Little Rock Look Back: J. G. Botsford

Botsford GraveOn December 30, 1838, future Little Rock Mayor Jefferson George Botsford was born in Port Huron, Michigan.  He married Charlotte Adelia Henry on June 13, 1867.  She had been born in Massachusetts, but moved to Little Rock with her parents and grandparents.

The couple had seven children: Nellie, Charlotte, Harriett, James, Edward, George and Charles. Nellie, James and Charles died in childhood.

Botsford had served in the Union Army and fought in frontier battles against Indians.  Among his commercial involvements in Little Rock were serving as mail contractor between Little Rock and Baton Rouge, proprietor of Anthony House, organizer of Merchants National Bank and president of the White River Valley & Texas Railroad.

In 1868, Botsford was elected to the Little Rock City Council.  The City Council suspended Mayor A. K. Hartman in February 1870.  Elected in 1869, he was disliked by the aldermen, the press and a portion of the public.  A court order overturned the suspension in June 1870.  In January 1871, Mayor Hartman was again suspended by the Council.  This time, Botsford was declared Mayor.  However Hartman also still claimed the title of Mayor through the remainder of his term in November 1871.

After stepping down as Mayor with the election of Robert Catterson in November 1871, Botsford returned to private life.  He died on October 29, 1915 and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: Frederick G. Kramer

Mayor KramerOn December 29, 1829, future Little Rock Mayor Frederick G. Kramer was born in Halle, Prussia.  In 1848, he immigrated to the United States.  Kramer enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Seventh Infantry until his discharge at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, in July 1857. After his discharge, Kramer settled in Little Rock, and became a citizen in 1859. He married Adaline Margaret Reichardt, an emigrant from Germany, in 1857. They had six children Louisa, Mattie, Emma, Charles, Fred, and Henry.

From 1869 to 1894, Kramer served on the Little Rock School Board.  He was the first School Board president.  Among his other civic activities were serving as president of the Masonic Mutual Relief Association, a founder of the Mount Holly Cemetery Commission, and a founder of Temple B’nai Israel.  In 1875 he and F. A. Sarasin opened a mercantile business. Kramer later became the president of the Bank of Commerce.

Frederick Kramer was elected Mayor of Little Rock in November 1873.  He served until April 1875, when a new Arkansas Constitution took effect.

From November 1869 through March 1875, the City Council President presided over City Council meetings and signed ordinances, performing many of the duties formerly ascribed to the Mayor.  As such, during his Mayoral tenure from 1873 to 1875, Kramer was the Chief Executive of the City but did not preside over Council Meeting.  When he had served on the City Council, however, Kramer had been elected President of the Council and had presided over Council meetings from October 1871 to May 1872

Kramer was returned to the Mayoralty in April 1881 and served three more terms leaving office in April 1887.  His tenure as an Alderman and as Mayor overlapped with his service on the school board.

A new Little Rock elementary school which opened in 1895 on Sherman Street was named the Fred Kramer Elementary School in his honor.  Though the building’s bell tower was removed in the 1950s, the structure still stands today.  It now houses loft apartments.

Frederick G. Kramer died on September 8, 1896, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  A few months earlier, he had traveled there with his wife and daughter Emma to recuperate from an illness. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: Boxing Day remembrance of Muhammad Ali vs. Dan Sprick

Ali SprickDan T. Sprick was a Little Rock Mayor for two years in the 1940s after having previously served on the City Council.  From 1961 until 1970, he served as a State Senator from Little Rock and was a reliable ally for Governor Orval Faubus. Once Faubus left office and was replaced by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Sprick continued to wave the banner of segregation and agitation.  One of his new focuses was boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 1969, the University of Arkansas announced that Ali would be one of the speakers for its public appearance series.  After refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam, Ali was barred from earning a living as a professional boxer and so was making a living giving lectures.  His refusal to submit to the draft was based on his religious beliefs as a recent convert to the Nation of Islam.

Opposition to Ali’s appearance rose almost immediately, and from Little Rock not Fayetteville. The Pulaski Businessman’s Association sent a letter to UA president David Mullins asking him to bar Ali from speaking. President Mullins insisted that he had the right to speak on campus. When that didn’t work, Senator Sprick and his cohorts in the state’s upper chamber went to work. A resolution calling for Ali to be barred from speaking failed on a voice vote after much debate.

While there were certainly some racial overtones to Sprick’s opposition, he and others seemed to be more concerned over the former Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam plus his ensuing refusal to be drafted.  Senator Sprick declared that if President Nixon would draft him now he would go to serve in Vietnam.  (Sprick was in his late 60s at the time.)

