The first barracks on this site was completed in 1846 and burned three years later. It was rebuilt and remained in used until the Army left Fort Smith in 1871. In 1872 the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas moved into the building, using one room as a courtroom and the other rooms as offices for the clerk, U.S.Marshall, and U.S. Commissioner. The basement became a primitive jail.
In this building, Judge Issac C. Parker presided over the court cases from 1875-1889. In 1890, the court moved three blocks down the street to a new building. Public clamor over the conditions in the jail, which those confined there called "Hell on the Border," led in 1887 to the construction of a new jail with more modern cell arrangements. This building continued to serve as a federal jail until 1917.
The courthouse, which originally was a 1 1/2-story structure with full porches on two sides, was changed to its present appearance in 1890. The second story was added in 1891 for use as a hospital for the prisoners, and the long porches were removed and replaced with shorter ones.
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Last updated: May 12, 2020