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Drew County Courthouse in County Lines Magazine

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Tuesday, September 26, 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. Drew County has received eight grants totaling $682,818 for the Drew County Courthouse.

 

(The featured article below ran in the Summer 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 Drew County Courthouse.)

 

 

With a splendid courthouse erected during the depths of the Great Depression, Drew County’s seat of government stands today as a testament to the determination of the county’s citizens to triumph over adversity, and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has worked with the county since 2000 to ensure it will remain a center of public life in Monticello.

Settlers came to Drew County around 1837, and court proceedings were held in a village called Rough and Ready near modern-day Monticello; legends of feuds, fights and murder indicated it was aptly named. The county was formed from parts of Bradley and Arkansas counties in 1846 and was named for Thomas Stevenson Drew, who would be elected governor of Arkansas from 1844 to 1849. Drew County’s current boundaries were not solidified until 1873, when its boundary with Chicot County was finally settled.

When Drew County was formed, its people decided they needed a perhaps more respectable location for the county seat, and in 1849 Fountain C. and Polly Austin donated eighty-three acres for the town site, which was likely named for Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. A wood-frame courthouse was erected in 1851 and apparently was soon outgrown, as a new and presumably larger frame courthouse was built in 1856-57. The original building is believed to have been moved to the west side of the courthouse square to be used as a law office by S.F. Arnett. In 1887 the building was leased by F.A. Lane, an evidently cantankerous tenant who refused the request by a Monticello bank to vacate the building so that it could use the lot. The bank simply confiscated the structure and moved it, with all of Lane’s belongings, across the square to Gaines Street.

By 1869 the Drew County Quorum Court decided that a new and more elaborate building was needed. A committee was appointed to oversee the project, and it hired the Jones and Baldwin architectural firm in Memphis to design the new building. They chose the elaborate Second Empire style as the design for the new building – a relatively scarce style in the state, the best-known example of which is Old Main at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The cornerstone was laid amid elaborate ceremony on October 20, 1870, and L.W. Lisenby of Little Rock was hired to build the structure. Construction was finished in May 1872, when the clock was installed on the soaring, Mansard-roofed tower that loomed 120 feet above downtown Monticello. The final project cost was $35,689. Though still structurally sound, the building was unfortunately demolished in 1933.

 


 

In 1931, County Judge W.E. Spencer issued an order during the April term of the Quorum Court for an election to consider building a new courthouse and to establish a tax to pay for it. Despite the economic upheaval caused by the Great Depression, the people of Drew County approved the project and tax in a May 16 election. A commission of men from Monticello, Tillar, Wilmar and Jerome was formed to oversee the project. They hired Little Rock architect H. Ray Burks, who also designed courthouses in Lonoke, Russellville and DeWitt. On September 16, 1931, contracts were issued for Hewitt and Russell of Little Rock to build the new courthouse, with Pfeifer Plumbing Company and Arkansas Electric Company of Little Rock handling the utilities.

With the 1872 courthouse still occupying the town square, the Advance Monticellonian reported that “after much careful consideration the commissioners decided on the beautiful lot known as Whittington Grove, about 2 blocks from Court Square on South Main Street.” The new courthouse was dedicated with appropriate fanfare on July 4, 1932, at a final cost of $150,000.

 


 

Burks’ design for the new Drew County Courthouse is among the most interesting in the state. The massive three-and-one-half story limestone structure exhibits the vertical emphasis of the then-popular Art Deco style, which is augmented by the wrought-iron ironwork on the exterior and the stylized sunburst reliefs above the side entrances. But it also displays a Classical vocabulary seen in the massive Ionic pilasters and classical, symmetrical window treatment. The interior includes marble wainscoting and steps and steel railings that emulate the exterior metal work. Eighty-five years after its construction, the Drew County Courthouse continues – and will continue – to serve the needs of its citizens.

 

 

County Courthouse Restoration Grants in Drew 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 2000, Drew County has received eight grants totaling $682,818 for the Drew County Courthouse.

Drew County Courthouse Grants:

FY2000 Replace screens, interior restoration $12,286

FY2005 Roof Restoration $44,000

FY2006 Roof Restoration $126,212

FY2007 Restore Terrace and South Entry $111,820

FT2009 Masonry Restoration $135,000

FY2013 West Façade Stone Restoration $80,000

FY2016 Masonry Restoration and Downspouts $91,000

FY2017 Electrical Service Upgrades $82,500

 

GRAND TOTAL: $682,818

 

 

2017 AHPP COUNTY COURTHOUSE GRANT AWARDS

 

 

Nineteen counties recently shared $1,562,946 in County Courthouse Restoration Grants, which are financed through Real Estate Transfer Tax funds distributed by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council for rehabilitation of historic county courthouses across Arkansas. Funding requests totaled $4,618,440.

County Courthouse Restoration Grant Recipients were:

* Arkansas County, $16,513 for masonry, window, downspout and plaster restoration at the 1928 courthouse in Stuttgart

* Chicot County, $86,963 for entrance step restoration at the 1956 courthouse in Lake Village

* Cleveland County, $163,500 for roof, cornice and parapet restoration at the 1911 courthouse in Rison

* Crittenden County, $98,000 for exterior painting at the 1910-11 courthouse at Marion

* Dallas County, $10,000 for electrical upgrades at the 1911 courthouse in Fordyce

* Drew County, $82,500 for updated electrical service at the 1932 courthouse in Monticello

* Garland County, $100,000 for fire safety improvements at the 1905 Garland County Courthouse in Hot Springs

* Greene County, $25,000 for window and wood restoration at the 1888 courthouse in Paragould

* Hot Spring County, $200,000 for roof restoration at the 1936 courthouse in Malvern

* Jackson County, $87,840 for masonry restoration at the 1892 courthouse in Newport

* Lawrence County, $150,000 for roof restoration at the 1965-66 courthouse in Walnut Ridge

* Lee County, $59,077 to improve lighting at the 1936 courthouse in Marianna

* Logan County, $150,000 to restore the columns at the 1908 courthouse in Paris

* Mississippi County, $50,000 to improve roof drainage at the 1912 courthouse in Osceola

* Phillips County, $30,000 for a preservation plan for the 1914 courthouse in Helena-West Helena

* Pike County, $125,000 for roof restoration and to stop flooding in the basement at the 1932 courthouse in Murfreesboro

* Poinsett County, $81,813 for clock tower restoration and interior restoration at the 1917 courthouse in Harrisburg

* Polk County, $34,240 for plaster restoration at the 1939 courthouse in Mena

* Van Buren County, $12,500 for an electrical system assessment at the 1934 courthouse in Clinton.

To learn more about the AHPP’s County Courthouse Restoration Grant program, visit http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/Preservation-Services/county-courthouse-restoration-grants.



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