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Newton County Courthouse

The Newton County Courthouse is located at 100 Court Street in downtown Jasper (Newton County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the two-story building as architecturally and historically significant for its local standing in Newton County and as a visible result of the New Deal programs active during the Great Depression. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 1, 1994.

The present Newton County Courthouse is the fourth to govern county affairs. The first was a log cabin, burned by Union soldiers during the Reconstruction period in 1866. Newton County replaced it with a brick-and-mortar structure in 1873, contracting Robbie Hobbs to build it. It stood until 1902, when it was demolished for a modern courthouse to be built.

As a result of arson in 1938 that completely destroyed the courthouse, Newton County had another demand for a new seat of justice. The arsonist, suspected to be the county sheriff at the time, sought to destroy records that were evidence to an embezzlement scheme. A grand jury indicted the sheriff, but he fled the state and never stood trial for allegedly stealing county funds.

Newton County looked to the federal government for assistance in building its new courthouse. Like many counties across the United States during the Great Depression, Newton County had a series fiscal challenges and benefited from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s efforts to stabilize unemployment. The architect is not known, but labor and the required $42,000 in funds came from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a prolific New Deal program. Construction was completed in 1939, and the building’s principal entrance features a concrete plaque on a pilaster inscribed with “USA—1939—WPA.”

The courthouse was designed in the Art Deco style, which was popular in the 1930s and is common among Arkansas’s courthouses from the era. To ensure that a Newton County Courthouse would never burn down again, a more fire-conscious design was implemented. For example, there is no wood in the building except for furniture. Walls are made of granite quarried from the nearby Little Buffalo River area, and the floors are made of cement.

The interior is rather simple, with offices on the lower level and the courtroom and contributing facilities on the upper floor. The most notable decoration is an oil portrait of short-tenured congressman Thomas Willoughby Newton, for whom the county was named. The portrait hangs over the judge’s bench.

Random granite stones make up the exterior walls, which are reminiscent of the rustic Ozark Mountains. As is the case with the interior, the granite was quarried from local sources, which enhances the architectural significance.

A stone monument on site is dedicated to a 2001 search-and-rescue mission for a missing child. According to the marker, it was the largest search-and-rescue effort in Arkansas. The massive search around the Buffalo River was unsuccessful until two locals, Lytle James and William Villines, searched the wilderness area on the mission’s third day. They rode mules through difficult 2,000-foot bluffs and found the child. The Morgan Nick Foundation offered a reward, but James and Villines refused it, saying that finding the child was their reward.

A war memorial also stands outside the courthouse on the corner of Church and Stone streets. Newton County dedicated it on May 28, 1967, and it honors all veterans from the county.

For additional information:
Dodson, Donna. “Newton County Courthouse.” Newton County Historical Society. http://newtoncountyar.com/images/The_Newton_County_Courthouses.pdf (accessed February 20, 2016).

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

“Newton 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/NW0005.nr.pdf (accessed February 20, 2016).

Jared Craig
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 9/27/2016

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