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  • Writer's pictureAaron Ruby

Honoring Inheritance: The Mississippi County Courthouse

It is with great honor and privilege we share with you the exciting announcement of this wonderful project being recognized recently with two awards. First, in December of 2022, the project received an Alumni Award from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design for Preservation Design & Adaptive Reuse. In January, 2023, it received the Outstanding New Construction in a Historic Setting Award from Preserve Arkansas, the state's leading advocate for the restoration of Arkansas's historic places.

We are thrilled for our client, the people of Mississippi County, and especially it's elected officials and staff who have long endured a courthouse that was previously in dire condition and woefully inadequate for the court system. While there are numerous, numerous people and entities that should be thanked and recognized, no one deserves more credit than Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson--who's vision and leadership ensured success. Prior to being elected, he ran for the office promising to keep the old courthouse, and he did just that. The issue of keeping and maintaining the old courthouse, versus starting over, was long discussed but Judge Nelson never wavered, due in no small part to the fact that a WWII Medal of Honor recipient, from Blytheville, was buried on the grounds. An exhibit inside the new courthouse displays the actual Medal of Honor received, as well as his Purple Heart. Learn more about Arkansas hero Edgar H. Lloyd here:

Despite the high-quality project beginning just prior to a pandemic, it finished at the end of 2022, within budget, at the insistence of Judge Nelson and members of the Quorum Court.

We encourage all of our readers, especially those in county government, to visit this project when they have a chance. Though originally built to 1922 courthouse standards, it now boasts 2022 courthouse standards, including safer means of separating traffic, particularly detainees, and efficient energy and lighting systems. We believe the historic courtroom, 50'x50'x25' is the largest and grandest in the State of Arkansas. Fitting of such a space, St. Louis Antique Lighting Company fabricated a custom chandelier, appropriate for 1920's spaces such as this. Previously undecorated, the majestic ceiling is the work of Evergreene Architectural Arts of New York.

The project is especially rewarding for us, as architects, because it wasn't too long ago that county courthouses across Arkansas were added to the Most Endangered Places List by Preserve Arkansas. Indeed, to this day, they remain troubled. Some counties have chosen to abandon their courthouses altogether, building cheap replacements. Many others still are partially abandoned while counties are unable to keep up with the maintenance they require. What would our cities and towns be like without their landmark structures, replaced with metal buildings and cookie-cutter chains? Are these the buildings we really want to leave to future generations? Is there not a moral obligation to maintain and preserve the quality structures that our forebears built?

As architects, we can and will design to meet our client's wishes--just think carefully on what you wish for. Building is a very serious endeavor--expensive, in more ways than one. But what do you get in return? Can you put a price on civic pride and identity?

Thank you, Mississippi County, for leading boldly. We are honored to have played a role.

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