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Bradley County Courthouse in County Lines Magazine

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Monday, December 11, 2017

Among the many programs and services of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is the County Courthouse Restoration Grant Program. Created in 1989, this grant program has helped to extend the lives of courthouses that hold vital links to community pride and local history. These grants are funded through the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Since the beginning of the program, the AHPP has awarded more than $22.8 million to 74 historic courthouses and courthouse annexes around the state for use in rehabilitating, preserving and protecting these important historic resources. Bradley County has received ten grants totaling $747,257 for the Bradley County Courthouse.

(The featured article below ran in the Fall 2017 issue of County Lines – the quarterly publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties – County Lines. Companion articles about historic courthouses will be a regular feature in future issues. Read more about the history of the Bradley County Courthouse.)

While Bradley County may be best known to many in Arkansas as the home of the annual Pink Tomato Festival, it also can stand proudly beside its architectural heritage, which is manifested by such buildings as the Queen Anne-style Bailey House, the Folk Victorian Adams-Leslie House, and the Ederington House, a classic example of the Craftsman style. None can compare, though, to the 1903 Bradley County Courthouse, a fanciful interpretation of Classical Revival architecture designed by Frank W. Gibb. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has worked with Bradley County since 1996 to preserve this landmark, including a monumental project in 2015 and 2016 (see related article).

Bradley County was created from part of Union County on December 18, 1840, and at the time contained all the land from which Cleveland, Lincoln, Ashley and Drew counties would be formed. It was named in honor of Captain Hugh Bradley, an early explorer of the Red River region who settled near modern-day Warren. A monument to Bradley, a War of 1812 veteran from Tennessee, stands today on the courthouse lawn.

The first county court meeting was held in Captain Bradley’s cabin on April 5, 1841, but after John Marks and John Splawn donated land for a county seat – originally called Pennington’s Settlement, but soon named Warren – a log building with a fireplace at each end was built in 1843 to house county government. This humble structure sufficed until 1858, when contractors Sweeney, Copeland and Pennington were engaged to construct a new building. This courthouse, a two-story, stucco-encased edifice, was completed in 1861 and cost $7,498.

While the second courthouse building was still in use, a small brick structure was erected next door to house the Bradley County Clerk’s office. Completed in 1890, it displays a modest Italianate-style design topped by a rather elaborate metal roof topped by shaped metal cresting. Still standing adjacent to the courthouse, the building has also housed the Sheriff’s Office, a museum and a library over the years.

When Bradley County officials decided a new courthouse was needed, they turned to Little Rock architect Frank W. Gibb for what may have been the first of his many courthouse projects. While the Bradley County project was completed in 1903, Gibb also designed courthouses in Calhoun County (1909), Dallas County (1911), Phillips and Yell counties (1914) and Franklin County (1923). His obituary, in fact, credited him with nearly 60 courthouse designs, many of which do not survive. E.L. Koonce, the contractor for the Warren building, partnered with Gibb on at least three of the other Arkansas courthouses.

The Bradley County Courthouse features a central core area that is flanked by wings and towers – a design that would be a hallmark of Gibb-designed county seats. Its two-toned brick exterior is an unusual detail, and the brick sections of the two-story building are separated by a cut-stone water table and belt course, creating a mixed-masonry effect. Its primary façade centers on a central, flat-roofed portico flanked by Tuscan columns, and most of the windows are capped with keystone arches.

The most striking feature of the building is the three-story bell tower on the building’s southwest corner (yes, the bell still works). The tower includes classical arched windows, a four-faced clock and a cupola with arched openings and columns, as well as a dentil cornice. The opposite corner of the building holds a striking two-and-one-half story tower topped by arched openings supported by Corinthian columns. Even the side elevations feature some splendid details, with doors topped by classical pediments.

The Bradley County Courthouse and County Clerk’s Office were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 12, 1976. The nomination concluded: “Constructed in 1903, the Bradley County Courthouse stands in the center of Warren’s business district. As the largest and most significant building in the county, the courthouse is an architectural and historic landmark in Bradley County.” And once a year, a fine place to enjoy some pink tomatoes.

 

 

 

Reconstruction of Courthouse Façade was ‘Tricky’

 

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has tackled dozens of tricky projects at county courthouses across the state, but Bradley County presented a unique challenge: a total reconstruction of its elaborate front façade.

In previous grant cycles, underpinning of the foundation took place on the east side of the building because the clay soil in the region is not stable and allows for buildings to settle unevenly, causing numerous structural issues. As a result of the foundation underpinning in FY2012 and FY2013, the conflicting forces of upward and downward thrust caused the front wall of the courthouse to buckle more than five inches forward out of plumb, which was most evidenced by the warped shape of the arch-topped windows and the bowing side wall evidenced by the downspout shifting forward on its masonry anchor.

The structural damage was extensive enough that the entire front and side walls of the center three projecting bays of the building had to be rebuilt. Making the project even more difficult was the walls were constructed of unreinforced masonry, a five-wythe (a wythe is a row of brick) thick wall. The floors and the roof of the building had to be supported while the walls were removed. Concrete piers and pipe bracing were constructed to support the loads of these building elements while the brick walls were taken down.

As the bricks were removed, they were cleaned, numbered and stacked for reuse in their historic locations. It was a time-consuming and tedious job, but the end results were worth the effort. The new walls were constructed of concrete masonry units (CMU) for the sub-walls. The dimensions of the CMU helped maintain the historic thickness of the walls.

A black liquid membrane was then applied to the CMU to waterproof it. Then the facing bricks were reinstalled in their historic locations (hence the numbering during disassembly). Metal wall studs were installed on the interior to receive the electrical work and insulation before drywall was installed.

As the building was re-assembled, the historic interior baseboards and window trim were salvaged and installed. After the masonry work was completed, the glass in the windows was installed, and the interior finished.

The total project cost was $500,000, which took two grant cycles to fund and complete. This project was the most ambitious and expensive courthouse project since the AHPP courthouse grant program’s inception in 1989. The finished project is testament that it was a worthwhile endeavor.

 

 

 

County Courthouse Restoration Grants in Bradley County

 

Among the many programs and services of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is the County Courthouse Restoration Grant Program. Created in 1989, this grant program has helped to extend the lives of courthouses that hold vital links to community pride and local history. These grants are funded through the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Since the beginning of the program, the AHPP has awarded more than $22.9 million to 74 historic courthouses and courthouse annexes around the state for use in rehabilitating, preserving and protecting these important historic resources. Since 1996, Bradley County has received ten grants totaling $747,257 for the Bradley County Courthouse.

Bradley County Courthouse Grants:

FY1996 Foundation Work $12,000

FY1997 Stabilize Foundation $60,000

FY1998 Exterior Painting $24,000

FY2000 Exterior Masonry, Interior Restoration $15,000

FT2008 Masonry Restoration (East Elevation) $16,400

FY2009 Masonry Restoration $25,000

FY2013 Window Restoration $57,606

FY2014 Stabilize Masonry and Foundation $37,401

FY2015 Foundation Stabilization $250,000

FY2016 Reconstruct South Wall $249,850

 

GRAND TOTAL: $747,257



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