Benton County, Arkansas Courts

The first court-house was a small hewed log building, which stood on the north side of the public square, in Bentonville. It was built in 1837. Being only a temporary “makeshift,” to be used only until a better building could be constructed, it stood only two or three years, or until the second court-house, a more permanent building, was completed. This was a two-story brick structure about fifty feet square, and stood upon the center of the public square, where the well is now located. The court room was in the first story, and the county offices and jury rooms in the second. John and William Walker were the contractors, who built it, as it is said, at a loss to themselves. This house stood until some time during the late Civil War, when it was destroyed by fire.

Immediately after the close of the war a temporary courthouse was built on the lot near the old jail, it being on the north side of the street, a short distance east of the northeast corner of the public square. This was a two-story frame building, costing in the neighborhood of $1,000. It was used until the present court-house was erected, after which it was moved to and now stands on the county “poor farm.”

On Monday, January 4, 1870, the county court made the following entry on the record of its proceedings: “Whereas, there being no suitable court-house in the county of Benton in which to hold the courts of said county, and no jail for said county, therefore it is hereby ordered by the court that a courthouse and jail be erected in the town of Bentonville, in said county of Benton, in the State of Arkansas.” William W. Reynolds was then appointed commissioner of public buildings within and for the county, “and there being no suitable ground belonging to the county on which to erect said buildings,” the commissioner was ordered to select a proper piece of ground in the town of Bentonville for that purpose, and to purchase the same and take a good and sufficient deed of conveyance in fee simple therefor, and to make report of his proceedings to the court at his earliest convenience. Commissioner Reynolds accepted his appointment, and on the same day filed his report in the words and figures following:

Hon. County Court of the County of Benton, State of Arkansas:

The undersigned commissioner of public buildings, instructed by order of your honorable court to purchase a suitable lot of ground for the erection of a court-house and jail thereon, beg leave to submit the following report: That he has (subject to your approval) purchased, of Joseph R. Rutherford’s estate, Lots Nos. 90, 91, 94 and 95 of the town of Bentonville, Benton Co., Ark. In arriving at the consideration for the property purchased, the kind of payment was considered, and from the fact that such payment would be made in county warrants, the sum of $1,250 was agreed upon as the consideration for said lots. These lots could have been purchased with greenbacks for the sum of $1,000. The deed for said lots to the county of Benton, in fee simple, is herewith submitted and asked to be taken as a part of this report. As a confirmation of the contract of your commissioner, he would ask your honorable court that county warrants to the amount of $1.250 be issued to the said Joseph R. Rutherford in consideration of said property. Most respectfully submitted.

The report was accepted and approved by the court, and county warrants to the amount of $1,250 were ordered to be drawn in favor of J. R. Rutherford in full payment for the lots named therein, the warrants to be issued in such sums as he might desire. The commissioner was then ordered to make out and submit to the court, at its next term, a plan or plans, with an estimate of the probable cost of a court-house and jail, to be erected on the grounds purchased for that purpose. At the next term of the court Commissioner Reynolds submitted plans and specifications for the proposed building, drawn by W. T. Ritter, architect, together with an estimate of its cost, at $35,000. The plans and specifications were adopted by the court, and spread in full length upon its records. The commissioner was then ordered to proceed to let the contract for the building of the court-house and jail combined to the lowest responsible bidder, after giving at least twenty days’ notice of the time and place and terms of the letting, the commissioner to receive sealed bids from any and all parties until 12 o’clock of the first day of May, 1871, and to open all bids on that day in the presence of the Court. A sufficient amount of bonds, not exceeding $50,000, was then ordered to be issued for the purpose of raising funds for the construction of the proposed building, the first $10,000 to be made payable in one year after date, the second $10,000 in two years after date, and so on until the contract should be fully paid, or the $50,000 exhausted: all bonds to bear interest at the rate of 10 per cent.

On the first day of May following, the court being in session, the following entry was made upon its record of proceedings: “Now, on this day comes W. W. Reynolds, commissioner of public buildings of the county of Benton, and at 12 o’clock M. of this day, proceeded and did open, in the presence of this Court, the several bids for the erection of the court-house and jail, in accordance with the advertisement of the commissioner in this behalf. Whereupon the following bids were presented. to-wit: J. H. Neely and Samuel H. Kelton, of Bentonville, $33,000; A. H. Leady, of Springfield, Mo., $36,575; M. A. Rowles, of Illinois, $36,500; W. T. Ritter & Co., of Springfield, Mo., $34,735; J. Oliver, of Springfield, Mo., $31,910.”

