Old Hempstead County Courthouse
The Old Hempstead County Courthouse, located at 400 South Washington in Hope (Hempstead County), is a rectangular five-story structure with smaller two-story wings projecting north and south. The National Park Service listed the courthouse, which remained in use until 2022, on the National Register of Historic Places on May 19, 1994.
The Little Rock (Pulaski County) architectural firm of McAnich and Anderson designed the building in the Art Deco style, often seen in government buildings of this period. Art Deco accents included recessed chevron panels above the fifth-floor windows and adornment of sunbursts and chevrons surrounding the main entry doors. Reliefs incorporated into this ornamentation represent the industries of Hempstead County. The flat roofline with parapet demonstrated another standard feature of this style.
Washington originally claimed the title of Hempstead County seat. In 1938, after a six-decade-long campaign, Hope acquired the designation from Washington by popular vote. Washington challenged the vote with an injunction against court proceedings held in Hope; attorneys inspected the poll books in the controversial election, and the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the outcome in May 1939. Court records remained in Washington at the 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse until the completion of the new courthouse in Hope.
A Public Works Administration (PWA) grant was sought to fund forty-five percent of the new $200,000 courthouse; the county funded $110,000 with bond sales. The grant required the project to be under contract by October 1, 1938; however, due to the vote controversy surrounding the relocation of the county seat, Hope missed the deadline. Senators Hattie W. Caraway and John E. Miller convinced the PWA to extend the deadline and honor the $90,000 grant.
The Grand Lodge of Arkansas Masonry set the cornerstone during a ceremony held on November 29, 1939. The Masons placed an airtight copper box behind the cornerstone. It contained various items, including a Bible, Masonic documents, a centennial edition (1936) of the Hope Star newspaper, and watermelon seeds from Hempstead County.
The architects planned the first and second floor of the courthouse as county offices. The third floor held circuit and county courtrooms, and the fourth floor included unassigned offices at building completion. The jail, located on the fifth floor, originally contained two sections designed for racial segregation.
Contractor B. W. Edwards formally presented the building to Judge Frank Rider and Commissioner R. M. LaGrone on April 30, 1940. The sheriff’s office and county personnel had moved the county records on April 4–5, 1940. During this transition, Judge Dexter Bush recessed court proceedings until May 13, 1940, which marked the beginning of the first term in the new building.
Fire twice threatened the Old Hempstead County Courthouse. On December 12, 1947, the boiler caught fire. Deputy Sheriff Allen Shipp turned off the gas and contained the fire before structural damage occurred. On July 10, 1979, lightning struck the courthouse, starting a fire that gutted the third-floor courtroom. The fire followed the completion of a $30,000 renovation to divide the large third-floor courtroom. Court resumed in the building on April 22, 1980, following a $265,000 reconstruction project.
The county engaged architects Wittenberg, Deloney and Davidson, with Ideal Construction Company as contractor, for a city-county complex, which was added in 1994 and attached to the north side of the courthouse. Beginning in October 2012, the addition expanded with 2,000 square feet of remodeled and constructed space for the new office of the county sheriff. Architects designed it in such a way as not to detract from the original historical appearance of the courthouse.
The old Courthouse Square holds the courthouse building and addition, and the Hope-Hempstead County Health Center. A war memorial of granite rests on the lawn in front of the former courthouse. The memorial was dedicated on May 11, 1947.
On February 23, 2017, the Hempstead County Quorum Court voted to purchase the three-story Farmers Bank & Trust Building on 200 E. Third Street to serve as the new courthouse, the old one having been deemed unsafe due to mold and asbestos. Voters in 2020 approved a sales tax, to be in effect for two years, to fund renovations, and the grand opening for the new courthouse was celebrated on May 19, 2022.
For additional information:
“11 State Issues, Courthouse, Are on Tuesday’s Ballot.” Hope Star, November 7, 1938, p. 1.
“Boiler Room Fire at Courthouse Causes No Damage.” Hope Star, December 13, 1947, p. 1.
“Business Here Is Best in 10 Years, Survey Discloses.” Hope Star, October 28, 1939, p. 1.
Christ, Mark K. “Preserving History.” County Lines, Spring 2017, 32–34.
“County Taxpayers Stand But $100,000 of $200,000 Total.” Hope Star, November 28, 1939, pp. 1–2.
“Hempstead County Courthouse.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Hempstead County Courthouse Celebration.” Hope Star, November 28, 1939, p. 3B.
“Judge Rider Holds County Court at New County Seat.” Hope Star, July 5, 1938, p. 1.
“Masons Will Lay Cornerstone for $200,000 Building.” Hope Star, November 28, 1939, p. 1.
McLemore, Ken. “HCSO Modernizes Offices—Ribbon Cutting Celebrates Official Opening.” Hope Star, July 19, 2013, p 1.
“Moving Day for County Officials Set for Thursday.” Hope Star, April 1, 1940, p 1.
Smith, Christy L. “Hempstead Co. Unveils New Courthouse.” County Lines, Spring 2022, pp. 28–30.
“Three Contracts for Courthouse to Be Let Thursday.” Hope Star, June 13, 1939, pp. 1, 6.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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