SEARCY — Anyone who walks into the White County Courthouse won’t have to wonder how old the building is. Marble plaques line the inside entrance stating when the courthouse was built — 1870.
Jim Lankford, who held the office of White County Circuit Court clerk from 1971 to 1986, said he’s proud to have worked in the oldest functioning courthouse in the state.
“I ran [for circuit clerk] because I needed a job,” Lankford said.
He said he was a high school teacher before running for the office in 1971. Lankford decided to run when the man who held the office died on Jan. 16, shortly after he was elected.
Lankford grew up in West Point, a community in White County, and taught school in the area.
After teaching in White County for seven years, he taught in New Mexico for a while.
“In May of 1963, [my wife and I] had a 15-month-old son, and my mom broke her hip,” he said.
He moved back to White County and never left.
“The office was open, and I ran for it,” Lankford said. “The farmers of White County elected me.”
He said his father was in the farm credit business for a long time, and Lankford knew many of the farmers in the county because of his father.
As circuit court clerk, Lankford said, he took care of the county’s deeds, mortgages, military discharges, divorces and all the court records.
“[While I was in office], I had three of the finest [deputy circuit clerks] to ever come along,” he said.
Deputy circuit clerks prepare and maintain records that come through the circuit clerk’s office, and Lankford said they took care of anything he needed.
Lankford, now 88, can still go into the file room, where all the records he used to be in charge of are located, and find almost anything.
“It’s a fine old building,” he said. “The bricks were made locally, and the attic has some beams that are 40 feet long.”
Lankford said that when the courthouse was built, there were four rooms, and the courtroom was upstairs in the building.
“No one knows how they got up [to the courtroom],” he said.
Records show no evidence that a staircase ever existed inside the building, Lankford said, but he believes there was a staircase outside the building before additions were made in 1912.
“Most people don’t know the courthouse sits right in the middle of a 10-acre donation given to the city of Searcy by Isaiah Moore,” Lankford said.
Lankford has memories of going to the courthouse long before he worked there.
“I used to sit on the front row [in the courtroom] when my dad was a juror,” he said.
“My favorite part of working in the courthouse was meeting the people,” he said. “I had to be present during circuit court.”
After growing up in White County, Lankford said, he can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“Searcy is home,” he said.