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Ouachita County Courthouse

The Ouachita County Courthouse, located on 145 Jefferson Avenue, was built in 1933 and is in the heart of downtown Camden (Ouachita County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the two-story building as architecturally and historically significant as the best example of Georgian-style architecture in Ouachita County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 13, 1989.

As a result of a tornado that struck Camden on the night of December 13, 1931, the Victorian Gothic courthouse built in 1888 was flattened. The loss of that courthouse, renowned as one of the more impressive courthouses in Arkansas at the time, was a setback for the community. The county constructed makeshift wooden structures to house county affairs temporarily.

On December 31, County Judge Watt Jordan formed a building commission. The commission considered designs submitted by architects for several months, but the decision was not made until nearly a year after the courthouse’s destruction; the county likely waited to pass a tax increase to fund the new courthouse before going forward in plans. The commission selected a design by Thomas Harding Jr., who presented a style that is reminiscent of a colonial government house. The most outstanding feature is a white cupola topped with a lamp. Harding was the son of the previous courthouse’s designer, and his inclusion in the project added sentimentality.

Much of the new bluff brick building’s specifications required materials that were not available locally. The fact that Harding was from Little Rock (Pulaski County) fueled speculation of conspiracy among the locals of Camden, who accused Harding of driving business to Little Rock associates instead of turning to Ouachita County sources. To alleviate these concerns, Harding encouraged the building commission to strive for transparency in the building process. Ultimately, William Peterson of Little Rock was selected. His bid, the lowest, totaled $46,050. The new courthouse was built on the same site as the destroyed 1888 building. Workers completed construction in August 1933, and the county judge elected the previous November, George Gordon, held court that month.

The Ouachita County Courthouse includes two courtrooms, both on the second floor. The appearance of the circuit courtroom is unconventional, as the bar, the jury seats, the witness chair, and the attorneys are all arranged in a semi-circle surrounding the judge. The spectators of legal proceedings complete the circle.

Like most county courthouses across Arkansas, there are war memorials on site, although the Ouachita County Courthouse features a rare monument dedicated to Confederate women. Situated on the foundation of the previous courthouse, the old cornerstone reads “this temple of justice.” McNeil Marble Company sculpted the statue, a granite figure of a Confederate woman standing soberly at an obelisk’s base. She grips a flag proudly and looks out into the distance as if she is on guard. It was dedicated in 1915 by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The National Park Service placed it on the National Register of Historic Places on May 7, 1996.

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

“Ouachita County Courthouse.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/OU0025.nr.pdf (accessed February 25, 2016).

Jared Craig
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 9/27/2016

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