Saline County Courthouse
SALINE COUNTY COURTHOUSE,
The largest number of architecturally significant public buildings in Arkansas are the courthouses scattered over the state’s 75 counties. A structural symbol of American government, the county courthouse serves as the center of local political activity. Often the largest and most costly building in the county, the courthouse is almost always a source of pride to the citizens who financed and make use of its facilities.
Saline County is centrally located, encompassing 748 square miles. The northern part of the county is of rough terrain but the central and southern sections are well adapted to agriculture.
Saline County was created by an Act of the Arkansas Legislature on November 2, 1835. The name was derived from numerous salt springs located in the county.
The first seat of county government was located about five miles west of Benton in a Baptist Church building. When it was decided to choose a permanent county seat there was quite a disputation. William Woodruff, editor of the Arkansas Gazette, offered 120 acres of land which included the present town of Benton with the provision that a courthouse square would be set aside; the remaining property divided into town lots and sold at auction; and that the money from the sale of the lots would be used in building a courthouse. This offer was readily accepted and lots were auctioned off on June 15, 1836, netting $3,381.71. The reversionary clause in the deed states that the courthouse square may never be sold without the approval of the majority of the property owners in Benton. The old “Missouri Trail” ran through Benton and with mountains on the north and swampland on the south, this area was the only feasible route for pioneers from the east to the west, having been well traveled since 1815. Benton seemed an ideal spot on which to establish the county seat.
Contract for a hand-made brick, two-story building, sixty feet square, was let to Jacob Hoover. The courthouse was completed in 1838 at a cost of $3,574. By 1855 this courthouse had become obsolete and inadequate. A second courthouse was built on the site by Green B. Hughes.
By 1901 the second courthouse had been outgrown. The quorum court on October 8, 1901, set aside $4,000 towards the construction of a new building. John Odum secured the contract for a new courthouse at a cost of $31,000. Prominent Little Rock architect Charles L. Thompson designed the structure. Court was first held in the new courthouse in September, 1902.
The Saline County Courthouse is a two-story brick building with truncated hipped roof and a four-story tower with clock and belfry. Also there is a tower in each of the other three corners of the main building. The structure features rounded archways, recessed doorways, and denticulated cornices. The Saline County Courthouse is one of the few buildings of Romanesque Revival style in Arkansas.
Architecturally, the Saline County Courthouse is a significant historical structure. Resting on the courthouse square, the building is also significant as the political and governmental center of Saline County.
A Survey of Arkansas Courthouses. Compiled by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Arkansas. Mrs. W. G. McDonald, Chairperson, Historical Activities Committee. Arkansas Room, Little Rock Public Library.
Works Progress Administration Files. Saline County. On file at the Arkansas History Commission.
Hempstead, Fay. Historical Review of Arkansas. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1911.
Herndon, Dallas. Centennial History of Arkansas. Little Rock: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922.