A Brief History of County Buildings
Located in the County Seat of Fayetteville
Washington County has certainly left many footprints on Fayetteville’s landscape. Like all county governments, Washington County has constructed and/or leased numerous facilities in their county seat to facilitate the day to day business of county officials and the citizens they have served. The following is a brief history of the county buildings that have landscaped Fayetteville over the past one hundred and eighty-five years.
The Territory of Arkansas created Washington County on October 17, 1828. It was formerly a part of a much larger Lovely County, which had been created in October, 1827 as a result of a U.S. Treaty with Cherokee and other Americans living in Arkansas. Washington Court House was chosen county seat because of its central location. (Originally, Washington County also included portions of Benton, Carroll, Madison, Franklin, and Crawford counties.) By 1829, in order to avoid confusion with the town of Washington in Hempstead County in the southwest part of Arkansas Territory, the U. S. Post Office requested the name of Washington Court House be changed. Per the request of two of the commissioners who located Washington Court House, the name was changed to Fayetteville, in honor of their former county seat of Fayetteville (Lincoln County), Tennessee.
Lovely County’s original population center was in the southwestern part of the county near the Evansville and Cane Hill communities; however, this would soon change as more and more families migrated to the new Washington County seat of Fayetteville. Migrants came from all parts of the United States, but most were from Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas. In 1835 Washington County prepared a survey for the rapidly growing Town of Fayetteville; having as its original boundaries College Avenue on the east, Dickson Street on the north, Gregg Avenue on the west, and South Street on the south.
Constructed in 1904-1905, the Historic Washington County Court at the intersection of Center Street and South College Avenue is the fifth county courthouse; the prior four being on or near the site of the Old Post Office on the Fayetteville Square. The historic courthouse is just south of the site of a Butterfield Stage Coach stop. Under the leadership of County Judge Jerry Hunton, this building witnessed a complete exterior restoration in 2006. Under the leadership of County Judge Marilyn Edwards, the interior of the historic courthouse was completely restored to its original grandeur between in 2009 and 2010. The present courthouse is on the corner of Dickson and College near the site of the Battle of Fayetteville. It was constructed in 1986 as the FirstSouth Centre. Washington County purchased the building in 1990 and began moving its offices there in 1991. With the exception of the Washington County Archives, which was established in 1997, all other county offices including Circuit Judges, County Judge, Assessor, Collector, Treasurer, Circuit Clerk, County Clerk and Election Commission vacated the historic Washington County Court House by 2000. In 2000 then Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn and her staff accompanied the Archives in the historic courthouse, relocating from the Courts Building that formerly existed on East Center Street. Today, the historic courthouse remains the home of the Washington County Archives, Circuit Judge Cristi Beaumont, and the Washington County Drug Court.
The Historic Washington County Jail at the intersection of Mountain Street and South College Avenue is the fourth county jail; the first and third being attached to the courthouses on the Fayetteville square and the second being on top of the hill near the intersection of Rock Street and Archibald Yell Boulevard. Constructed in 1897, this was the most prominent of the county jails. It was the longest serving jail, being vacated in 1973. Since 1984, the Historic Washington County Jail has been privately owned. The fifth jail was in the basement of the National Guard Armory just south of the historic courthouse. It was there until 1988 when a new jail was built at 114 North College Avenue. Because of overcrowding, a seventh jail was opened in 2005 on Washington County’s South Campus, a large parcel of property in south Fayetteville near the intersection of School Avenue and the Fulbright Expressway (Interstate 49 access).
In addition to courthouses and jails, there are buildings Washington County has specifically designated as “courthouse annexes.” Washington County has had at least three. The first courthouse annex was located just south of the historic courthouse. Constructed in 1929 as the National Guard Armory, this building was home of the Arkansas National Guard until moving to South School Avenue. In 1968, the Washington County Quorum Court approved the purchase of the building and renovated its interior for use by the Extension Office, Prosecuting Attorney, Juvenile Referee, an additional Circuit Judge, and the Arkansas Revenue Office. The basement of the building, once an expansive parking garage for military vehicles, was turned into the Washington County Jail in 1973. Under the direction of County Judge Joseph Wood, the Armory has been undergoing a major and long-overdue restoration since 2017. The second annex was the Montgomery Ward Building which stood on the corner of South College and Center Streets. Constructed in 1929 , the Montgomery Ward Department Store occupied this building until 1961, when they moved to the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center. The Clark-Eoff Furniture Store also occupied this building. In 1976, under the leadership of County Judge Vol Lester, Washington County purchased it and renovated its interior for use by the Public Defender, Law Library, and Quorum Court room. Also, the additional Circuit Judge and Juvenile Referee (by this time an elected Judge) once housed in the Armory moved to this location. The Montgomery Ward Building was demolished in 2005 and as of 2016 is a vacant lot. The 3rd and current Courthouse Annex is located at 123 North College Avenue. Constructed by Tom Terminella in 2006, Washington County purchased this building in 2008 for use by the Public Defender, and a seventh Circuit Judge, Joanna Taylor, who was elected in 2010. It was also the temporary home of Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn while the historic courthouse was being renovated.
