Franklin County Courthouses in County Lines Magazine

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Monday, June 18, 2018


Among the many programs and services of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is the County Courthouse Restoration Grant Program. Created in 1989, this grant program has helped to extend the lives of courthouses that hold vital links to community pride and local history. These grants are funded through the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Since the beginning of the program, the AHPP has awarded more than $22.8 million to 74 historic courthouses and courthouse annexes around the state for use in rehabilitating, preserving and protecting these important historic resources. Franklin County has received 14 grants totaling $478,231 for the two Franklin County Courthouses.

(The featured article below ran in the Spring 2018 issue of County Lines – the quarterly publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties. Companion articles about historic courthouses will be a regular feature in future issues. Read more about the history of the Franklin County Courthouses.)


As with many of the ten Arkansas counties with dual county seats, Franklin County has a pair of historic county courthouses; though with a 1940s reconstruction of the building in Ozark, Franklin may be able to claim two and one-half.

Franklin County was created from part of Crawford County in 1837 and Ozark on the Arkansas River was designated its seat of government – a situation that would endure until 1885. The first courthouse was a 20-foot square, one-story wood-frame building constructed on the northwest corner of the town square for $400 during the 1839-1840 court term. By 1851 the prosperous county had outgrown the structure and a new two-story brick courthouse was built in the middle of the square with Kendall Webb’s low bid of $2,450. Unfortunately, this structure suffered the fate of many other county courthouses around the state and was burned down during the Civil War.

In 1869, the county accepted a $9,700 bid to construct a new courthouse atop the ashes of the old one, though by the time the sturdy two-story brick building was completed that cost had ballooned to $13,000. Thirty-five years later, the county decided to trade in the plain, square building for a new and elaborate structure. Officials hired prolific Little Rock architect Frank W. Gibb on May 2, 1904, and he provided a splendid Italian Renaissance-style design that featured a lofty, 114-foot-tall clock tower, as well as a shorter tower punctuated with an arched arcade. Warren builder Edward L. Koonce, a frequent collaborator with Gibb, was hired to construct the building. The former courthouse was demolished in July 1904 and the new edifice was open for business one year later. It had cost $60,300.

The new building almost suffered the same fate as its 1851 predecessor when a fire started in the flue of a wood stove in the Farm Security Administration office on January 10, 1944. As fire raged on the building’s second floor, courthouse employees and townspeople rushed into the courthouse to move records to safety and local Boy and Girl Scouts helped remove books from the basement library. The inferno gutted the second floor and destroyed the roof, but the first floor and clock tower remained largely intact (in fact, the clock kept time and continued to strike through much of the fire, finally stopping at ten minutes before 2 p.m.).

County business was moved to the Arcade Building beside the Bank of Ozark as officials weighed their next move. They decided to hire Fayetteville architect T. Ewing Shelton to design a reconstruction of the courthouse incorporating the surviving elements of the 1904 building. Shelton abandoned the architectural excesses of the original structure and instead followed the emerging aesthetic of the International style – a school that embraced the term “less is more.” The reconstructed second floor was faced with buff brick, and the steep hipped roofs from 1904 were replaced with flat surfaces behind parapets. The clock tower was shortened considerably and its original tall, arched windows became rectangular glass-block openings. The other tower was reduced in size until it rose just above the roofline. Interior embellishments were limited to marble wainscoting in the hallways.

Franklin County voters approved a $37,000 bond sale to pay for the “new” courthouse on November 7, 1944, and the final term of court in the Arcade Building adjourned on August 20, 1945. The next term convened in the reconstructed Franklin County Courthouse, Northern District, on September 17, 1945, and county business continues there today.

The story of the southern district courthouse is considerably less dramatic than that of the Ozark building. A second district was approved for Franklin County on March 14, 1885, spurred by the difficulty of crossing the Arkansas River to transact business in Ozark. Charleston was officially designated the southern county seat in 1901, with the Arkansas River serving as the dividing line between the two districts.

Court business was conducted in a two-story stone building in Charleston from 1885 until 1922, when the home of the remarkably named Colonel John Peregrine Falconer was moved to provide space for a new courthouse. The ubiquitous Frank Gibb was again hired, and he chose a simple but stately Colonial Revival design for the building. The red brick structure features arched windows with fanlights and pilasters that divide the walls into a series of bays with stone panels and capitals providing additional details. The building was officially completed on March 23, 1923, when a memorial stone from Falconer’s chimney was installed in his honor. The $70,000 Franklin County Courthouse, Southern District “is fire proof and is equipped with steam heat and plumbing,” according to the Arkansas Gazette, which perhaps helped it escape the fate of its northern neighbor.

The Charleston courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 18, 1976, while the Ozark Courthouse was listed on September 22, 1995.



County Courthouse Restoration Grants in Franklin County



County Courthouse Restoration Grant Program.Created in 1989, this grant program has helped to extend the lives of courthouses that hold vital links to community pride and local history.These grants are funded through the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.Since the beginning of the program, the AHPP has awarded more than $22.9 million to 74 historic courthouses and courthouse annexes around the state for use in rehabilitating, preserving and protecting these important historic resources.Since 1989, Franklin County has received 14 grants totaling $478,231 for the two Franklin County Courthouses.


Franklin County Courthouse, Southern District (Charleston) Grants



FY89Restoration Master Plan $18,000

FY90Roof repair and brick repointing $23,800

FY93Window restoration, interior repairs $1,200

FY97ADA ramp and electrical upgrades $7,500

FY99Exterior work, electrical upgrades $2,626

FY02HVAC system, electrical panel $15,110

FY09Entrance and masonry restoration $16,274

FY15Stair and porch restoration $15,320

FY15Roof, door and stair restoration $154,000



Franklin County Courthouse, Northern District (Ozark) Grants


 FY92Courthouse wall restoration $2,000

FY96Clock and masonry restoration, electrical $7,500

FY00HVAC, replace boiler, window restoration $25,000

FY07Condition assessment, electrical upgrade $46,000

FY17Roof restoration $143,901



Grand Total:$478,231






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