Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Yell County Courthouse
Yell County Courthouse

YELL COUNTY COURTHOUSE, DARDANELLE, YELL COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Yell County Courthouse is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance as the best example of Classical Revival architecture in a public building in Yell County.

ELABORATION

Yell County was established in December of 1840 from portions of Pope and Scott Counties. The county is named for Arkansas' first Congressman and second Governor, Archibald Yell. A temporary county seat was established for Yell county in the home of William Pevy until it was decided that the seat of power should be near the geographic center of the county. The Town of Danville was laid out and a courthouse was established. Due to the size of the county and the distribution of the population, an appeal was made for a second county seat to be established at Dardanelle in the northeast part of the county. The town of Dardanelle was laid out by Dr. Joseph Brearly in 1843 and was incorporated as a town on January 17th, 1855. Brearly was the son of Col. David Brearly, an Indian agent of the area and the grandson of David Brearly who signed the Constitution of the United States as a delegate from the state of New Jersey. The Dardanelle District of Yell County was established in 1875 and the building was leased by the constituents of the Dardanelle District to serve as a courthouse in 1878. This first courthouse was located in a commercial structure on South Front Street between Green and Oak Streets. A jail was built near the courthouse but it soon burned. Another jail was built later and further away from the courthouse. It was from this jail that a member of a well-known family from the nearby Cardon Bottoms community was taken and lynched. From that point until 1914, all prisoners were kept at the Danville jail facility. On April 12, 1912, the Dardanelle District courthouse burned. A plot of land was soon purchased seven blocks away from the original site for the construction of the new courthouse.

County Judge J.N. George along with Commissioners A.N. Falls and T.E. Wilson engaged Frank W. Gibb of Little Rock as the architect for the new courthouse and the L.R. Wight and Company of Dallas, Texas as the builders. Although trained as an engineer at the Missouri School of Mines at Rolla, Mo., Gibb returned to Little Rock in 1882 for a career as a Civil and Mining Engineer. It seems that not long after his return to Little Rock is when he began to do some work as an architect for his father Edward Gibb and his real estate interests. Gibb is not widely known as an architect but some of his works are more familiar. He is credited with designing the Arkansas Building at the St. Louis World's Fair, the Buckstaff Baths in Hot Springs, the First United Methodist Church at Eighth and Center in Little Rock, the old Little Rock High School, the Logan Roots Memorial Hospital, and buildings at the Arkansas State Lunatic Asylum. He is also known for designing courthouses and jails around the state in Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, Cleburne, Conway, Crawford, Cross, Dallas, Franklin, Howard, Jefferson, Lafayette, Miller, Phillips, and Saline counties as well as Yell. In his obituary of November 5, 1932, Gibb is credited with work on 60 courthouses in Arkansas. One reason that most of his work is not well known is that the contents of his office on the second floor of the Gazette building -- including drawings, specifications, sketches, etc. -- were destroyed by his family soon after his death. None of his original drawings are known to exist.

Of the residential structures that are known to be designs of Gibb there is a "signature" on many of the dwellings: many of the Gibb houses feature a semi-circular window as part of their construction. Among his public works, Gibb employed a wide variety of styles. The nearest example of another Classical Revival style is the 1911 Dallas County Courthouse. Both are built in the Classical Revival style of architecture and are T-shaped. Both are framed by pilasters and have symmetrical fenestration with some form of white trim. Both structures feature octagonal roof ornaments, surmounted by domes. The Dallas County Courthouse also features an octagonal clock tower which is topped with a dome. The primary differences in the two of these structures is that the Dallas County Courthouse is elevated by one-half story and has elaborate side entrances, whereas the Yell County Courthouse is only slightly elevated and has modern entrances. Since these two structures were only built three years apart it is easy to see the many similarities that exist between them.

The Yell County Courthouse is being nominated to the National Register because it is the best example of Classical Revival architecture in Yell County of a public building. It is also being nominated because it is the only remaining historic courthouse remaining in the county. The Yell County Courthouse is being nominated under Criterion C with local significance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas; Saturday November 5, 1932; pg. 14.

Banks, Wayne; History of Yell County, Arkansas; Arkansas Historical Series, Number 9; The Press-Argus, Van Buren, Arkansas; July, 1959.

Dardanelle Post Dispatch, May 1, 1913; August 13, 1914; January 15, 1948.

Deane, Ernie; Arkansas Place Names from Apt to Zinc, The Ozarks Mountaineer, Branson, Missouri, 1986.

Little Rock City Directory 1897-98, pg. 612.

Nichols, Cheri; "Survey Illuminates Gibb's Contribution Downtown"; The Chronicle; August-September 1987.

Yell County Historical and Genealogical Association Bulletin, Third Quarter, 1984, pg 53.

Yell County Historical and Genealogical Association Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1985.