Union County Courthouse: El Dorado

Yes, that’s right, we are still in El Dorado, Arkansas, where I plan to spend my next 4-day weekend.  Not only is there a lot to see there (and I confess, I am more into seeing than doing at the moment), El Dorado has a great “come-back” story.Union County Courthouse 2Overlooking the fact that it was Christmas season, thus accounting for all that tinsel and lights hanging all over the beautiful front facade of the courthouse, there is something else unique about this courthouse square.  Unique, that is, unless you are from Tupelo, but I will get back to that.

The 1928 4-story Classical Revival, cut limestone block courthouse was designed by Petersen and Mann and Stearn and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  That’s Mann as in George R. Mann of “Mississippi and Arkansas capitol fame” as Thomas Rosell pointed out earlier in the week.  While the Union County courthouse was not one of the New Deal courthouses, it has its role in the architectural history of the Depression-era buildings, in Arkansas as elsewhere.

The courthouses built in Arkansas during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) reflect shifting styles and attitudes in American society.  The courthouses constructed before the New Deal were showplaces meant to convey a sense of grandeur and to evoke the Founding Fathers through the Colonial Revival style or the ancient Greeks through the Classical Revival style.

The Union County Courthouse in El Dorado (NR listed June 30, 1983) is a good example of such efforts.  Built in 1927-28, the structure features Greek Ionic columns, recalling the greatness of the ancient Greek philosophers and builders that many Americans so greatly admired.” (Latimer, F. A. 2001. Arkansas listings in the National Register of Historic Places: The influence of the New Deal on Arkansas Courthouse Design. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. pp. 420-424.)

Like many other small towns in America, hard times fell on El Dorado both in the Great Depression years, and again in the 1960s and 1970s when shopping tended to move to the outskirts of town for better parking and malls and strip centers.  The downtown was depleted by 1979, with only 35% occupancy (mainstreeteldorado.org).  The revitalizing effort began in 1987.  They now produce several annual events that attract tourists, have gained jobs, and new buildings, and have rehabilitated 134 buildings, with a 0% downtown vacancy rate (mainstreet.org).

John Henry said,

…its downtown is full of unique retail shops, restaurants, pubs–and, well, life. (arkansasbusiness.com, 02/21/2005)

El Dorado’s downtown claims over 65 unique retail businesses, 10 restaurants, pubs, some with live music, banks, and headquarters of several major corporations.  They were listed in  America’s best small town comebacks on CNN.com on March 12, 2013.

Come on ya’ll–go take a look.  And what is unique on that sqaure?  If you have been to downtown Tupelo, you’ve seen it there:

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