The Historic Washington County Court House is the fifth county courthouse, the prior four being on or near the site of the Old Post Office. This courthouse is just south of the site of a Butterfield Stage Coach stop.
County Judge Millard Berry of Springdale, Public Building Commissioner J. H. McIlroy of Fayetteville, Architect Charles L. Thompson of Little Rock, Building Contractor George Donaghey of Conway, and Supervising Contractor D. C. Wurtz of Ft. Smith were the key players in planning and building this courthouse.
Construction of the Richardsonian Romanesque style building began in June 1904 and was completed in April 1905 for a total cost of $98,500.
On Saturday October 1, 1904, under the direction of John T. Hicks, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge, nearly 2000 people witnessed the laying of the cornerstone. A copper time capsule was placed behind the cornerstone and housed copies of numerous artifacts.
W. E. Williams was the first County Judge to occupy it, taking charge of the courthouse on May 4, 1905.
The Historic Washington County Court House has four floors connected by grand stairways and an elevator. Other interesting building features include flooring in public spaces containing over 60,000 hand laid round ceramic mosaic tile, and coal burning fireplaces with glazed brick facades in each office.
On August 8, 1947 County Judge Witt Carter ordered that the front entrance of the courthouse be altered so that College Avenue could be widened. At that time, the front steps rested on an island that jutted into what would now be the northbound lanes of College Avenue.
In 1965 the clock tower steeple had become structurally unsafe and County Judge Gene Thrasher had it removed. With the help of a National Guard helicopter, a replica of the original steeple was installed in 1974. Shortly before replacing it, the county also replaced the dark clock face with translucent material so the clock would be illuminated at night.
In 1972 County Judge Vol Lester agreed to place the courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. This later gave the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program a conservation easement on the front facade of the building, meaning no alterations could be made unless first approved by them.
The most dramatic change took place in 1973-1974, when Washington County built a bomb shelter and vault addition on the east side of the building. Designed by Warren Segraves and constructed by the Brennan Boyd Construction Company, this four level addition housed the Office of Emergency Services (1st level), Treasurer, Assessor, and Collector Vaults (2nd level), and County Clerk and Circuit Clerk Vaults (3rd and 4th levels).
In 1975 Washington County installed paneling and suspended ceilings, giving the courthouse a modernistic and efficient look.
In 1989 County Judge Charles Johnson commissioned a complete restoration and rehabilitation study. Completed by the firm of Witsell, Evans & Rosco, along with David Powers of Springdale, this study guided both the exterior and interior restoration of the Historic Washington County Court House.
Continued space problems in the courthouse and the opportunity to buy the building formerly housing the First South Savings & Loan on the corner of College & Dickson in 1990, resulted in the county moving to that building over the next few years. This halted most restoration plans.
In 2003 Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton and the Washington County Quorum Court created the Historic Washington County Court House Advisory Board to make recommendations on the restoration of the historic structure. Members were Timothy C. Klinger (chairman), John DuPree, David L. Powers, Lorel D. Aviles, and William R. Kincaid. Total estimated cost to restore both the inside and outside of the building was 4.5 million dollars.
In 2004 Judge Hunton announced the selection of Polk Stanley Architects, Ltd as the firm to guide Washington County through the restoration of the historic courthouse.
Beginning in November 2004, Washington County, under the leadership of Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn, observed a months long celebration honoring the 100th birthday of the historic courthouse. This culminated with the opening of the 1904 time capsule and the dedication of a new time capsule to be opened in 2055. On Saturday May 7, 2005 approximately 2000 people attended the official centennial celebration on the front steps of the courthouse. In order to make room for attendees, portions of US Highway 71B were closed and traffic re-directed to the west of the courthouse. This was the first time in modern history that anyone remembered closing the busy highway.
In 2006-2007 County Judge Jerry Hunton oversaw restoration of the exterior of the historic building. Work included replacing and/or refurbishing windows and gutters, complete tuck pointing of the building, as well as painting of trim. The most dramatic restoration work was the re-opening of the 2nd floor balconies, which had been enclosed since the 1970s.
In addition to Judge Hunton and the Washington County Quorum Court, major players included Buildings & Ground Superintendent Ron Wood, and Polk Stanley Wilcox Architect John Dupree. Bossler Contracting of Siloam Springs, Arkansas oversaw the work and the main sub-contractor was Mid-Continental Restoration of Ft. Scott, Kansas. Total cost for the exterior restoration was approximately $1,500,000.
In 2009-2010 County Judge Marilyn Edwards oversaw restoration of the interior of the historic courthouse. Work included installation of new wiring, new plumbing, an energy efficient heat and air system, energy efficient lighting, re-plastering of ceilings and walls, and restoration of woodwork. The most dramatic restoration was re-creating the single large courtroom on the 3rd floor and re-opening the courtroom gallery on the 4th floor. Also, the hallways on the 2nd floor were re-opened. Finally, the DAR re-dedicated the World War I mural on display on the 2nd floor.
