Arkansas City became the county seat in 1879 after the town of Napoleon, the original seat, was engulfed by the Mississippi River in 1874. Arkansas City, however, has never grown to be the boom city that Napoleon was before its demise. After the first courthouse on this site was destroyed, Little Rock architect Harding designed this two-and-a-half-story courthouse in a mildly Romanesque Revival style. The main body of the white-painted brick building has a small undistinguished portico, windows of various sizes and shapes, and a massive four-story square clock tower that almost overwhelms the building. Decorative patterns are worked into the brick. Unlike other courthouses in Arkansas, entrance to the courtroom from the staircase is direct, without a vestibule, and the circuit clerk’s office was awkwardly placed beyond it. Arkansas City’s remote location on the eastern border of the county saw few court cases tried here, and in 1953 the county constructed a building in the more centrally located Mc-Gehee to house a courtroom, judges’ chambers, and supporting rooms.
On the courthouse grounds is the childhood home of John Johnson, moved here from its original location in Arkansas City. Johnson was the founder in 1942 of the Johnson Publishing Company, the largest blackowned publishing company in the nation, producing Ebony and Jet magazines among many other publications. The house is a small wooden structure with a gabled front porch. One block to the northeast of the courthouse on President Street, the former Arkansas City High School (1910, Clyde A. Ferrell) is a neat red brick Renaissance Revival building with a tower in the center of the facade. The school closed in the 1983, and unlike many redundant schools that get demolished, this one survived and was renovated in 2005 as a courthouse annex.