief. One of those programs was known as the Public Works Administration (PWA). Madison County turned to the PWA for funds and gained an appropriation of more than $90,000. The county sold the old courthouse to Ralph Dryer, R. H. Wagstaf, and Dr. Fred Youngblood. They razed the building and turned the lot into a row of shops and offices.

County Judge W. J. Drake hired architects Ewing Shelton and Chester Nelson, who chose the Art Deco style that was popular in the 1930s. The county bought three properties on Main Street to make room for the new courthouse, and construction was completed in late 1939. The county held a dedication ceremony on November 30, 1939, with Congressman Clyde T. Ellis delivering the address.

The present Art Deco courthouse is a rectangular structure made of glazed brick and limestone. Designs included a full basement along with a county jail on the third floor. Hailed as a modern jail, it had three cells designed to hold two prisoners each, with the option of six more if bunk beds were used. The jail remained operational until the 1980s when it was moved to a new facility nearby due to security concerns, primarily the wide bars on the third-story windows. Inmates could tie bedsheets together and pull up contraband, and county officials worried that an inmate could smuggle a gun into the jail.

In addition to moving the jail, the county made other modifications to the interior. Administrators lowered the courtroom’s two-story ceiling, which affected the view of the top row of windows and Tudor-style paneling. It also affected the fifty-inch-high wainscoting, as its alignment goes above window sills.

Other features include a war memorial on the grounds. It honors deceased service members from Madison County from World War I to the Vietnam War. It was dedicated on May 28, 1994. Hugh Hudgens designed and constructed it.

One famous county employee who worked in the present courthouse was Orval Faubus, a Huntsville resident who became governor of Arkansas. Faubus worked as a circuit court clerk.

For additional information:
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.

“Madison 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/MA0015.nr.pdf (accessed February 25, 2016).

Jared Craig
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 9/27/2016

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