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Our Historical City

Benard de la Harpe, a Frenchman, leading an exploration party up the Arkansas River in 1772, noted the first outcropping of the rock he had seen along the banks since leaving New Orleans. He reportedly called it 'la petite roche' or 'the little rock,' to distinguish it from a larger cliff across the river. The area was largely wilderness, inhabited by the Quapaw or Arkansa Indians, and had been explored by Spanish gold hunters and by itinerant hunter-trappers. The country became a part of the Territory of Louisiana, owned by Spain and then by France, from who it was purchased in 1803. When Louisiana became a State in 1812, Arkansas became part of the Missouri Territory, changing to the Arkansas Territory in 1819, when Missouri was accepted as a State. In 1806, eight (8) North Carolina families settled twelve (12) miles upstream from the 'little rock' and called their village Crystal Hill. Later, several families moved twenty-three (23) miles further up the river and formed the settlement of Cadron. In addition, there were several other families scattered throughout the area.

In 1812, William Lewis, a hunter-trapper, came up the Arkansas River with his family and became the City's first settler. He built a clapboard shack, which was the first house in the present City of Little Rock. Lewis stayed for three (3) months, and then sold his pre-emption claim to Elisha White in 1814, who in turn sold the claim in 1820 to William Russell, a St. Louis land speculator.

Until 1820, there were no permanent settlers at 'The Rock.' When the British traveler and naturalist Thomas Nuttall visited the area in the spring of 1819, he met Colonel Edmund Hogan, who was operating a ferry at the 'The Rock,' and on his return visit in January 1820, he discovered a group of men contemplating the establishment of a town on the site.

'Little Rock' had become a well-known crossing when the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819. The permanent settlement of 'The Rock' began in the spring of 1820, and the first building has been described as a cabin, or shanty, and was built on the bank of the river near the 'Rock.' In March 1820, a Post Office was established at the 'Rock' with the name 'Little Rock' and Amos Wheeler was appointed as the Postmaster of the new community. In addition, Mr. Wheeler acted as an agent for William O'Hara, another St. Louis land speculator. Although Mr. O'Hara had no pre-emption claims on the 'Rock,' he did have at least four (4) 'New Madrid Certificates' in his possession. The New Madrid Certificates were issued by the United States Government as a result of a horrifying series of earthquakes during the years of 1811 and 1812, and centered on the New Madrid region in what is now the southeastern corner of the State of Missouri. The destruction was tremendous, and a large amount of land in the Mississippi Valley was ruined. The United States Congress offered relief to the farmers and settlers in this area by giving them New Madrid Certificates, which allowed them to relocate on any public land in the Missouri Territory, which included Little Rock at the time. The only stipulation was that the recipients of the certificates had to survey and claim the land; however, the claims were transferable. In his spare time as Postmaster, Mr. Wheeler surveyed the land around the community and by May 1820, he had recorded three (3) certificates.

At the same time, the population of Little Rock had grown to nine (9) men. Wheeler made a written proposal to the new Arkansas Territorial Legislature that the Territorial Capitol be moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock. He included an offer to donate land for public squares and buildings if the Capitol was moved. The Legislature debated Wheeler's proposal, with the majority preferring to move the Capitol to Cadron, a new community upriver from Little Rock on the north bank of the Arkansas River. The Legislature hesitated and the decision was postponed until a special session was held that October. William Russell, who held the pre-emption claims for the 'riverfront and the choicest parts of Little Rock,' learned of Wheeler's activity, and threatened him and the other New Madrid claimants with lawsuits for trespassing. He later joined in lobbying the Territorial Legislators.

When the Legislature met in October 1820, it was discovered that a number of its members had recently acquired lots in Little Rock. During the session, the Legislature voted to temporarily move the Arkansas Territorial Capitol to Little Rock and the County Seat of Pulaski County to Cadron. The New Madrid claimants at Little Rock began building cabins for the arrival of the new government; however, William Russell filed suit against the New Madrid claimants and won a victory on a technical point. The settlers in Little Rock were both disgusted and despondent and in a mass meeting in February 1821, they voted to change the name of the new Capitol to 'Arkopolis.' By April 1821, the citizens of Arkopolis learned that William O'Hara had sold his interest in the New Madrid Certificates and that William Russell was coming with his men to take possession of their town. A compromise was reached, and in October 1821, the Territorial Capitol was moved to Little Rock.

