"East is East and West is West"…
The Arkansas General Assembly, spurred by passes to the legislators that were handed out mid-March, organized Clayton County on March 24, 1873. Three commissioners set the county seat at Corning and the first term of court was held here on March 16. No courthouse had been built, but it was a cloudless day, in Spring, so the session convened under the trees of Young's Grove, later to become Court Square.
Construction of a courthouse was authorized and a frame two room structure, 22 by 40 feet, materialized on Block 20 at the intersection of West First and Main. The next Winter session found the Crowley Ridge part of the county cut off from Corning by the impassable Cache and Black Rivers and the roads that had no bottom. To get to Corning those with court business had to travel the hill roads to Dexter, Mo. and take the C & F through Poplar Bluff to Corning. They demanded that the County Seat be more accessible and in the election of June 30, 1874, the vote for removal showed a majority of 316 the new county seat was to be moved to Boydsville, a new settlement on the Western rim of, Crowley's Ridge! Possession was nine points, or more, of the law, so Corning refused to give up their proud possession, and it was made known that anyone trying to move the county records would be guest of honor at tar and feathers party- with necktie termination if, deemed necessary - so the status quo remained until a second election on May 22, 1877, when there was such a majority - Corning claimed everyone on the Ridge had voted at least twice, that the move was made, even the iron cages from the County Jail were yanked out and moved to the new town!
After Corning calmed down and quit cussing the hillbillies for the dastardly deed, constructive measures began-Young's Addition, with three blocks of the 1872 plat of Corning, blocks 8, 9 and 24 on the West side were incorporated. Block 93 was set aside for a court house. The $300 purchase price paid by Corning citizens and political pressure started on the Legislature to divide the county into Western and Eastern Districts, with separate, but equal courthouses. J. C. Hawthorne of Corning was elected to the Senate in 1880 and on February 23, 1881, the districts were set up, although Corning had to compromise and accept deputy county officers instead of electing them. Corning raised money for the Western District ledgers, a frame courthouse matching the facility in Boydsville was ready for use in the Fall term of Court in 1881 which was a real curtain raiser-the murder trial of Bent Taylor!
Law in the Western District had been impossible with no officer above Justice of the Peace status available West of Black River. The Ku Klux began to take over in 1877 with the bushwhacking of Judge Buck Kilgore . . . he was shot through the kitchen window of his home and the gunman never apprehended! By the end of the 70s all of the Western District was terrorized, whippings, tar and feather parties, hangings were meted out to any citizen who talked too much or who had offended the Klan. The main Clan - Knights of the Southern Cross, was located near Palatka. Bent Taylor, a young desperado, aged 23, was the leader, and the murder of Riley Black at the close of 1880 brought his downfall. Taylor was hanged in a dramatic episode in 1882. Another Ku Klux was hanged in January 1885 before law was restored to this side of the county!
The old courthouse served until the close of the century and is pictured here as it stood on the corner of West Second and Chestnut, serving as Corning's first apartment house, two apartments up and two down. Razed during the depression days of the 30's.