By Mark Christ, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
With seats of justice in both Berryville and Eureka Springs, Carroll County is one of 10 Arkansas counties with two courthouses. Not many, however, can boast of two such beautiful structures, and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has worked with the county since 1997 to preserve and keep them in service.
Arkansas’ Territorial Legislature carved Carroll County from part of Izard County on Nov. 1, 1833, naming it in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The new town of Carrollton was selected as county seat, and a courthouse was in place by 1837. However, like many buildings in Carroll County, the courthouse did not survive the Civil War, with a Union soldier noting in March 1863, “this town has been quite a prosperous place but is now nearly deserted. The brick court-house is burned down and the walls are not more than 3 to 5 ft. high, rubbish and broken bricks lying all around.”
As Carroll County was reduced by having parts carved from it for the creation of Madison, Searcy, Newton and Boone counties between 1836 and 1868, contentious elections were held that resulted in the county seat being moved to the more centrally located Berryville in 1875. That town had been established in the early 1850s by co-founders Blackburn Henderson Berry and Arthur A. Baker, its name decided by a coin toss — it could have been Bakerville. Berryville, too, had suffered in the Civil War, with only three buildings remaining when peace returned, so a new courthouse was necessary.
County Judge A. Fanning appointed a commission on May 10, 1875, to select a town site for the new building. Blackburn Berry sold a lot for the building, while donating land east of the building for a town square. R.H. Jones designed the building and J.P. Fancher built it for $8,997.50. The result was a simple two-story building with little ornamentation and a flat roof, and county government moved in 1881. With the establishment of a second judicial district at Eureka Springs in 1883, Green Forest challenged Berryville to serve as the eastern district’s county seat. Berryville survived the acrimonious debate, and in 1905 the victorious Berryvillians celebrated by adding a third story to their 1880 courthouse, flanked by twin fourth-story towers. The $7,000 remodeling added limestone lintels and sills to the windows, resulting in the handsome building that survives today, proudly exhibiting elements of the Second Empire style of architecture.
Around 1976 county government moved around the corner to a building that formerly housed the Carroll County Electric Cooperative, and the historic courthouse now houses the Carroll County Heritage Center Museum and Genealogical Library, featuring a wide-ranging and eclectic collection of exhibits that reflect the broad range of the county’s history. The Carroll County Courthouse — Eastern District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 27, 1976.
As mentioned above, the Arkansas General Assembly established a western judicial district at the growing resort town of Eureka Springs in 1883, responding in part to seasonal flooding of Kings River that made access to Berryville difficult. Court was initially held in a rented room, but by 1906 the people of Eureka Springs were ready for a more stately structure. The night before the Carroll County Quorum Court was to vote on an appropriation for the new building, Eureka Springs Mayor Claude A. Fuller learned that two western district justices of the peace would be absent from the meeting. He dispatched the chief of police, with two extra horses, to track down the errant justices and to bring them to Berryville the next morning. Arriving at 5 a.m., their two votes resulted in a tie vote, which County Judge Tom Fancher broke by voting in favor of funding the new structure. Eureka Springs provided $2,500 toward the courthouse, which would allow the city to occupy the building’s bottom floor while county offices were located in the upper stories — a cozy arrangement that survives today.
William Octavos Perkins and Sons designed the building, and the 1908 result was a striking example of the Italianate style of architecture, with tall windows soaring toward the heavens while the heavy stone courses around the openings are reminiscent of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The Carroll County Courthouse — Western District is part of the Eureka Springs Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 18, 1970.
Author Mark Christ is the community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.