After an examination of the several bids, the contract was awarded to John H. Neely and Samuel H. Kelton, at $33,000, whereupon the contractors immediately filed their bond conditioned for the fulfillment of their part of the contract, in the sum of $66,000, with good and sufficient security to the satisfaction of the court. In June following Commissioner Reynolds reported to the court the progress of the work, and that the work done on the new court-house and jail, together with material purchased, amounted to $7,900. The next month he reported the sale of bonds made by him on the 24th day of June preceding, amounting to $7,669, with the following credits, to-wit: Receipt of Neely & Kelton, contractors, $6,115.51; receipt of R. & T. A. Ennis for printing bonds, $80; receipt of Cory & Cook and A. B. Cory, printing, $24; receipt of M. B. Maxwell for surveying, $6.25; total credits, $6,225.76.

On the 15th day of August, 1871, a petition signed by John A. Dickson, J. V. Lee, J. C. Woods and twenty-eight others was presented to the court, praying for the abandonment of the bond system. The petition reads as follows:

We, the undersigned tax payers of Benton County, would most respectfully represent to the Honorable County Court, that, whereas, they did, at the April term of said court, according to Act 66 of the Acts of the Assembly of 1871, authorizing them so to do, order the commissioner of public buildings to have $50,000 in interest-bearing bonds struck, $10,000 of which have already been sold; and whereas, said bonds cannot be cashed except at such rates as proves ruinous sacrifice to the people, we would therefore pray your honorable body to dispense with the use of the remaining Benton County Court House and Jail Bonds amounting to $40,000, and make such modification with the contractors as will be equitable and satisfactory to them and the court, for the erection of the building, levying cash tax according to the law for raising revenue for county expenses; provided you find you are authorized so to do by the law. Believing that you will save the public money on the balance of the bonds, and meet the approval of almost the entire population, who feel deeply aggrieved by the bond system. All of which is most respectfully submitted by your petitioners.

Then, in response to a citation issued to them, Messrs. Neely and Kelton came into court, as also did the petitioners by their attorney, and the Court took into consideration the matter of the petition. The contractors refused to accept any change from the bond system, showing that they could not use county scrip at all, and that the bonds would furnish them cash in hand, and further that they could not accept the payments from a direct tax in lieu of their contract, for the reason that it would take eight or ten years to realize the amount due them.

Then follows of record the following entry: “Therefore the Court, after due and respectful consideration, is of the opinion (as the petitioners have wholly failed to show any plan that is satisfactory to the contractors, by which one cent would be saved to the county, but on the contrary the plans submitted would cost the county a large amount in excess of the present system), that it would be unwise to change the present bond system.” Upon request of the contractors, the court then ordered the second year’s bonds, being for $10,000, to be offered for sale by the commissioner of public buildings, to the highest bidders for cash, at the door of the court-house, on Monday, September 4, 1881. In October following, Commissioner Reynolds reported a further sale of bonds, and that the whole amount then paid to the contractors was $14,569.25.

In January, 1872, the court (having undergone a change in its formation, being then composed of a board of supervisors) found that the contractors could not proceed with the building without additional aid, and that unless the bonds could be converted into money the enterprise would of necessity be retarded in its progress, and that the deplorable condition of the finances of the people of the county, asshown by the last effort of the commissioner to sell the bonds, satisfied the court that the policy of again offering the bonds for sale at public outcry would be attended with failure, as in the sale of the last installment. It further appeared to the court by written assurance of Denton D. Starke, a banker of Fayetteville, that he had negotiated with the contractors for the purchase of the bonds, at such price as to enable them to proceed with their work, and complete the building within the time specified, provided the court would issue the whole of the bonds remaining unsold, and turn them over to the contractors. To remove all obstacles and to secure the speedy completion of the building, the court ordered that the remaining $30,000 in bonds should be issued, and turned over to the contractors at 75 cents on the dollar, in full payment of their contract for the construction of the building, and that the commissioner should take their receipt in duplicate for the same, and file one with the clerk of the court and retain one in his possession. It was further ordered that before turning over said bonds the contractors should give bond to the court, in the sum of $30,000, conditioned for the delivery of the bonds to said Starke, as aforesaid, within fifteen days from date of the order. And it was further provided that the funds arising from the sale of the bonds should be drawn from said Starke, as follows: $500 on or before April 1, 1872, and $2,500 monthly thereafter, unless otherwise ordered by the court, until the whole amount of the proceeds of the sale should be exhausted, except the proceeds arising from the sale of the $7,500 of reserve fund, which was to remain in the bank subject to the special orders of the court. The contractors filed their bond as required, received the bonds for the $30,000, and turned them over to Starke, the banker, at Fayetteville, and filed his duplicate receipt for the deposit of the same, with the court, as directed.

