Chris Adams
When a Negative turns out to be Positive
When a Negative turns out to be Positive

Constructed in 1839, the clerk's office on the town square stood as a one-room frame building on the corner of Public Square, adjacent to the 1836 Courthouse. It served as the center of administrative affairs for over two decades until plans for a new office emerged in 1860. However, the Civil War scrapped these plans, leaving the proposed building a mere dream. Despite this setback, the modest structure continued to fulfill its role as the clerk's office for another 13 years post-war, until a new chapter unfolded in 1875.

As time passed, the 1836 Courthouse and its companion, the clerk's office, found themselves under the care of the Washington Public School District with the completion of the 1874 Courthouse. In 1998, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism saw a new purpose for the town square: a public restroom. With the original clerk's office no longer present, a replica emerged, not just as a restroom but also as a space for interpretation, allowing visitors to step back in time and learn about the town's history.

However, a dilemma persisted regarding the authentic appearance of the original building. Unraveling its exact look resembled piecing together a puzzle with missing fragments, hindered by a scarcity of historical documentation. Fragmented memories of J.G.B. Simms, who worked in the office as a teenager, said it was a single-room frame structure on the old Court Square, nestled among catalpa trees. Despite two early 20th-century photographs purportedly depicting the original clerk's office, doubts lingered over their authenticity, especially considering the relocation of a dental office to the area around 1887. These bits of evidence suggested the fate of the original building—a likely demise post-1875, supplanted by a different building.

The scarcity of information surrounding the building provided the park and archaeologists flexibility in developing the site, resulting in a clerk's office replica partitioned down the middle to serve as restrooms for visitors. While the lack of information about the original clerk's office may seem disappointing, it allowed archaeologists and park planners to use negative data to create something positive. It gives them the freedom to install utility lines, reinforce foundations, or undertake reconstruction without fear of disrupting the area's historical integrity. This includes other places around the park. This negative data facilitated the relocation of Williams Tavern, The Woodlawn, and the Crouch Home to their current locations. Thus, archeologists' absence of specific historical findings is only sometimes detrimental and can enable parks and archaeologists to enhance visitor convenience and enrich their overall experience by doing more with the land than they could otherwise. Therefore, this is one of those instances where a negative turns out to be a positive.