In addition to Judge Edwards and the Washington County Quorum Court, major players included, once again, Ron Wood and John DuPree. The general contractor was Milestone Construction Company of Springdale. Several local sub-contractors too numerous to mention here also participated in the restoration. Total cost for the interior restoration was approximately $3,000,000.
Over the course of the interior restoration numerous artifacts were located and are on display in the archives. One of the more interesting finds was over a dozen vanilla extract bottles from the 1920s. Also displayed throughout the historic building is antique furniture original to the historic courthouse.
The Washington County Archives, Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn, Washington-Madison Drug Court, and the County Law Library are among the few tenants grateful to the hard work of County Judges Hunton and Edwards, Boessler Contracting, and Milestone Construction. They hope to be a part of the historic courthouse for many more years to come.
In 1905, Building Contractor, and soon to be Arkansas Governor, George Donaghey commented on the courthouse. His comments are worth repeating here, as the Historic Washington County Court House is a recognizable landmark not only for residents of Fayetteville and Washington County, but also for many residents throughout the State of Arkansas.
“The new courthouse is not only an architectural ornament for Fayetteville, but it is a great “ad” for the city and county and stands out prominently where it may be seen for miles...It is a monument to the public spirit and enterprises of the people there...”
This floor originally housed the Fayetteville Mayor, City Clerk, Police Court, the City Water Plant, and the Public Library. The City of Fayetteville maintained offices in the courthouse until 1927.
By the 1930s, this floor was home to the Assessor, Collector and Treasurer. The Welfare Office, the WPA Office, and the County Library also resided here.
In 1986, the Fayetteville Exchange Club installed the Freedom Shrine. It includes framed replicas of documents such as the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.
In 1987, Prairie Grove resident Keith Black sculpted a statue depicting a Vietnam War soldier. Entitled ‘Lets Move On,” this statue was donated to Washington County for permanent display and has complimented the Freedom Shrine since the 1990s.
The longest serving Assessor who served in this courthouse was Sue Phillips (1979-1994). The longest serving Collector was Sarah Teague Walker (1965-1978), and the longest serving Treasurer was Joan Perry (1975-1994).
This floor originally housed the Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, County Judge, and Sheriff. It also housed the vaults of the Circuit Clerk and County Clerk. The approximately 20 inch thick brick vaults were considered fireproof in 1904. Ironically, all of the vaults originally had windows for lighting and ventilation.
In 1920, the DAR commissioned New York artist William Steene to paint a mural honoring those Washington County men that died during World War I. Through numerous fund drives, the citizens of Washington County donated the majority of the $1400 needed to paint, hang, and frame the mural. Fayetteville resident Gertrude Gump cleaned and restored the mural in 1976. Gentry resident Rick Parker cleaned it in 2010.
By the 1930s, the Agricultural Extension Office also occupied space on this floor and remained here until the late 1960s.
On October 10, 1975 Deputy County Clerk Marilyn Edwards issued a Marriage License to William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Diane Rodham in the County Clerk’s Office.
The longest serving Circuit Clerk who served in this courthouse was Alma Kollmeyer (1967-1994). The longest serving County Clerk was Marilyn Edwards (1977-1994). The longest serving County Judge was Charles Johnson (1979-1994) and the longest serving Sheriff was Bruce Crider (1949-1956).
This floor originally housed a single Court Room, three Jury Rooms, Ladies Witness Room, Prosecuting Attorney, and Judge’s Chamber. In 1905 there was one Circuit Judge and one Chancellor who shared the single courtroom. The floors of the Court Room intentionally slanted so that observers could better see and hear the Judge. Off of the Judge’s Chamber was a “quick escape” stairwell, which exited at the Circuit Clerk’s Office one floor below. This floor also has an uncovered porch on the west side.
By the 1930s, the 3rd floor also housed the County Health Office and the Washington County Board of Education.
Around 1948, the courtroom was split in two; the smaller courtroom becoming the home of Chancellor Thomas Butt, who began his 50-year term here. Circuit Judge Maupin Cummings occupied the larger courtroom. Other long serving Judges who called this floor home included Circuit Judges J. S. Maples, Mahlon Gibson and William Storey, as well as Chancellors T. S. Humphreys, and Lee Seamster.
This floor housed a gallery (originally used as a means to segregate local citizens) and two jury rooms. However, with the exception of the gallery (its space later being used for local press), the 4th floor was not fully occupied until the 1970s. In 1975, most of the floor was remodeled to accommodate a third courtroom. Chancellor John Lineberger occupied this space until moving to the present courthouse in 1994. Also, in 1975 the gallery was closed off and the space used for offices and storage.
Courthouse Bell, 2010 courtesy Christina Mayo
Bell & Clock
The 4th floor also includes a very narrow stairway leading to the courthouse tower, bell and clock. The clock was made in 1904 by the E. Howard Clock Company of Boston, MA. Several generations of Washington County Buildings & Grounds technicians, including Claude Wood, Bob Stilley and Lawrence Guist have made numerous trips up the tower synchronizing the clock and bell and keeping them in working order for the past several decades.
Article by Tony Wappel