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Courthouse Steeple Replacement

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Cthse Steeple Replacement

Although one of the most recognizable landmarks on the horizons of Northwest Arkansas, the clock tower of the Historic Washington County Courthouse didn't always point to the sky.

By the early 1960s, the original wood-frame steeple began showing its wear. The county, then under the administration of County Judge Gene Thrasher, determined that the steeple's structural integrity required it to be replaced.

It was removed in 1965, and then the tower stood flat-topped for nearly a decade, during which time the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a fire alarm system was installed and drop ceilings were added to the circuit courtroom. The original black faces of the clock were also replaced with white, translucent faces allowing for night time illumination of the clock. A new steeple was fabricated by Carson Sheet Metal of Springdale for $1800 and installed on September 8, 1974.

The following is an excerpt from the September 9 1974 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times:

On September 8 1974 a five-man crew from the 273rd Aviation Company, Heavy Helicopter, Fort Sill, Oklahoma eased the largest helicopter in the western world into position above the courthouse tower shortly after 8:00 am Sunday, then rocketed skyward as the mission was accomplished. The chopper left behind an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 applauding Fayetteville residents and a number of county officials breathing a sigh of relief. “It was a tremendous sigh of relief when that helicopter took off and I saw the steeple sitting there,” said County Judge Vol Lester. “It ended months of worrying about how we were going to get the thing up there.” Major Jimmie Ford, commanding officer of the unit, said though the team has made several airlifts of heavy equipment to the tops of towers and buildings, this was the first time they had placed such a structure on a building in a heavily developed civilian area. Many spectators noticed the steeple was crooked, leaning slightly to the west. After the helicopter left, workman used a winch to pull the steeple in place. The entire Fayetteville Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s force were aided by 30 members of the National Guard in helping keep spectators a safe distance from the hurricane-like winds produced by the rotor wash of the massive aircraft. There were no injuries, though most of the crowd were pummeled by the winds and some dirt and flying debris.