(Picture courtesy of Child Art Studios in
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 for 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.
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
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
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]