Polk County Courthouse
The Polk County Courthouse is located at the foot of Rich Mountain, on the corner of Church and De Queen avenues in downtown Mena (Polk County). The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the four-story building, built in 1939, as architecturally and historically significant for its Art Deco style and its stature as one of the most impressive structures in Polk County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1992.
The Polk County Courthouse is a standing result of New Deal policies as a product of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which appropriated $110,000 for its construction. Architectural firm Haralson & Mott of Fort Smith (Sebastian County) designed it in the Art Deco style, which was popular in the 1930s. Haralson & Mott, which is still in operation, also designed prominent New Deal–era buildings at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), among many projects across the state.
The current Polk County Courthouse is the fifth seat of justice in county history. The first was in Dallas (Polk County), a town named after Vice President George Dallas; the town served as county seat after Polk County separated from Sevier County in 1844. The first courthouse was built after 1850, although the exact construction date is not known due to a fire started by Union soldiers during the Civil War. All records were destroyed. The county built the second courthouse, also in Dallas, in 1869. It burned down in 1883 with all its records. Later that year, Building Commissioner W. H. Green ordered a new courthouse built in Dallas. The county contracted Holder Hudgins to build a two-story brick structure at the cost of $4,500. After the county seat moved to Mena, construction began on a new county courthouse in 1899. Joseph Heidrick designed the building, an odd structure with influences from the Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Italianate styles. However, the building was not completed until 1902 due to the first contractors refusing to accept county scrip as payment.
The current courthouse, which displays the seal of the State of Arkansas above the principal entrance, is made of buff brick and has a concrete foundation. Multiple pilasters at the front façade elevate a parapet, which includes Art Deco–influenced zigzag details. As stated on the concrete cornerstone, it was “Laid by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.” The cornerstone is part of the foundation and displays a Masonic symbol and the name of County Judge Will Alexander, who ordered the construction.
The first level, which once housed the local WPA office, includes tan terrazzo floors and a T-shaped hallway. The second level houses the courtroom, which has Art Deco zigzags on the dado and a ceiling featuring recessed squares. There is also a full basement that includes county offices and fireproof vaults that protect county records.
In 1973, Polk County constructed a separate building adjacent to the courthouse that is connected with an open bridge. County offices and the county jailer’s living quarters were moved into the annex when construction was finished; the jail was moved there from the courthouse in 1980. The separate building is not included on the National Register listing.
On June 12, 2014, a young man drove a vehicle onto the courthouse lawn, destroying several monuments, including one dedicated to Medal of Honor recipient Herbert Littleton. The large war memorial that honors veterans of Polk County from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom was not damaged.
For additional information:
Arkansas Historical Records Survey Project. Inventory of the County Archives of Arkansas: Polk County. Butler Center of Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Buck, Melanie. “Juvenile Arrested for Causing Destruction to Monuments on Courthouse Lawn.” MyPulseNews.com. http://mypulsenews.com/juvenile-arrested-for-causing-destruction-to-monuments-on-courthouse-lawn (accessed October 20, 2020).
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.
“Polk 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/PL0012.nr.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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