Ali’s speech on the campus actually caused some controversy on its own.  One of the things he advocated for segregation. He praised Alabama Governor George Wallace.  The Arkansas Gazette which had been following the saga in both news stories and editorials, noted that remarks like that should have endeared Ali to Dan Sprick and others.

Ali, of course, resumed his boxing career and defined that sport in the 1970s with his talent in the ring and his showmanship.

Based on an editorial, Sprick sued the Gazette for libel. The paper settled with him out of court because his health was poor. Sprick died in 1972.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Eli Colby

LR sealOn Christmas Day in 1814, future Little Rock Mayor Eli Colby was born in Warner, New Hampshire.

At the age of 23, he moved to Little Rock in 1838.  After arriving, he soon became the editor and publisher of the Times and Advocate newspaper.  As a publisher and printer, Colby also had the contract to print official state notifications and documents in the early 1840s.

Politically, Colby served as a Justice of the Peace for several years.  In September 1843, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock in a special election to fill a vacancy. He left office in January 1844.  He died March 15, 1844, at the age of 29 after a long illness and was buried with Masonic honors.

Little Rock Look Back: Actress Fay Templeton born on Christmas Day 1865

Fay_TempletonThough largely forgotten today, Little Rock native Fay Templeton was one of the leading stars of vaudeville and Broadway in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

She was born in Little Rock on Christmas Day in 1865.  Her parents were touring here with the Templeton Opera Company. Her father, John Templeton, was a well-known Southern theatre manager, comedian, and author. Her mother, Helen Alice Vane, starred with her husband.  The family of three left Little Rock a few weeks after Fay was born, once her mother was able to travel.

She made her stage debut at age three, and her New York vaudeville debut at eight. At fifteen, she married a co-star but separated after six weeks.  She made her legitimate New York stage debut at nineteen in a revival of Evangeline.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, she spent most of her time in Europe, appearing on stage and touring shows.  By 1895, she was back on stage in New York.  She then starred in a series of shows first for the vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, later for George M. Cohan. She introduced the songs “So Long Mary” and “Mary Is a Grand Old Name” in the latter’s Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway.  Her work with Cohan is portrayed in the Oscar winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy and in the Tony winning musical George M!

She retired from the stage after marrying Pittsburgh businessman William Patterson. But by 1911, was once again touring with Weber and Fields.  She retired again in 1913, this time staying off stage until 1926. She then played the role of Buttercup in a revival of HMS Pinafore and would be known as the definitive Buttercup for the rest of the 1920s and into the 1930s.  When her husband died in 1932, she returned to the stage.  In 1933, she starred with Bob Hope in the Jerome Kern musical Roberta.

In 1936, she entered the Actors’ Fund Home in New Jersey, but later moved to San Francisco to live with a cousin.  She died there on October 3, 1939, and is buried in Valhalla, New York.

Templeton returned to Little Rock several times throughout her life as she was embarking on tours.

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Auditorium Groundbreaking

122437 GroundbreakOn December 24, 1937, at 11:30 a.m., Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman, Ewilda Gertrude Miller Robinson (the widow of Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson) and  Alexander Allaire of the PWA turned dirt to participate in the brief groundbreaking ceremony for Little Rock’s municipal auditorium.  That morning, the Arkansas Gazette ran a brief story on the upcoming groundbreaking.  The story mentioned that the building would be named in memory of the late beloved Arkansas politician.  This appears to be the first public pronouncement of the Robinson name for this civic structure.

Among others in attendance at the groundbreaking were Mrs. Charles Miller (sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), Mr. and Mrs. Grady Miller (brother and sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), the mayor’s wife, the three architects (George Wittenberg, Lawson Delony and Eugene John Stern), and D. H. Daugherty and Will Terry of the City’s Board of Public Affairs.

Construction had to start by January 1, 1938, in order to receive PWA funds.  By breaking ground on December 24, there was over a week to spare.  The site had been selected in late October 1937, and the purchase had not been finalized.  But the PWA did give permission for the City to let a contract for excavation, demolition and filling on the site.

The groundbreaking took place at the corner of Garland and Spring Streets which was on the northeast corner of the block set aside for the auditorium.  Today, Spring Street does not extend north of Markham; the street was closed to make way for the parking structure and what is now the Doubletree Hotel.  Garland Street is basically an alley that runs parallel to Markham north of City Hall, Robinson Auditorium and the Doubletree Hotel.