On February 9, Little Rock voters will have the chance to say Yes to improving the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, Arkansas Arts Center, and MacArthur Park.
Leading up to that election is a good time to look back at the development of MacArthur Park.
The land now known as MacArthur Park had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock. By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal. The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.
The land served as a military outpost until 1892. On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)
In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots. The park opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use. In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century.
On March 9, 1942, Little Rock’s first public park was renamed by the Little Rock City Council. By a vote of fourteen ayes, zero nays and four absent, the alderman approved Ordinance 6,388 which renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.
The text of the ordinance says that “it is fitting and proper that the bravery and glorious deeds of General Douglas MacArthur, a native son of Little Rock, should be commemorated.” This was passed a few months after the United States’ entry into World War II. Though he was already a well-established military figure, most of the MacArthur legend during the war would take place after this naming.
In 1952, General MacArthur (contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for President) visited Little Rock in March. Later that year, the eventual GOP nominee (and 34th US President) General Dwight Eisenhower visited the park. The 1952 Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson also visited MacArthur Park in 1952.
Today, MacArthur Park is the anchor of the burgeoning MacPark district as well as the MacArthur Park Historic Distric.