Prairie County Courthouse, Northern District
The Prairie County Courthouse, located in downtown Des Arc (Prairie County), governs county affairs in the northern half of Prairie County. DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), which has its own courthouse, is the county’s other seat of government. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the two-story courthouse in Des Arc for its Georgian architecture and stature as one of the most impressive buildings in Prairie County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 18, 1977.
Des Arc was destroyed during the Civil War when Union soldiers dismantled the town for materials to use for its base in DeValls Bluff. By 1875, citizens had rebuilt Des Arc after Prairie County designated it as the county seat, replacing Brownsville (now in Lonoke County). Construction then began on a new courthouse for Des Arc, which operated as Prairie County’s sole seat of government until administrators created a second county seat in DeValls Bluff in 1885, as regular flooding from the White River made county residents’ trips to Des Arc to pay taxes and attend legal proceedings difficult.
In 1904, Des Arc gained a new two-story brown brick courthouse designed by notable Arkansas architect Charles L. Thompson. It stood just off the banks of the White River, until a fire destroyed it in 1911, although the county records stored in an underground vault were saved. The present courthouse was erected on that same site in 1913, with architect R. P. Morrison as the designer and C. S. Proctor as the builder. Construction costs totaled $27,500, and builders used the debris and the foundation from the old courthouse in the construction. It was built with a high foundation to protect it from White River floodwaters.
The courthouse’s most prominent feature is the clock tower. This, along with white Doric columns and porticos against the red brick exterior, is reminiscent of a governing house from the colonial era. A wide gazebo located on the courthouse lawn near the river provides a pristine vista of eastern Arkansas.
Most Arkansas counties now keep their jails in modern facilities away from the courthouse. However, the Prairie County Courthouse in Des Arc houses the jail in an adjacent building, which was built in 1947. A small fenced area is included, where inmates spend time outdoors. Legal proceedings take place in the second-floor courtroom inside the courthouse.
The building’s interior is rather plain, especially in comparison to the elegant exterior. Ceilings throughout the courthouse are made of pressed tin, and flooring includes white one-inch ceramic tiles and hardwood. The courtroom contains an unusual semicircle bench with metal extension arms holding light bulbs. The jury box is a raised platform without any railing.
For additional information:
Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.
“Prairie 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/PR0044.nr.pdf (accessed October 20, 2020).
Roy, F. Hampton. Charles L. Thompson and Associates: Arkansas Architects, 1885–1938. Little Rock: August House, 1982.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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