Benton County Courthouses - The first county courthouse was built on the north side of the square in 1837, soon after Benton County was established. It was built by a joint effort of many local citizens. It was only intended to be a temporary building to be used for several years until something more suitable could be built. It was 30’ X 30’, so wasn’t very large. The building was completed by the time the second Benton County Circuit Court met in May of 1838. This courthouse is believed to have burned in 1840, losing the very earliest Benton County documents.
In late 1841, plans were made to build a second courthouse in the middle of the square, where a well once stood on the square. The brick two story structure had a base of 50’ X 50’. Some of the bricks used in the building of this courthouse were stamped 1842. Most bricks used in construction at that time were made on site or in close proximity to the building site. The first story of the building was used as a courtroom, while the second story of the structure was designated as county offices and a jury room. The contractors who built this courthouse were John and William Walker, who are said to have lost money on the building of the courthouse.
During the Civil War, precautions were taken to keep county documents from being destroyed. As a means to that end, Peter Carnahan and John R. Wood took some of these documents to a point near Paris, Texas, to keep them safe. They were buried in a metal vault and were recovered after the war was over.
This building was set on fire and destroyed in December, 1862, during the Civil War. Both sides said the other side had set the building on fire, but most believe that it was Union forces that set fire to the building. During this time many of the older court records were lost, but the deed records and the circuit records that were stored offsite were saved.
After the Civil War, plans were made to build a third courthouse to be used until a better one could be built. It was a temporary two story wood structure that was built in 1866. The cost of the building was in the neighborhood of $1000. The courthouse was located near the northeast corner of the square and was used until a more permanent courthouse could be built. The temporary structure was later moved in 1875 to the Benton County poor farm. Records show that it cost $450.50 to move the building and fit it up for the poorhouse.
In 1871, plans for a fourth courthouse were in the works. Many of the citizens in town thought that the courthouse should be rebuilt in the middle of the square in the location where it had been before the Civil War. Many others felt that the square should be left as a park and gathering place for the people of Bentonville. The county decided in favor of those who wanted the square as a park, and it was determined that the center of the square would always be open.
Four lots were purchased at a cost of $1250 on the northwest corner of the square where the Neighborhood Market complex now stands. Plans were drawn by architect W. R. Ritter, and a $35,000 building estimate was set. In May of 1871, bids were taken for the building of the new courthouse. Neely & Kelton were awarded the contract at a cost of $33,000. The court offered $50,000 in bonds be issued at ten cents each. Neely & Kelton worked on the job until Sept. 1, 1872, when they quit the contract and returned $30,000 in bonds. The building sat with unfinished walls and no roof until May of 1873, when contracts were given to several different contractors to finish up the work. The building was completed in July of 1874, some three years after being started. Here are some of the costs of materials and services for the courthouse: Excavation $150, Stone Walls $1500, Cut Stone $800, Guion Corners $1000, door sills $50, Brick for Walls $8500, Cut Stone Window Sills $300, Well and Pump $100, Rods and Anchors $150, Carpentry Work $1700, Vault Door $1400, Iron Columns $500, Ceiling Joists $160, Oil and Paint $300, 35,000 square feet of lumber $1050, 5000 square feet of Walnut $160. The lumber came from Van Winkle Mill at War Eagle. Because of all the changes in contractors, the actual total cost of the building will never be known exactly, but it is thought to have totaled $60,000 or more.
The building was a three story brick, 56’ X 76” in size, with a stone foundation, and was built in the popular Italianate style. At the top it had a cupola rising from a hipped roof. The bottom level had 12’ high ceilings and housed county offices. The second story had 18’ high ceilings in the courtrooms, while the third story had 12’ ceilings and housed the county jail. At the time it was the tallest building in Benton County. This building was used from 1874 until the current courthouse was built. After the next courthouse was built in 1928, the fate of the old courthouse was uncertain. The county tried to sell the building for $7500 in the hope that someone might use it as a modern business house. For a while, a few businesses were located within this space, possibly a pool hall and a shoe repair shop. It was finally decided to tear the building down, and people were allowed to buy salvage from the building. The only part of the old courthouse that is known to still exist is the bailiff's balcony from the second floor of the courthouse. It can be found on one of the houses on West Central Street.
This building was completed in 1874 and was used as the courthouse until 1928