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The Great Courthouse Debate
Arkansas Supreme Court Decision Makes Rison County Seat

Probably the most divisive issue ever to face the voters of Cleveland County was the removal of the county seat from Toledo after the courthouse was destroyed by fire an March 8, 1889. It was a sharply contested matter that continued for years. It has long been believed that the fire at Toledo was the precipitating event leading to removal of the county seat from Toledo to some other place. However, county records indicate that an October 5, 1884, a petition signed by W. H. Barnett and others was presented to County Judge James H. Bridges asking that an election be held an the removal of the county seat from Toledo to Kingsland. Judge Bridges dismissed the petition because of an informality without stating what that informality was. At the Same Session of the county Court another petition was presented. It was signed by John Rutledge and

estimated population of 400 people. Kingsland was incorporated in July of 1884 and had a population of 464 in 1890. There is no evidence that New Edinburg was euer incorporated. It had not been enumerated separately by the U. S. Census Bureau except as part of a township. Beasley's Switch was neuer a recognized community in Cleveland County. It was, however, what the name implies, a siding an the Cotton Belt Railroad. In the spring of 1889 a bitter, spirited and politically hot campaign was conducted with each of the four contenders vying with each other for the county seat. Charges and countercharges were hurled Back and forth. Some factions were canvassing the county circulating incorrect reports about each other. One Charge was that the Rison people had deliberately burned the county courthouse at Toledo so that Rison could become the county seat. In 1889 New

Edinburg had raised $2500 cash to be applied to a courthouse if selected as the new county seat. It was argued that Beasley's Switch was a swamp and would not be a healthy place because it harbored malaria. There was some question as to whether the courthouse would be located an the east or west side of the railroad. Apparently a group of people consisting of Messers. Boyd, Amis, Barnett, Bridges, McLeod, Mullis, Kendal, Hilliard and Johnson had teamed up to form a real estate development plan to sell Lots and acreage if the seat was located at Beasley's Switch. Some referred to Beasley's Switch as the "switch swamp."The people at Kingsland argued that they were an older, more prosperous and better developed community than Rison. They also argued that if Rison were selected there would be mal-administration of county affairs and county indebtedness for years to

others asking the Court to call for an election for the removal of the county seat from Toledo to Rison. Judge Bridges dismissed this petition an the grounds that it was not signed by one-third of the qualified voters of the county.
It was reported in the Arkansas Gazette in June of 1884 that a petition had been prepared for Submission to the county Court of Dorsey County to decide the question of removing the county seat from Toledo to Dansby an the St. Louis and Texas (Cotton Belt) Railway.
Rison, Kingsland, Beasley's Switch and New Edinburgh became the main contenders for the county seat. Rison, at the time, was an unincorporated town and was the newest settlement in the area. It was not incorporated until August of 1890, at which time it had an

SECOND COUNTY COURTHOUSE -After the first courthouse was destroyed by fire at Toledo, the second courthouse, pictured above, was built at Rison. This building was eventually dismantled about 1910 to make way for the current courthouse. The salvaged lumber was used to build a home for the Ben Smith family.

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