DeSoto Parish Courthouse history is live and in living color

The original DeSoto Parish Courthouse, in Mansfield, Louisiana
The original DeSoto Parish Courthouse, in Mansfield, Louisiana

Live and in living color, the very first ever courthouse to serve the parish of DeSoto in Northwest Louisiana stands rather proudly just a few blocks away from the current parish courthouse.

I’ve seen this courthouse a few times, and am always impressed that the parish has been able to keep it looking so good all of these years.  Yes, it could use a little work, but it is over 150 years old!

I only realized last week there was much more to this story than restore and preserve…

We filmed the old courthouse recently and then I looked online for some basic details of the courthouse put with the video… Basically any details beyond what is on the signage at the old courthouse building.

The log cabin type courthouse was used from 1843 (when the parish was founded) until 1854.  In 1854, a new more modern courthouse was built and it was used until 1911, when the current courthouse was built.  For its age, the current courthouse appears in very good condition, but I am hardly a courthouse expert… nor for that matter am I an expert in architecture or building infrastructure of any sort.

The original courthouse was restored by the DeSoto Historical Committee in 1989.  A plaque on the front of the courthouse lists the names of Eileen Latham Nabors and Raymond Powell.

All these details are present on site, within signage on and in front of the courthouse building.

What I didn’t know, until looking online, was that the courthouse was actually found “inside” an old home which was being torn down in the 80s.  Okay, so that really piqued by interest.  I scoured the Internet hoping for more details.  But there were few to be found.

Leland Ross Hewitt
Leland Ross Hewitt

I did find that the home belonged to Leland Ross Hewitt (1895-1967), who was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force and a veteran of World War I and World War II.

That was pretty much the extent of what I was able to find.  Back in my newspaper days, I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with the Editor of The Mansfield Enterprise, Vickie Welborn, and even though she has moved up in the world and I have not, she is still kind enough to let me pick her brain once in a while.  So I asked her about this… she recalled the discovery of the courthouse in the 80s.

She recalled that Hewitt’s house was built around the courthouse.  The courthouse didn’t look like a courthouse, more like a log cabin.  Hewitt’s home was at the corner by the old Nabor’s Trailers site.  The courthouse was salvaged and stored, and reassembled where it is currently located with the help of a local builder who was able to use old fashioned techniques to restore it.

Back to the beginning, the log courthouse came to be after DeSoto Parish was created from the parishes of Natchitoches and Caddo, by Louisiana Act 88 in the year 1843.  In June of that year, the first meeting of the parish officers was held in Screamerville, two miles west of Grand Cane.  It was settled that Mansfield would be the new seat of the parish of DeSoto land at that time, a quarter section of land was purchased at the present site of Mansfield and lots on which to build a log courthouse and jail were sold (the price for the two buildings being $900).  The first term of court was held in the building on August 5, 1843.

Today, the building is located on Hwy. 84 (Polk Street) just a couple blocks away from the “new” courthouse.  It had been restored using over $30,000 in funds allocated to preserve the building’s history.  Apparently, for many years, visitors could go into the building and view artifacts within the historical structure.  Volunteers mostly enabled the building to open to the public a few hours throughout the week, but it has not been open in a while.  That’s a bummer, because I really want to see more history… live and in living color.  Now, I look at its really cool exterior and am left only to my own imagination of what is inside that way old treasure of a building.

 

 

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