Mississippi County Courthouse, Osceola District
The Mississippi County Courthouse serving as the seat of justice for the southern part of Mississippi County is the central feature of a courthouse square bordered by Hale, Walnut, Johnson, and Poplar streets in downtown Osceola (Mississippi County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the three-story building as architecturally and historically significant as a prime example of the Classical style in Mississippi County. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1978. The Mississippi County Courthouse—Chickasawba District, located in the other county seat in Blytheville and opened in 1921, serves the northern part of the county.
As Osceola experienced an economic boom due to railroad traffic, lumber, and agriculture production around the beginning of the twentieth century, county officials decided to build a modern courthouse for Mississippi County. At that time, the courthouse operated out of a wood-frame structure, and its demands outgrew the space. It stood on the edge of Osceola, and the county wanted to open a new courthouse near the central quarter. The new courthouse was built across the street from John Patterson’s General Store, which now houses the Mississippi County Historical and Genealogical Society. The local newspaper office of the Osceola Times is located nearby.
County Judge William Driver tasked architect John Gainsford with designing the courthouse. Gainsford envisioned the Classical design to be the manifestation of Osceola’s civic pride. Falls Construction Company built the new courthouse in 1912, and it opened that year.
The most striking feature is the stately and ornate copper dome, which is surrounded by terra-cotta decorations. The building’s front facade features impressive Ionic pillars and an elevated principal entrance, although it is shaded by the large trees and shrubs that encircle the building. It also features a wide portico and a frieze that complements the Classical architecture.
Possibly because of the potential flooding of the Mississippi River, the first floor is windowless. Therefore, the principal entrance is on the second level and features a baked stone floor made up of many colors. The courtroom is on the third floor and contains notable marble wainscoting walls, plaster cornicing, and beams carved with Roman olive leaves.
Like many courthouses in Arkansas, the surrounding grounds feature war memorials. One honors veterans from Mississippi County who served in World War I and World War II. Another is dedicated to Confederate veterans and was provided by the Elliott Fletcher Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy of Blytheville. Identical to the one at the other Mississippi County Courthouse in Blytheville, it was erected in 1934. The grounds also include three flag poles to celebrate Arkansas’s bicentennial anniversary as well as a memorial to William Driver, describing him as the “St. Francis Basin’s most valued citizen.” He donated the acre of land on which the present courthouse was built, and, while in Congress, he was instrumental in enacting the laws that regulated the flow of the Mississippi and other nearby rivers.
Amid economic troubles in the county in the twenty-first century, the aging courthouse began showing signs of neglect. Many offices have been abandoned, and many of courtroom’s ceiling tiles have suffered water damage or are missing. Its deterioration and the lack of foot traffic have caused the county to consider building a new courthouse in Blytheville, thirty minutes away, and combining the operations of the county’s two courthouses.
For additional information:
Blinder, Alan. “Arkansas Town Frets about Losing a Courthouse, and an Identity.” New York Times, June 18, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/arkansas-town-frets-over-possible-loss-of-courthouse-and-identity.html?_r=1 (accessed February 20, 2016).
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.
“Mississippi County Courthouse.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/MS0117.nr.pdf (accessed February 20, 2016).
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated: 09/27/2016