Van Buren County Courthouse

The Van Buren County Courthouse in Clinton (Van Buren County) is situated in the hilly terrain of northern Arkansas. It was built with local materials from a quarry outside of Dennard (Van Buren County), with walls made of reddish sandstone. The smallest courthouse in the state, it measures just 100 feet by 43 feet, with a basement. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) recognizes the building as historically significant as a New Deal–era public works project, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 13, 1991.

After Van Buren County was established on November 11, 1833, the county elite housed the first two courthouses in one-room log structures near the now-defunct community of Mudtown, whose name was derived from the abundant mud that filled the streets after a hard rain. Residents renamed their county seat Bloomington. The first courthouse was the residence of Obadiah Marsh, a settler in this wilderness, and the second was across the road from Arkansas’s second-largest horse-racing track at the time.

In 1842, the county seat moved to a log house in Clinton and remained there until the county erected a two-story wood-frame structure, with columns distinguishing the front façade. This courthouse stood for twenty years until Confederate guerrillas, commonly known as bushwhackers, burned it down in 1865. A local Methodist church housed county affairs until another two-story wood-frame building opened in 1869. Over the next sixty-five years, it survived arsons, burglaries, and a mob that stormed the jail to execute an accused murderer. But it did not survive the Great Depression.

During the Depression, Van Buren County’s inhabitants survived on a barter system, with county officials seeking ways to bolster employment. The New Deal program known as the Public Works Administration (PWA) funded the construction of public buildings and infrastructure across the country, including in Van Buren County. The PWA appropriated money to Van Buren County for a new courthouse.

Little Rock (Pulaski County) architects Frank Erhart and Howard Eichenbaum designed the building in the Ozark Mountain variety of the Art Deco style. Builders Earl and Carl Bird used native stone to reflect the architecture and culture of the region. The county maintained and updated the building over the years, including a remodel in 1973 under the administration of County Judge Joe D. Villines that changed the second-floor courtroom. The changes included lowering the ceiling and installing oak panels on the walls. A 1983 renovation added storage rooms in the building in order to keep records safe from flooding. Since 1995, the AHPP has awarded County Courthouse Restoration Grants amounting to $244,127 in order to maintain the building’s historical integrity and make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark. “Small Packages.” County Lines Magazine (December 18, 2015). Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/BlogRetrieve.aspx?PostID=775053&A=SearchResult&SearchID=3415086&ObjectID=775053&ObjectType=55 (accessed January 3, 2017).

Gill, John Purifoy, and Marjem Jackson Gill. On the Courthouse Square in Arkansas. N.p.: 1980.

“Van Buren 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/VB0007.nr.pdf (accessed January 3, 2017).

Jared Craig
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated: 01/14/2017