Eastern District of Craighead County
Craighead County is unique in many ways, one of which is the fact that it still maintains a dual county seat system, one in Jonesboro and the other in Lake City. The county has been the only one in the state, and perhaps the nation, that elects a deputy sheriff and deputy clerk for each location.
Dewaine Malone serves as the Eastern District deputy sheriff and Lesia Couch serves as Eastern District deputy clerk at the Lake City Courthouse. A revenue office also located at the courthouse and Jamie Wallace serves as office clerk.
Craighead County was created Feb. 19, 1959, from territory taken from Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties.
The site now occupied by the City of Jonesboro was near the center of the county while Lake City is on the eastern side, near the banks of the St. Francis River. In the 1800s the land between Jonesboro and Lake City was an almost impassable swamp and residents found it difficult to travel to the county seat to transact business. A campaign was begun to establish a courthouse at Lake City to relieve residents of the long difficult trip between the two towns.
On March 16, 1883, Act LXI was signed into law creating the "Eastern District of Craighead County." The Act provided for the establishment of a courthouse at Lake City. The first courthouse was located on the ground floor of the Masonic Lodge Hall, on East Main Street near the riverfront downtown. The courthouse occupied those quarters until 1892 when it was moved to a two-story house on Main Street, a short distance from its former location. These rented quarters were occupied until 1901, when a large two-story courthouse was erected on the town square. It was renovated several times and the exterior changed, but it remained the oldest wooden courthouse structure in the state until 1998. A new city municipal building was later constructed on the site of the old wooden courthouse.
The Arkansas Bank on Cobean Boulevard in Lake City was purchased and renovated in 1998 to house the current courthouse and offices and the courtroom were moved to that location.
Residents of the Eastern District take great pride in their courthouse and all the history that goes with the area.
The only known map of the eastern district division line was printed by Craighead County tax collector Andrew Easton of Jonesboro. Easton worked in the collector's office for 56 years, serving in the elected position of county tax collector from 1942-1988. He printed the complimentary maps during the early years of his career and they are still used in Craighead County offices today as a reference. Only the elections of the Eastern District deputy sheriff and clerk are restricted to voters in the district today.
"The line between the eastern and western districts has now become some what an imaginary line," Craighead County Clerk Nancy Nelms said. "We have no intention to change things with having a clerk in the eastern district, as that office is very important to us. They are knowledgeable about their area and provide a valuable service to the county as a whole."
Craighead County deputy sheriff Terry McNatt undertook a project to locate photos of all former Eastern District deputy sheriffs and define their terms of office.
"Every time I entered the Craighead County sheriff's offices in Jonesboro, I would look up on the wall to the right of the entrance and view the framed pictures of former Craighead County sheriffs," McNatt said. "I was always so impressed with the effort that went into preserving part of our historic past. I have looked at those pictures hundreds of times.
"After taking office as Eastern District deputy sheriff, I found myself curious about former officers who had served before me," McNatt said. "People on this side of the county have long looked at the eastern district deputy as their sheriff. I can recall, years ago, that if you told someone to call the sheriff, they would immediately call Bill Hook. They thought of him as their sheriff. They knew him personally. He held that position for 28 years. Historically, people in the eastern district did their business at Lake City Courthouse without having to make their way along bad roads into Jonesboro. That's why this courthouse existed in the first place, as a convenience to the people in the eastern side of the county."
In 1997 McNatt enlisted the help of Lake City librarian Donna Rolland, Karen Burris, and Wanda Shasteen to help find service years and photos. Writings of historian Plug Eaton were also used. A special photo gallery has been established in the entrance of the courtroom at the current Eastern District Courthouse on Cobean Boulevard in Lake City.
Former Eastern District deputy sheriffs photo gallery includes: J.W. Mead 1883-1888; T.H. Powell 1889-1902; W.Y. Nash 1903-1906; W.W. Byrd 1907-1916; R.I. Braden 1917-1920; Howard Powell 1921-1924; J.H. Jenkins 1925-1928; Roger Steele 1929-1932; Marvin Phillips 1933-1936; George Spencer 1937-1938; Homer Stewart 1939-1940; J.W. Mooneyham 1941-1946; L.F. Baker 1947; Marvin Phillips 1947-1956; Eddy Powell 1957-1958; Bill Hook 1959-1987; Bud Moxley 1988-1996; Dale Haas 1996-1997; Terry McNatt 1997-1999; Bud Moxley 1999-2000 and Dewaine Malone 2001-2010. Garland Tipton of Caraway will take office in January 2011 and will join the ranks of the historic deputies who went before him.
Lake City began as just a small village and has developed into a fast-growing municipality. The St. Francis River was once a natural dividing line between sides of the county. The William Tweedle and John McBroom families operated ferries across the river until a one-lane wooden bridge was built in 1898. A second one-lane bridge with turn-outs was built in 1912. A concrete drawbridge was built to span the river in 1934. It served the eastern district well until the new four-lane bridge was completed in 1998.
In true fashion eastern district residents refused to let a chance to preserve history pass them by. Riverside teacher Brenda Hutcheson spearheaded a move to preserve the steel drawbridge portion of the bridge as an historical marker. The Arkansas Department of Transportation lifted the steel drawbridge off its foundation by using a crane, as construction of the new bridge was in progress, and placed it on a new platform east of the bridge. No access was provided for the drawbridge site, but it remains in place as a permanent marker for its 64 years of service to the eastern district.
A St. Francis River bridge dedication was held at the new bridge on April 1, 1999. Riverside School students presented a program, with special guests and students in attendance. When the ribbon was cut across the new bridge, it was opened for traffic for the first time.
The distance between Jonesboro and Lake City limits is now less than three miles. Lake City has often been referred to as "The Gateway to Buffalo Island," as it sits on the westward entrance to the historic territory. Historians and residents of the eastern district remain determined to preserve its history and salute its contribution to the overall progress of Craighead County.