In May following Commissioner Reynolds filed with the court the following report, to-wit: “To the Honorable County Court of Benton County: The commissioner of public buildings respectfully submits the following report, to wit: The amount paid contractors as per last report, $14,569.25. Amount of contingent fund, $175.75. Work done to this date: Excavation, $150.00; stone wall, $1,500.00; cut stone, $800.00; guion corners, $1,000.00; door sills, $50.00; brick in wall, $8,500.00; cut stone window sills, $300.00; well and pump, $100.00; rods and anchors, $350.00; carpenter work, $1,700.00. Total, $14,450.00. Material ready for use, $500.00; cut stone ready, $600.00; cut post ready, $150.00; iron cornice, $1,400.00; vault doors, $375.00; iron columns, $500.00; ceiling joists, $160.00; oils and paints, $300.00; 35,000 feet lumber, $1,050.00; 5,000 feet walnut, $160.00. Total, $5,195.00. Whole amount of work done and material ready for use, $19,645.00.”

At this time the court found that the constructors had failed to negotiate with D. D. Starke for the sale of the $30,000 in bonds, or to realize any money from the bonds. The contractors then returned the bonds for that amount to the court and took up their receipt, whereupon the court rescinded its former order by which the bonds were issued, and they were burned by order of and in the presence of the court. The commissioner was then ordered to prepare three hundred interest-bearing bonds of the denomination of one hundred each, and to offer for sale a sufficient number of them to raise the sum of $5,075.75, less 15 per cent on said amount in currency. “That said bonds should bring five cents on the dollar, and should be sold one at a time at the court-house door of said county, for cash to the highest bidder, commencing on Saturday June 1, 1872, and to continue from day to day until the full amount required was sold,” and it was further provided that if no sales were made, the commissioner should pay to the contractors the amount in bonds at 75 cents on the dollar. On the 3d of July following the commissioner reported that the bonds had been offered for sale as per order, and that one of them, No. 54, was sold to C. H. Davis for $75.05 and all the others were sold to the contractors for 75 cents on the dollar.

In January, 1873, the court found that the contractors, Neely & Kelton, had failed to finish and complete the court-house and jail by the 1st of September, 1872, according to contract, and called upon them to show why their said contract should not be declared forfeited. In response the contractors replied that they had nothing to say; whereupon the court declared and ordered the contract forfeited by the default of the contractors, Neely & Kelton. On the 15th day of February following the offered resignation of Commissioner Reynolds was accepted, and S. G. Elliott was appointed his successor. In April, 1873, the court ordered that forty-six one hundred-dollar interest-bearing bonds should be issued, and that the commissioner should proceed at once to negotiate their sale by private contracts to the best advantage of the county, provided that he should not sell any of them for less than 75 cents on the dollar, and if he could not thus dispose of them he was authorized to offer them for sale at public auction to the highest bidder for cash. He was also authorized, as soon as practicable, to contract with one or more responsible persons “for the completion of the walls, roof, windows, doors and second-story rooms of the court-house of said county.” And if he failed to get money by the sale of the bonds, he was to pay the workmen with the bonds at such discount as in his judgment justice would be done the county.

In May, 1873, the county court, then consisting of a board of supervisors, ordered Commissioner Elliott to let out to the lowest bidders the contract for finishing the work on the court-house, the bids to be received June 2, 1873, and the work to be completed on or before the second Monday of September following. Accordingly, on the 3d of June, contracts were entered into as follows: To F. A. Johnson, Robert Anderson and P. Q. O. Rabb, the wood work remaining undone, for the sum of $800; to J. C. Alexander, the tin roofing, spouting and capping and covering cornice for $230; to James Haney, the brick, stone and plastering work remaining undone, for $830. In July following the court found the court-house completed as per the last aforesaid contracts.

In July, 1874, W. C. Lefors, the county treasurer, submitted the following report:

To the Honorable Board of Supervisors of Benton County, Ark.:

I hereby certify that all the court-house and jail bonds that has ever come into my hands as collector of revenue for 1871, and as treasurer for the years 1872 and 1873, amount to the sum of $37,570, and that I have paid out on 254 bonds $29,599 71

On court-house warrants and coupons 7,236 37 Total amount paid out less commission $36,836 08 Leaving in treasury July 22, 1874 $124 18 All of which is respectfully submitted.

W. C. Lefors, County Treasurer.

It is not known just what the courthouse and jail actually cost the county, but it is estimated that on account of the interest and discount on the bonds actually issued and sold, and the depreciated county scrip, that it cost nearly $60,000. It is, according to the plans and specifications, a three-story brick building, 56×76 feet in size, set on a stone foundation. The first story, twelve feet in height, contains the county offices. halls and stairs; the second story, eighteen feet in height, the courtrooms, and the third story, twelve feet in height, the jail with cells, etc., for prisoners.

Back to: Benton County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.


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