1888 Greene County Courthouse

A clocktower has helped turn back the hands of time in Paragould. On July 28, 1995, the clocktower of the Greene County Courthouse returned to Paragould's skyline clashfor the first time in 30 years.

The clocktower had been removed in 1965 by county officials who said that it was cheaper to remove than to repair. For years, the clock had been stopped at 8:25. Several times, the county refused to spend the $1,500 needed to fix it. By the time it was taken down, the clocktower was said to be unsafe. (Picture courtesy of Child Art Studios in Paragould.)

The cupola-topped tower contained a four-faced clock and a bell that marked every hour and half-hour. The bell also rang to signal a 9 pm curfew that meant all children were to be off the streets. Since it was removed, the old bell,now silent, has been displayed on a concrete pedestal near the south door of the courthouse. The original clock faces were given away, one is still in a local garage.

During the spring of 1995, many a passer-by watched as a new tower was being built in the courthouse lawn. Once finished and painted, it was raised to the rooftop by a giant mechanical crane on July 28, 1995.

But before the clocktower was returned to the roof, a crew of four workers spent almost three weeks removing two feet of pigeon droppings from the courthouse attic.

All in all, the courthouse is well on its way to returning to its original 1888 appearance. The removal of a layer of dingy gray stucco has made the buildings original red bricks visible for the first time since World War I. Removal of a 1917 flat-roofed vault annex is planned. Preservationist also hope to restore the iron fence that was put around the court square in 1892. But further work must wait until the county government vacates the building when the new courthouse is completed.

It has not been decided what offices will occupy the old courthouse once the new one is ready. But without the efforts of Mary Ann Schreit, the 19th century building probably would not have survived into the 21st century. In fact, one letter writer suggested to a local newspaper that the county simply videotape the building for future generations to see what it looked like and then tear it down.

The courthouse had been added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1976. But little had been done to preserve or even maintain it. Ceilings had been lowered, stairways moved, service windows cut, wooden "doghouses" added. And, as the county prepared to build a new courthouse, there were many who thought the old one would be torn down. Many thought that it should be torn down. But not Mary Ann Schreit. The story of the 1888 Greene County Courthouse is also a story about how one person can make a difference!

Mary Ann Schreit didn't just believe that the old building should be saved as it looked then, she believed that the clocktower should be put back on top, the stucco removed and the building restored to its 1888 look, all as a tribute to Greene County history.

On August 28, 1992, she asked for help in a front page story in the Paragould Daily Press. Her appeal led to the formation of the Greene County Courthouse Preservation Society. And the rest, as they say, is history. In 1995, Schreit and the courthouse society received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Advocacy from the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, work on the preservation project continues including landscaping plans for the old court square. One feature will be a commemorative sidewalk. Each brick will be inscribed with a name of message designated by the donor.

The story of how the 1888 Greene County Courthouse even came to be in Paragould is an even older story. That story begins a few years earlier on September 1, 1884, when voters decided 943 to 737 to move the county seat from Gainesville to the new railroad town of Paragould.

Greene County had been created by the Arkansas General Assembly in 1833. Gainesville had been the county seat for most of the county's existence, having "gained" that right -- and a town name -- 1840.

But, in the early 1880s, when a new town sprang up at the crossing of tow new railroad tracks, many prominent citizens began making the 12-mile move from Gainesville. The new tow would be named Paragould to honor the presidents of the two railroad companies, J. W. Paramore and Jay Gould. Both rail lines had been built through Arkansas to link Texas and St. Louis.

Paragould was officially incorporated in 1883. By the following year, residents were suggesting that the Greene County government move its offices to Paragould, too. After Paragould won the vote, the county's records and the heavy safe that protected them were moved [also read 1877 Gainesville Safe article].

Construction began in 1887. W. F. Boon and S. R. McGinnis got the contract to build it at a cost of $14,700. Original plans did not include a bell in the clocktower. But the public wanted one, so donations provided the additional $1,000 needed. The courthouse was completed on April 3, 1888.

On April 3, 1993, to call attention to the building's history and the need for its preservation, members of the Greene County Courthouse Preservation Society hosted a birthday party for the building. Because of their efforts, the 1888 Greene County Courthouse will likely have many, many more birthdays to celebrate -- as it continues to grow older with Greene County.

May 1996 Greene County Library

Greene County Library

Greene County Courthouse by  Tim Rand

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