Jacksonport Courthouse Returned to 'Glory Days'

Article follows the photos:
Living history program at Jacksonport
Living history program at Jacksonport
Living history program at Jacksonport
Living history program at Jacksonport
Jacksonport State Park
Jacksonport State Park
Jacksonport State Park
Jacksonport State Park
June 19, 2001


Jacksonport Courthouse
Returned to 'Glory Days'

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By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

NEWPORT -- When the 1872 Jacksonport Courthouse Museum reopens for preview tours in a few weeks, visitors will be introduced to one of the most exciting restorations in Arkansas history. And, the detailed planning and craftsmanship have taken time.

"The process has been a challenging four years," says Park Superintendent Mark Ballard," but the wait has been worth it, because we will have a fine museum facility for the region and our visitors. It will be here to benefit educational groups and others, featuring a unique method of exploring the past."

Notable changes at the Courthouse restoration include a new mansard roof, a decorative cupola similar to the dome-like structure that originally housed the courthouse bell, and floors of re-milled aged lumber. A 19th century Jacksonport street scene is incorporated into the park's new hand-carved entrance sign. Inside, handsomely fashioned twin spiral staircases take visitors from the entry to the partially furnished courtroom on the second floor. "If These Walls Could Talk" is the theme of the courthouse museum.

The state-of-the-art exhibitry uses first-person dialogue audio, court records and vintage photos to explain Jacksonport's climb from a small riverport in the 1830s, to a center of commerce during the mid-19th century, and its decline after nearby Newport became Jackson County's capital city.

The first room on the guided tour tells the story of Jacksonport's "boom days," during the middle to late 19th century. Wall-sized enlargements of photographs and other exhibits show the town's "hustle n' bustle" commerce, which produced the need for a new courthouse shortly after the Civil War. The story of contractor John A. Schnabel is also illustrated.

The county clerk's office exhibit includes period business furnishings, plus interactive displays on the use of official records to trace family history. Another display studies the people who conducted business at the courthouse.

Across the hall, a volume of memorabilia from the region is displayed in restored cases from the original museum. Items include Civil War papers, Victorian furnishings, maps, books, household items and other pioneer wares. This area will be updated every few months with artifacts from the museum's permanent collection.

The remaining first-floor room is a place for memories, as photos and sounds recall the building's history...from its glory days as a social and political center to the 1940s when it was used as a storage barn. A large colorful drawing of the building reveals its unique architectural features with a fun game for all ages.

Restoration is also nearing completion on the "Mary Wood 2" riverboat, moored on the White River near the Courthouse. The last sternwheeler-riverboat to ply the White River has been fully restored to its "working-days" appearance, and will be ready for tours about the same time the Courthouse re-opens, according to a park spokesperson. Official dedication ceremonies for both restorations will be held within a few months.

The Jacksonport restoration projects were made necessary by a March 1, 1997 tornado that heavily damaged the park and community. Funds for the rebuilding came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Governor's Emergency Fund, a grant from the Natural and Cultural Resources Council, Hartford Insurance Company and the Department of Parks and Tourism.

Jacksonport State Park is located three miles north of Newport, off Arkansas 69. For more information about the park, call 870-523-2143; or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"