History of Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, located in central Arkansas, is the state's capital and largest city. The name is derived from La Petite Roche (the "little rock" in French), a small rock formation on the south bank of the Arkansas River that served as a navigational landmark by early river travelers. The rock formation can still be seen at Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock. The formation was first noted and named by the French explorer, Bernard de la Harpe, in 1722. The first white settler was a fur trapper named William Lewis, who built a house there in 1812.

Little Rock was no more than a minor wilderness town when Arkansas became a territory in 1819. At that time, the capital was down river at Arkansas Post, but owing to the location of Little Rock, on the banks of the Arkansas River in the center of the new territory, the territorial capital was moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821. Ten years later, Little Rock was incorporated as a city.

When Arkansas was admitted into the Union in 1836, Little Rock became the state capital. Little Rock's Courthouse and Post office was originally constructed in 1881 and served in that capacity until 1932.

During the Civil War, Little Rock was captured by Union forces in 1863 and was under military control until the end of the conflict.

While still occupied, a new military cemetery was established to centralize the remains of Union dead that had been interred throughout Arkansas. In 1868, it was designated the Little Rock National Cemetery. Across the street, the Mount Holly Cemetery, was established in 1884 solely for the remains of Confederate soldiers. Those Confederate soldiers interred at the national cemetery were removed and reinterred there. In 1938, the Confederate cemetery became the Confederate Section of the national cemetery.

The Brooks-Baxter War of 1874, fought between factions of the Republican Party, took place in Little Rock. The month-long struggle ended only when President Ulysses S. Grant ruled that Elisha Baxter was indeed the rightful governor of the state.

When the South was ravaged by a yellow fever epidemic, Charity Hospital was opened by five Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Little Rock, which had few physicians and no hospital. The name was later changed to the St. Vincent Infirmary to honor St. Vincent de Paul, a French priest who had cared for the sick and poor.

By the 1880s, Little Rock was the center of a network of railroad lines. In 1969, the city's economy began to boom with the construction of a series of locks and dams on the Arkansas River. The taming of that river helped turn Little Rock into a port.

The city gained unwelcome attention in 1957 when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to thwart a court order to desegregate Central High School. President Dwight D. Eisenhower put the National Guard under federal control and sent federal troops to Little Rock to enforce the ruling. A museum and visitor center on that site is listed in the National Register of Places.

In 1992, Little Rock moved to center stage when former governor Bill Clinton became the first Arkansas native to be elected president of the United States. In 2004, another Little Rock resident, General Wesley Clark, U.S. Army Retired, made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination.

The territorial history of Little Rock and Arkansas is interpreted at the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, where living history portrayals and displays depict the period. That complex of buildings is the location of territorial government meetings before Arkansas became a state.

Construction of what is now called Old Arkansas State House began in 1833 and served as the state capitol until 1911. It is the oldest standing state capitol building west of the Mississippi River. During the latter part of the 1800s, the fate of would-be politicians would be made just blocks away at the city's "flrst class hotel" the Capital Hotel. Little Rock is also home to one of the oldest Black congregations in Arkansas, located in the historic First Missionary Baptist Church.

Local attractions include the Aerospace Education Center, which opened in June 1995 and offers a diverse field of scientific inquiry related to aviation and the space sciences. The exhibits boast a variety of historical displays. Also included is an IMAX theater with a screen that stand six stories high. Located in Little Rock's MacArthur Park, the Arkansas Arts Center includes paper works from CÚzanne, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alison Saar, Rembrandt and Rubens.

Many architectural masterpieces are located in Little Rock. Amongst those is the Hornibrook Mansion, completed in 1888 for $20,000, which was at one time the most extravagent dwelling in the state. An example of the Gothic Queen Anne style, the mansion was built for businessman James H. Hornibrook originally, but currently serves as a bed and breakfast. Another example is the Scipio A. Jones House, which stands as the most richly detailed Craftsman-style houses. It was built around 1928 for Scipio Africanus Jones, an African-American attorney. The Thomas R. McGuire House, listed in National Register of Historic Places on December 19, 1991, is unique by virtue of its being a relatively high-style interpretation of the Colonial Revival style. Another example of the Colonial Revival style is The Arbams House, located near the old Missouri Pacific Depot. Fulfilling all the requirements of the Craftsman Bungalow, style, the H.M. Anderson House has low, compact massing, overhanging eaves and use of natural materials harmonize with the landscape. Although there have been many iterations since it was built in late 1890s, the Pfeifer Brothers Department Store Building remains standing.

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