In April 1861, the telegraph line brought news to Little Rock of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and of President Abraham Lincoln's call to the States for men to defend the Union. This call for men included Arkansas, and was highly unpopular in both Little Rock and the State, especially after the State of Tennessee seceded. On May 8, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the Union. Secession had an immediate effect on Little Rock, as business came to a standstill. State taxes were tripled in 1861 and doubled in 1862 to finance the war.

By September 10, 1863, the Union Army occupied Little Rock. A young seventeen (17)-year old boy, David O. Dodd, was visiting Little Rock for the Christmas holidays, and was arrested afterwards as he returned to his family behind enemy lines. Coded papers were found in his boot and he was accused of being a Confederate Spy. He was returned to Little Rock, tried and sentenced to be hanged on January 8, 1864. At his hanging, seeing that the hangman had forgotten to bring along a blindfold, young Dodd is stated to have said, "Sir, you will find a handkerchief in my coat." David O. Dodd is one of the heroes of Little Rock, and is buried in the City's Mount Holley Cemetery, located on Broadway Street between 11th and 13th Streets.

Although the State's Confederate Government continued to operate from the town of Washington in southwest Arkansas, a Provisional (Union) State Government was set up at Little Rock in 1864 with a new Constitution and with Isaac Murphy as Governor. Murphy had been the only delegate to vote against succession at the second State Convention in 1861, and had previously been appointed as Governor by President Lincoln in 1863. Ironically the United States Congress refused to recognize Governor Murphy, the Provisional Government or the new 1864 State Constitution.

The Confederate Army in Arkansas surrendered on May 26, 1865. A new cemetery was built and in it are the graves of 2,000 Union soldiers and 2,000 Confederate soldiers.

Under the Reconstruction Act of March 1867, the State Government and all of its Municipal Governments in Arkansas were considered illegal. The State Legislature was not permitted to meet again; nevertheless, State and Local Officials continued to serve on an interim basis until new governments could be organized.

In January 1868, by General Order No 43, the Military District convened in a State Constitutional Convention at Little Rock. This convention of reconstructed delegates drew up a new State Constitution for Arkansas, which was placed before legal voters (those registered by the Military District) for ratification in the March general elections. The Military District did not announce the results of the voting until a month later, and the citizens of Little Rock were surprised to learn that not only had a new State Constitution been adopted, but that all the State offices had been won by Republican candidates.

In June 1868, the United States Congress recognized the State Government and admitted its representatives to Congress. This Government was referred to as the 'Reconstruction Government.' An Arkansas Gazette editorial of 1870 offers insight to the feeling in Little Rock at the time, "The men now ruling are mostly parasites of fungus growth, the loathsome products of other soils. Without any character in their native states, they have left there to seek a land where under the shadow of Federal bayonets they can plunder a helpless people."

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Dates of Interest:

December of 1821: The Arkansas Gazette moved to Little Rock from Arkansas Post.

Summer of 1822: The first steamboat, 'The Eagle,' reached Little Rock, seventeen (17) days after leaving New Orleans, Louisiana.

1831: The Town of Little Rock was incorporated and Dr. Matthew Cunningham won the first mayoral election. The new town government imposed poll taxes: .25¢ for each slave; .50¢ for each voter; and $10.00 for each merchant.

1833: The Old Statehouse was started by Territorial Governor John Pope and completed in 1840 after Arkansas became a State.

1835: The Territorial Capitol was moved from Capital Avenue to the corner of 3rd and Cumberland Streets.

1835: Little Rock was incorporated as the first City in the Arkansas Territory.

June 15, 1836: Arkansas was admitted to the Union as a State.

1836 - 1840: The City experienced rapid growth during this time, which ceased after the effects of the financial panic of 1837 were felt. A spurt of growth occurred again in the 1850's and again after the Civil War during the 1870's when an influx of immigrants and former Union soldiers came to settle permanently.

By 1840: Pope, Russell, Stevenson, and Rectortown Additions had been added to the City.

1841: The Anthony House, Little Rock's most popular hotel during the nineteenth century, was opened.

August 1853: The first 'free' public school was opened in Little Rock.

August 1860: The Little Rock Gas Plant was completed and began operation.

January 1861: The first telegraph line was completed in Little Rock.

June 29, 1865: Reconstruction began in Arkansas.

1866: The Little Rock Police Department was created.

1867: Daily mail service was restored to the City.

1867: The first Negro school in Little Rock was opened.

1869: The Little Rock Public School System was organized and started operations.

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1870: Street addresses were numbered for the first time.

October 2, 1871: The Arkansas Democrat began publication.

1873: The Iron Mountain Railroad, now the Missouri Pacific, arrived in Little Rock by building the Baring Cross Bridge. The bridge was the City's first permanent bridge across the Arkansas River, and was named after the Baring Brothers Banking Company of London, England, who financed the project.

