Johnson County was formed by the Legislature, November 16, 1833. Its southern boundary was defined November 2, 1885. Its eastern boundary was defined October 5, 1836. The line between Johnson and Franklin Counties was defined December 14, 1838, and on the same date of 1848. The line between Johnson and Pope Counties was defined February 19, 1859, and again March 27. 1871, and was re-established March 6, 1875, and changed March 9, 1877.
The first courts of this county were held at Old Spadra, a part of the time in Alston's Store. The seat of justice was permanently located at Clarksville, and the first court there was held in the fall of 1837 in a building on the site of Pennington's Store. Later courts were held in a building where the Floyd Residence now stands. The 'square' was devoted to county uses, and in its center a frame courthouse was erected about 1838 or 1839, so old citizens say, which did service until it was destroyed by fire in May, 1872. A stone jail was built about the same time, a little back from the street, on the south side of the square. This was in use for many years until torn down.
At the January term, 1872, Thomas B. Paine, jail commissioner, reported to the county court that, in pursuance of instructions, he had sold the old county jail lots to John C. Hill, and had purchased new jail lots from Francis M. Paine and wife. The sale was made for $75 and the purchase for $125. The county court house was burned March 2, 1872, and on that day it was ordered by the county judge that Robert F. Naylor be appointed a commissioner to procure 'suitable rooms for clerk's office, court rooms and rooms for grand and petit juries and to repair and fit said rooms for their respective purposes and to report his expenditures and procedings at the next April term of the county court.' Mr. Naylor seems not to have completed this at the expected time, for it was not until the July term that he made his report to the effect that he had rented the rooms above M. Rose's store for court room, and clerk's office, and the adjoining room for a jury room, at $20.50 per month for all of them.
November 19, 1874, the court appointed John M. Armstrong commissioner for the purpose of building a county jail, and authorized to prepare a plan and let the contract for the erection of the same. At the July term, 1873, the clerk had presented a copy of a report made by the grand jury to the Johnson Circuit Court at its March term, that year, recommending the building of a jail. At the January term, 1874, the petition for a jail had been by the board of supervisors continued to next session. At the April term, 1874, the consideration of the jail petition had been again postponed. So late as the October term, 1874, the jail cause had been discontinued by the board. The order of November, 1874, seems to have been a spasmodic and unproductive movement. At times since, the grand jury has recommended the building of a county jail, but no active steps have been taken to that end, and the records do not bear another similar order. Johnson County confines its prisoners in the State Penitentiary at Little Rock.
April 18, 1872, it was ordered by the court that a new court house be erected at the seat of justice, and John S. Houston was appointed commissioner of public buildings, and required to submit to the county court at its adjourned session, May 10, following, a plan of the building to be erected, and a statement of the dimensions thereof, and of the material of which it was to be constructed, and an estimate of its probable cost. May 10 it was ordered that the commissioner of public buildings for the county of Johnson proceed without delay to complete, with detailed drawings and specifications, the plans of a court house adopted by the court. After the completion of said drawings and specifications the commissioner was required to give notice for at least thirty days in three newspapers, soliciting proposals to build said court house agreeably to the plans and specifications adopted by the court. After the expiration of the thirty days' notice, the commissioner was instructed to open and carefully consider all proposals offered, and award the contract to such bidder as might, in his opinion, secure the early completion of the building, and protect the best interests of the county. July 3 the commissioner of public buildings presented to the court proposals by different parties to build the court house, and it appearing that some parties had put in their bids or proposals for currency and for bonds, and other parties for currency alone, it was ordered that further time be granted, and the commissioner notify those that had put in their bids in currency alone to again put in their bids in bonds. At the October term Mr. Houston reported that the lowest bid was that of A. J. Millard and R. S. King, of Little Rock, who entered into a contract for the erection of the building as follows: 'This article of agreement made and entered into this second day of September, 1872, by and between the honorable county court, of Johnson County, Ark., as party of the first part, and Willard and King, of Little Rock, Ark., as principals, and W. A. Stuart, E. M. Phillips, Benjamin Thomas and D. P. Upham, of Little Rock, as security, as party of the second part witnesseth that the party of the second part agree, and hereby bind themselves to furnish all the materials and labor necessary to erect and finish complete the two story brick court house building to be erected for the party of the first part at Clarksville, Johnson County, Ark., according to the drawings and specifications prepared therefor by John D. Edwards, architect, Little Rock, Ark., and which are signed and made a party of this agreement, for and in consideration of the sum of $30,875, said amount to be paid as hereinafter provided. The party of the second part also agrees that the work shall be commenced on or before the first day of February, 1873; that it shall be in strict conformity to the drawings and specifications, and that the whole job shall be pushed on to completion as rapidly as possible consistent with its own durability and safety, and shall be finished, complete in every particular, on or before the first day of December, 1873. It is mutually agreed that the work shall be under the supervision and direction of Col. John S. Houston, duly appointed by the court as commissioner of public buildings, or his successors in office. It is furthermore mutually agreed that if the party of the first part shall at any time desire any changes in either the quantity or quality of the work, they shall be acceded to and executed by the party of the second part without in any way violating or vitiating this contract, but the value of all such changes must be agreed upon and endorsed upon this contract before going into execution, or no allowance will be made for them by either party. In consideration of the prompt and faithful performance of the foregoing terms and conditions, the said party of the first part agrees and hereby binds himself to pay to the said party of the second part the aforesaid sum of $30,875, to be paid in the following manner, to wit: $5,000 when the foundation walls are ready for the first tier of joists; $5,000 when the second tier of joists is in place; $5,000 when the walls are finished and the roof framing is done and up; $4,000 when the floors are laid and partitions built and roof entirely finished; $3,000 when the cornice and outside work of the building are completed; $2,700 when the plastering is finished and the sashes are in; $6,175 when the building is completed according to this contract and specifications herewith attached. It is hereby understood between the parties of the first and second parts, that each and every payment to be made as above enumerated will be in bonds of Johnson County, State of Arkansas, under and by virtue of an act passed by the Legislature of the State of Arkansas, and approved March 28, 1871, authorizing the county courts of the several counties of the State of Arkansas, to issue bonds to build a court house and jail in the above mentioned counties. In witness whereof we have hereunto affixed our signatures and seals this twentieth day of September, A. D. 1872.' This contract was accepted by the court, and a bond for its fulfillment was entered into, signed by A. J. Millard, R. L. King, W. A. Stuart, E. M. Phillips, Benjamin Thomas and D. P. Upham. Col. Houston resigned the position of commissioner of public buildings, February 14, 1873, and was succeeded by R. S. Crampton. At the October term, 1873, the time for the completion of the court house was extended to June 30, 1874. When completed the structure was duly accepted by the county. It is one of the best and most expensive court houses in the state, solid, artistic and convenient, and reflects great credit upon the county of whose enterprise it is a monument. The indebtedness incurred by the issue of county bonds to meet the expenses of its erection was paid promptly, and with comparative ease.
The several political townships into which the county is divided are named Howel, McKennon, Pittsburg, Perry, Hickey, Piney, Pilot Rock, Spadrs, Sherman, Prairie, Ward, Grant, Stonewall, Horsehead, Batson, Low Gap, Mulberry, Hill, Lee and King.