In 1998, County Judge Charles Johnson purchased several acres in south Fayetteville near the intersection of Highway 71B (School Avenue) and the Fulbright Expressway. Although not designated as an annex, this property became known as the Washington County South Campus and has been developed by County Judges Jerry Hunton and Marilyn Edwards. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was talk of moving all county offices to this location and establishing a county mall. However, this idea was not popular with many in the downtown Fayetteville business and legal communities and was dropped. South Campus is currently home of several county buildings and offices, not all of which are listed here. The Operations Facility was the first building constructed on the South Campus. Constructed in 1999-2000, it houses the Road Department, the Planning Department, and the Environmental Affairs Department. The Juvenile Courts Facility was built later in 2000. It is the home of Juvenile Judge Stacey Zimmerman, the county’s first woman elected to this position, who took office in 1999. It is also the home of the county’s Juvenile Detention Center. The Washington County Library and the County Maintenance Center were built in 2001. The Washington County Jail and Sheriff’s Office was built in 2004-2005, the Election Commission Warehouse/former Veterans’ Affairs Office in 2009, the Coroner’s Office in 2010, and the Animal Shelter in 2012.
In addition to courthouses, courthouse annexes and jails, Washington County has had numerous other facilities occupying parts of Fayetteville. Some of the more notable facilities include the County Poor House, the Road Department, Washington Regional Medical Center, and the Juvenile Detention Facilitiy.
Like many other counties across the country, Washington County was also an early player in health and welfare concerns. Common in the 19th thru mid-20th centuries prior to federal social security and state welfare programs, counties established poor farms and/or poor houses. Washington County had at least three; the earliest was located east of Fayetteville off of Highway 45 near Son’s Chapel. A second poor farm was located near Mt. Comfort. The last Poor House opened in 1917 north of Fayetteville near the Frisco Railroad (now known as Fayetteville’s North Gregg Avenue). After closing in 1965, this site became home to the Washington County Equal Opportunity Agency and the surrounding acreage housed Washington County’s Road Department and Shop, which remained there until moving to the South Campus in 2000.
The county’s earliest road department consisted of the County Judge and numerous Road Overseers and Supervisors who maintained the roads throughout the county. As time, infrastructure and technology advanced, the Road Department became concentrated in one county facility. The first known Road Department facility was located near the University of Arkansas on ground west of Razorback Road and north of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Until 1965, Washington County shared this property with the Washington County Fair. In 1965, the Washington County Fair moved to its current location near Interstate 49 and the Poor House closed its facility on North Gregg Avenue. Given these two simultaneous events, Washington County Judge Gene Thrasher sold the property near Razorback Road and moved the Road Department to North Gregg Avenue. It remained at this location until 2000 when County Judge Jerry Hunton relocated the Road Department to a state of the art facility on the Washington County’s South Campus.
Washington County Hospital/WRMC/UAMS:
Although originally a part of the Veterans’ Hospital grounds (which opened in 1934), the property at the intersection of North Street and North College Avenue has been owned by Washington County. Under the leadership of County Judge Witt Carter, Washington County opened Washington General Hospital in 1950. Over its 50 year history, Washington General morphed into Washington Regional Medical Center, which remained at this location until 2002. After the WRMC was vacated, Judge Jerry Hunton entered into an agreement with the U S Veterans Administration and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to share the building. The upper floors became home to the Veterans Home and the remainder of the building has been home to the newly established University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences–Northwest, which opened in 2009.
Juvenile Detention Facilities:
Every county has them– juvenile delinquents. Established in 1983, Washington County’s Juvenile Detention Center was originally located at 208 North College Avenue in a two-story building, originally built as one of Fayetteville’s earliest apartment houses. In 1995, the Juvenile Detention Center moved to a state of the art facility located at 105 North Mill Avenue (current home of the county's Department of Emergency Services), slightly northeast of the Historic Washington County Court House. Due to changes in state legislation, the facility became out of compliance the first year of operation. In 2000 a new Juvenile Detention Center was constructed as a part of the Juvenile Court Facilities on the South Campus. Since 2010, the Office of Emergency Management has occupied the former Juvenile Detention Center on Mill Street.
University of Arkansas:
Most are aware of the strong effort Fayetteville made in securing the University of Arkansas in 1871 but not everyone realizes that prior to cities being able to compete for the university, counties across the state were encouraged to hold elections to determine in which county the land grant institution would be located. The only counties that held elections were Independence (Batesville), Pulaski (Little Rock), and Washington (Fayetteville). Washington County won the election and after stiff competition from Cane Hill and Prairie Grove, it was determined that Fayetteville would be the home of the University of Arkansas (originally known as Arkansas Industrial University). We can only imagine how different Fayetteville’s and all of Northwest Arkansas’ history may have been had Washington County leaders not fought for the University of Arkansas.
Washington County Fairgrounds:
Although not a function of Washington County’s government, the Washington County Fair shares some of its history with the Washington County body politic. The first known fair was held in 1856 on the square, with exhibits in the courthouse and livestock and shows held in the street. For a few years, the fair was held on property south of the square owned by Judge David Walker. In 1869 a new County Fair was organized and was held south of Highway 62 (Martin Luther King Boulevard). This fair association did not last long either. The modern Washington County Fair had its start in 1906, with the Fair Grounds being located near the University of Arkansas on the north side of Highway 62 and west of what is now Razorback Road. In 1965, the Washington County Fair was moved to its current site north of the University of Arkansas near the intersection of Interstate 49 and Garland Avenue. Each year, the Washington County Fair draws a tremendous amount of people from all over the region, spending their hard earned money in Fayetteville, Washington County, and Northwest Arkansas.