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First Presbyterian Church to become new Boone County courthouse

by Bill Bowden | February 22, 2022 at 7:07 a.m.
File Photo

HARRISON -- Boone County is buying a church to use as its courthouse.

Robert Hathaway, the county judge in Boone County, said the First Presbyterian Church has accepted the county's offer of $4 million for its 33,000-square-foot church building at 220 N. Arbor Drive in Harrison.

The sale must officially be approved by the Presbytery of Arkansas, which has its next meeting scheduled for March 4-5.

Hathaway said the Boone County Quorum Court has authorized him to spend $1.5 million to renovate the church to be used as offices and courtrooms. He said the renovation could take a year, but some offices may move into the building before the work is completed.

Hathaway said there have been problems with the three-story, brick courthouse built in 1909 in the center of the town square, where many county offices are now located.

"Our heater boiler has quit us," he said. "We'd have to have a new one put in. We got an estimate and it was right at $100,000."

Besides that, the building doesn't have an elevator, and an electric chair-lift that runs alongside the stairs is getting old.

"If it breaks down, it may be two days to get parts for it," said Hathaway.

Judy Kay Harris, the Boone County circuit clerk, said she worked in the old courthouse for 10 years. She said it's nice being in the middle of town. Parades pass by.

"It's neat working in the old original building here," said Harris. "However, our computers won't be going down all the time and we'll have heat [in the new building]."

Harris said the electrical system in the old courthouse can't handle space heaters.

Marla Earwood, a deputy clerk who works with land records in the old courthouse, said her son bought her a rechargeable electric vest for Christmas to help her keep warm at work.

Earwood said employees in the courthouse will have mixed emotions about moving. Earwood said her mother worked at a Montgomery Ward store on the downtown square for 25 years. She died in 2020 of the coronavirus.

"It is special," Earwood said of the old courthouse, "but it will be nice to have fresher air to breath, bathrooms and heat. Sometimes we take things like that for granted."

There are bathrooms in the courthouse, just not on the second floor where Earwood works.

Some county offices had moved to the old federal building in Harrison, which was built in 1903, but Hathaway said it's not in good shape either. He said it has structural problems, a leaky roof and an outdated electrical system.

The old federal building had a post office on the first floor and U.S. court on the second floor, according to a plaque on the front. It served as the Harrison post office until 1965.

Hathaway said the county may lease office space in the old courthouse to lawyers or other tenants, but not in the old federal building because of its condition.

"I don't know of anyone who wants to see it torn down," he said. "It's part of the history of Harrison."

The First Presbyterian Church has a tall white steeple near the front of the building.

Hathaway said the church will likely remove its organ. After the renovation, it won't look like court is being held in a sanctuary, he said.

"It's a big sanctuary," said Hathaway. "It'll have high ceilings and all that but we're going to make it look like courtrooms."

Hathaway said the church is essentially one story, with a small upstairs section in the sanctuary. He said the building was constructed in 2007.

Hathaway said all the county offices except for the 911 center will move to the church building. He said the 911 center has its own building.

Daniel Bolen, director of the Boone County Office of Emergency Management, said his office would also remain in the 911 building on Prospect Avenue, and probably the coroner's office as well.

The Boone County sheriff's office has a separate building and jail.

Hathaway said it made more sense for the county to buy an existing building. He said constructing a new one would have required a sales tax increase.

Church officials couldn't be reached for comment.

The existing Boone County Courthouse was designed by architect Charles L. Thompson of Little Rock and is one of the most architecturally significant courthouses in the state, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 21, 1976. The courthouse is one of 70 structures constituting the Harrison Courthouse Square Historic District, which was added to the National Register on May 6, 1999, according to the encyclopedia entry.

Print Headline: Harrison church to turn into county’s courthouse


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