Old Randolph County Courthouse
The Old Randolph County Courthouse sits in the middle of historic downtown Pocahontas (Randolph County). The second courthouse to serve Randolph County, the Old Courthouse is made of bricks and wood and decorated with wood trimming. A cupola adorns the roof. The building once had a vault, but it was removed sometime in the 1930s. Although the Old Courthouse is no longer home to the court system, it is still an important landmark for the city of Pocahontas.
The Randolph County courts moved their offices diagonally across the street from the Old Courthouse to the new courthouse in 1940, after more than sixty years of service for the Old Courthouse. Since that time, the Old Courthouse has had several uses, including serving as an entertainment center for servicemen from the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School (during World War II) and as the county library. In the twenty-first century, the building houses the Randolph County Board of Tourism as well as the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce.
When Randolph County was created in 1835, Pocahontas, formerly known as Bettis Bluff, became the county seat for two reasons—although one reason is apocryphal. First, the only other contender for county seat, Columbia, was not located on a navigable waterway as Pocahontas was. The second reason is much more the stuff of legend. As the story goes, as the vote for county seat was given to the people of Randolph County, Ransom Bettis and his son-in-law Thomas S. Drew, who owned the site of Pocahontas, held a festival with free barbecue and liquor. The people of Randolph County thus voted Pocahontas as the county seat.
The first courthouse was built on land donated in July 1837 by Drew and his wife, Cinderella Bettis. The land was then transferred to James S. Conway, the governor of Arkansas at the time. The first courthouse was built between 1837 and 1839 but collapsed due to structural weakness; a second courthouse was built on the same plot. The contract for what is now the Old Courthouse was given to John A. McKay of Helena (Phillips County). During the construction of the second courthouse, the offices of clerks and courts were moved first to the lower floor of the county jail, then to the store building of J. P. Black & Co., and then to the St. Charles Hotel (and possibly elsewhere) until completion of the Old Courthouse early in 1875.
The architecture of the courthouse is of early Victorian style. With intricate details adorning its woodwork, high stories, and stilted windows, the courthouse is an imposing structure. One architect remarked that “[w]hile there are many courthouses of similar architectural importance in other areas of Arkansas, the architectural style of the Old Randolph Courthouse is quite rare in this area of the state.”
The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 24, 1973.
For additional information:
Dalton, Lawrence. History of Randolph County. Little Rock: Democrat Printing and Lithographing Company, 1946.
Old Randolph County Courthouse Centennial Edition, Pocahontas Star Herald, August 30, 1973.
“Old Randolph 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/RA0020.nr.pdf (accessed October 19, 2020).
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