On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina. The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849. His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.
Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891. Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs. In 1895 he was elected mayor. He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.
During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street). He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River. Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.
In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway. After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company. That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.
Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).
Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868. They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery. His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him. Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother. Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.
In 2013, Mayor Woodson was one of the characters portrayed at the annual Parkview High School “Tales from the Crypt” program at Mount Holly.