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Izard County Courthouse in County Lines Magazine

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Thursday, March 29, 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. Izard County has received nine grants totaling $656,609 for the Izard County Courthouse.

 

(The featured article below ran in the Winter 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 Izard County Courthouse.)

 

Izard County has had an interesting array of county courthouses as the seat of justice moved from town to town in the nineteenth century, and the current courthouse on the Court Square in Melbourne stands as a proud monument to New Deal efforts to combat the Great Depression.The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has worked with Izard County since 1995 to keep the 1940 courthouse in service to the people of the county through its County Courthouse Restoration Grant program.

Izard County was created on October 27, 1825, and named for Territorial Governor George Izard.The original county received additions in 1827 and 1828, but the creation of subsequent counties trimmed it to its current size.The first county seat was established at the town of Liberty of the North Fork River near its junction with the White, now the town of Norfork in Baxter County.A sturdy, two-story log dogtrot building was erected in 1829 to serve as the new county’s courthouse.It survives today as the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site operated by the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

In 1830 the county seat was moved to Athens, near today’s Calico Rock, and then to Mount Olive in 1836.While it is not known what buildings served as the courthouse in those towns, when the seat of justice moved to its permanent home in Melbourne on May 10, 1875, court was held in a large barn.That humble structure served until a two-story wood-frame courthouse was constructed on the current Court Square in 1878.As often happened, that building and all of the records it held was consumed by fire on April 11, 1889.A new courthouse was built a year later, which was demolished in 1912.

The seventh Izard County Courthouse, a handsome Neo-classical brick edifice, was built in 1914 at a cost of $50,000.Its most striking feature was a soaring four-sided clock tower, which a local newspaper humorist claimed showed a different time on each face.That building served until a fire broke out in the storied tower at 10 a.m. on Sunday, December 5, 1937.A bucket brigade formed to fight the inferno as other people rushed into the building to remove records and furniture.Having learned a lesson from the 1889 blaze, a pair of fireproof vaults in the 1914 building saved many of the county’s papers.

In the aftermath of the fire, county offices were moved into W.H. Powell’s house on the southeast corner of the square and court was held in a nearby Baptist church.Izard County, in the throes of the Great Depression, did not have funds on hand to build a new courthouse, so Judge John W. Hammett contacted the National Youth Administration (NYA), the last of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies formed to create jobs for the unemployed, to provide labor for the project.An election was held on February 7, 1938, to float a $30,000 bond issue to buy materials for a new courthouse, which voters approved 742 to 239.NYA workers were soon at work removing the remains of the burned building to prepare the site for a new courthouse.

Little Rock’s Erhart and Eichenbaum architectural firm was hired to design the new building, which would be completely fireproof and constructed of sturdy local materials.The architects chose the popular Art Deco style for the new courthouse, which is reflected in such details as the stylized geometric floral patterns above the casement windows, the stylized decorated frieze band, and the overall vertical emphasis of the rough-faced limestone building.Interior details included furniture built by NYA members and marble wainscoting.The final project cost was around $150,000.

Construction began in 1938 and on June 13, 1940, more than 3,000 people attended the new building’s dedication.B.L. Harton of Newport, who served as the NYA’s district supervisor, presented the keys to the building to Judge C.C. Aylor.The principle speaker, Tom Alford of Little Rock, extolled the NYA’s work in Izard County, where projects in Melbourne, Calico Rock and Mount Pleasant had generated a quarter of a million dollars for the local economy.Brass bands from Batesville, Mountain View and Cotter entertained the crowd and a string band from Calico Rock played music for the evening street dance that closed out the festivities.

Seventy-eight years later, the Art Deco courthouse remains the center of Izard County government.The grounds include a WWI doughboy monument that was placed around 1930 and a bandstand built in 1952 above the original courthouse square well.Izard County’s enthusiastic participation in the U.S. bicentennial in 1976 is evident in the American eagle painting by Shirley Jennings that adorns the second-floor landing and ten additional paintings by local art students in the courtroom.The Izard County Courthouse remains an enduring icon and continues to serve the needs of the people into the twenty-first century. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 30, 1993.

 

 

County Courthouse Restoration Grants in Izard County

 

 FY95  ADA Restroom                                       $6,500

FY97  Roof, Interior Restoration                      $30,000

FY02  ADA Stairlift, Wiring                               $32,599

FY03  Preservation Master Plan                      $40,000

FY05  New Electrical Service                           $40,000

FY07  HVAC Upgrade                                      $142,000

FY09  Steel Window Restoration                     $151,760

FY12  Masonry Repointing                              $80,000

FY14  Stone Restoration                                 $133,750

 

 

Grand Total:                                                    $656,609

 



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