1876: Mule drawn cars were instituted for public transportation.

1877: Street cars first appeared on Main Street.

1878: 'The Year of the Yellow Fever.' The population of Memphis, Tennessee, was virtually depleted that year by the epidemic. All steamboat traffic between Little Rock and Memphis was suspended, and all trains between the two cities were discontinued, with the exception of one freight train per week. The quarantine was so effective that the City of Little Rock suffered not one 'reported' case of yellow fever.

1879: The first telephone exchange was opened. 'The Little Rock Exchange' had ten (10) subscribers, and later became a part of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.

1879: The United Stated Weather Bureau was opened in Little Rock.

1879: The University of Arkansas School of Medicine was opened.

1881: The United States Courthouse and Post Office at Second and Center Streets opened.

1884: A water system was put in

1886: Electric service was introduced to Little Rock, and in 1888, the City built four (4) star lights to illuminate the streets at night.

1887: The first streets in Little Rock were paved with cobblestones.

1887: The new game of baseball had become popular and in April 1887, the Southwestern Baseball League was organized. Horse racing was also a big event of this time.

1888: The 'Old' County Court House at 2nd and Spring Streets was completed, and is still in use today.

1888: The first sewer pipes were laid and the first concrete sidewalks were built.

1888: New steam transportation system was introduced; the system was later electrified and the company started generating its on electricity. In 1926, both the transit company and the generating company became part of the Arkansas Power and Light Company.

1889: Electric Trolleys were used for public transportation.

1890(s): Development of the Pulaski Heights Area began.

1890's: Mardi Gras was one the big holidays of Little Rock in the 1890's. At the celebration in 1898, more than 10,000 people participated.

1890: Individuals living across the river from Little Rock (now North Little Rock) petitioned to incorporate their community. In February 1890, the City of Little Rock annexed this area, which was called the City of Argenta, unilaterally as its Eighth Ward. The annexation was highly unpopular with the north side residents and they took the issue to court only to have it approved by the Arkansas State Supreme Court in March 1892.

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1892: A paid fire department was created.

1893: Poll tax amendment was adopted.

1895: The Little Rock Baseball Association was organized, with W. M. Kavanaugh as president of the Association. Kavanaugh Boulevard was later named for him.

1896: Little Rock was admitted to the Southern Baseball League.

July 1897: The first true non-railway bridge was completed across the Arkansas River at Little Rock. Built by the Pulaski County Government, it was designed for foot and wagon traffic. The bridge ran from the foot of Main Street in Little Rock to Maple Street on the north side of the river, and was known as 'The Free Bridge.'

1900: The cornerstone for the new Arkansas State Capitol Building was laid. The building, located at Capital Avenue and Woodlane Street, was completed in 1914, and still serves as the present day State Capitol Building.

1901: The Little Rock Country Club was organized. The clubhouse and grounds were located the eastern end of 21st Avenue (now Club Road) in Pulaski Heights, and it soon became the most prestigious club in the City.

1903: Passage of the Gantt Bill or (Jim Crow Law) by the State Legislature. This bill provided for the separation of races on public transit systems and its provisions were put into effect on Little Rock Streets immediately.

1903: The Town of Pulaski Heights was incorporated.

1904: St. Mary's Academy re-located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Locust Street (now Kavanaugh Boulevard and Van Buren Street), and is now the oldest educational institution in the State.

1903: The Eighth Ward of Little Rock, located on the north side of the Arkansas River, voted to annex themselves into the new town of North Little Rock.

1908: Little Rock City Hall was completed on the corner of West Markham and Broadway Streets. The building, less the red Byzantine dome, still serves as Little Rock's City Hall.

1909: The original Missouri Union Station was built at Markham and Victory Streets.

1916: The Town of Pulaski Heights was annexed into the City of Little Rock.

1921: The original Missouri Union Station burned and was replaced with The 'Train Station' that exists today.

1922: The cornerstone of the Albert Pike Memorial was laid; the building is located on Scott Street between 7th and 8th Streets.

1922: The Broadway Bridge was completed.

1924: The Main Street Bridge was completed.

1925: The Boys Club, located at 8th and Scott Streets, was opened.

1926: Little Rock's first skyscraper was opened at 7th and Main Streets. The building was fourteen (14) floors high, and known as the Donaghey Building.

1926: Little Rock's first radio station, WLBN, started broadcasting. The call letters were eventually changed to KLRA.

1927: 'The Great Flood of 1927' washed away part of the old Baring Cross Railroad Bridge, which was later rebuilt.

