Backstory and Context
Following the Civil War, Hempstead County’s Reconstruction officials voted to replace the frontier-era 1836 Courthouse. The Italian Ornate design is believed to have been influenced by the Alamance County Courthouse in North Carolina. Contractor Ezekiel Treadway, following the architectural plans of Green and Son of Little Rock, completed construction in January 1875. Downstairs were the circuit court and the county clerk’s office, with most of the other rooms rented out to county officers and attorneys. Most of the second floor was taken up by the county courtroom, with jury rooms in back. Citizens climbed one of two staircases in the center hallway to go upstairs, and oil lamps mounted to the doorways lit the hallways until the building was electrified in 1918. Two upstairs platforms, one at either end, allowed officials to walk out and address large crowds. A cupola, designed to hold a clock, was centered on the roof, but a clock was never installed, and a 1946 tornado damaged the copula so badly it was removed. By 1925, a lack of space caused the county to build an annex onto the rear, which has visible differences in the walls, floorboards, and foundation.
The courtyard was surrounded by a fence intended to keep roaming animals and livestock out, but gates were impractical for a public building, so local handyman William Moses was paid $6 to install six staircase-type stiles in the fence. Moses also electrified the building and installed a well in the courtyard. Wrought-iron benches were spread throughout the yard, and cedar trees lined the sidewalks to the front door while catalpa trees sat on either side of the building. The courtyard served host to numerous social gatherings for the town of Washington. A small brick building in the rear served as holding cells for the court.
Shortly after its founding in 1875, Hope’s rapid rise in both population and stature as a railroad town led to campaigns to move the county seat there. The battle was fought over five contentious election campaigns until Hope finally won in 1939. After county business moved out of building, the Washington School District took over in 1941.
The Washington School District would use the building until they moved to a modern structure in 1976. The building then began serving as the park’s Visitor Information Center, and for a time housed the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives until their move to a separate building in the 1990s. A 1997 renovation restored the courthouse to its 19th century look, including risers in the courtroom, the speaking platforms, and the copula on the roof.