1927: The new Little Rock Senior High School opened in the fall of 1927 on Park Street between 14th and 15th Streets. In 1954, the school was renamed Central High School.

1930: The Great Depression and Dustbowl Droughts. Crops failed and speculative bank investments become almost valueless. The City experienced seventy-one (71) rainless days during the summer of 1930.

During The Great Depression of the 1930's, many of the City's municipal buildings were built using native stone. These were called WPA (Works Progress Administration) Buildings. One such structure is the Little Rock Zoo.

The City purchased the governmental airfield and some additional land for a Municipal Airport, and with the help of the WPA, a terminal building was built. In 1942, the airfield was named Adams Field for Captain George Geyer Adams of the 154th Observation Squadron, Arkansas National Guard, who was killed in an accident at the field.

1939: Robinson Auditorium, located at Markham and Broadway Streets, was completed and named for J. T. Robinson, an Arkansas Governor, Senator and Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate in 1928.

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1953: Television came to Little Rock. The first station was Channel 17. KATV, which was broadcasting out of Pine Bluff, purchased KRTV, which signed off the air April 1, 1954. Since that time KATV has been recognized as a Little Rock television station.

1954: KARK-TV went on the air.

1955: KTHV went on the air.

1957: The Little Rock School Board voted to integrate the Little Rock Public School System starting with Little Rock Central High School, where fifteen (15) black students were enrolled to start that fall. There was no serious opposition to the plan; however, Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus attempted to delay the start of this integration program by taking the issue to the courts. Governor Faubus' attempt was not successful, and on the eve of the integration of Central High School, everything seemed peaceful in Little Rock until the Governor appeared on television that evening and announced that he was calling out the Arkansas National Guard Troops to 'keep the peace.' Little Rock's Mayor, Woodrow Mann, declared that Governor Faubus' claim to call out the National Guard was hoax. Crowds of curious people gathered in front of the school and when nine (9) of the fifteen (15) black students attempted to enter the school two days later on September 5, 1957, the Arkansas National Guard troops turned them away. On September 20, 1957, a Federal Court Order was issued prohibited Governor Faubus from utilizing the National Guard at the school, and the troops were withdrawn. By the time local and state police took over, the crowd had increased to an estimated 1,000 people. On September 23, 1957, nine (9) of the black students entered Central High School by a side door and fighting broke out between the police and the crowd in front of the school. Several white parents rushed to the school to withdraw their children, and three (3) hours later, the police removed the nine (9) black students from the scene. The black students were told that they could not return until they could do so peacefully and safely.

September 24, 1957: President David Eisenhower, federalized the Arkansas National Guard and rushed 1,200 battle-equipped guardsmen to Little Rock. At 6:34 PM, the first trucks turned onto Park Avenue from 14th Street, and United States Army troops took up stations at the school. On September 25, 1957, the nine (9) black students returned to Central High School and entered the school through the front door. The mob got hostile and the troops marched against it. The troops remained on the grounds of Central High School for the remainder of the school year.

Governor Faubus called a special session of the State Legislature, and the Legislature gave him the power to close the public schools, which were being integrated by force. When the United States Supreme Court refused to delay integration in the Little Rock Public School District, Governor Faubus used his newly-granted power and closed all four (4) of the City's high schools. In protest, the Little Rock School Board resigned and a new Board was chosen. In a City of Little Rock special election, voters were presented with the choice of either keeping the four (4) high schools closed or immediately integrating all the public schools within the City. After all votes were cast, the citizens of Little Rock chose to keep the high schools closed. In 1959, a special Federal Court declared the Arkansas School Closing Law to be unconstitutional and the Little Rock School Board announced that all public schools would reopen that fall. In August 1959, a mob of people tried to prevent the reopening of Central High School; however, the Little Rock Police and Fire Departments stopped the protestors a block from the school. Central High School reopened that fall.

November 11, 1957: The citizens of Little Rock voted in the City Manager form of Government, and in 1958, the City voters favored a stronger municipal government.

1959: The Little Rock Port Authority was created.

1960: Park Plaza Shopping Center opened.

1961: Interstate 30 was opened on the east side of town.

1962: The Arkansas Arts Center was opened.

1963: The Quapaw Quarter Committee was formed. The group incorporated in 1968, and their purpose was the historic preservation and restoration of Little Rock's early residential district.

1966: University Mall opened.

Recent years have seen continuous rise of new buildings and facilities in Little Rock.

The first census of the County was in 1820, with a population of 1,921.

The current census for the City of Little Rock is 193,524.

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