Little Rock Look Back: Charity Event opens 1868 Little Rock City Hall

The 1868 City Hall as featured on a city report.

On January 22, 1868, a charity ball (including a supper) was the first special event held in the new Little Rock City Hall located at 120 to 122 West Markham.

The two story building featured city offices downstairs, including an engine house for the volunteer fire department. Upstairs was the council chambers and a special event space. The facility was the width of two storefronts. The upstairs was accessed by a central staircase which went from street level through an archway directly up to the second floor. The first floor had a stone exterior and the second floor was a combination of brick and woodwork.

Records do not indicate when the first city council in the new building took place. At the January 21, 1868, meeting, the body formally accepted the building and cancelled any clauses in the contract about penalties should the contractor not meet the construction deadline. But there is no indication whether that meeting took place in the new building or in the previous city hall. (The location of that prior city hall is a mystery.). The minutes from the council meetings just prior to and just after the January 21 meeting give no indication as to which building was the site for the meeting.

It IS known that March 30, 1908, was the date of the final council meeting in the 1868 City Hall. After that meeting, city offices completed their move to the edifice at Markham and Broadway, which still serves as Little Rock City Hall.

As early as November 1867, the City Council was getting requests for special events to be held in the new city hall. In November and December the council refused to take action on any requests because the building was still under construction.

The January 22, 1868, event was created to help the destitute in Little Rock. The ARKANSAS GAZETTE encouraged people to be generous and purchase tickets. Even the day before the event, the weekly version of the GAZETTE (which at the time had added daily editions in addition to its weekly issue) was assuring people there would be plenty of space in the splendid new building so there was still room for additional ticket purchases. Tickets were $5 to admit a lady and a gentleman.  (That would be the equivalent of $83.71 today. While cheap for two people to attend a Little Rock event in 2018, in the post-Civil War era, it was a definite hit to the pocketbook.)

The unnamed organization which put on the charity event was led by W. W. Wilshire (president), George W. Clark (secretary), Joseph Meyer (treasurer) and a standing committee of Dr. C. M. Taylor, Dr. P. O. Hooper, A. Adams, F. H. Moody, and E. Langley.  Donations could be made to any of the officers.  The arrangements for the event were handled by Joseph Meyer, A. Adams, J. P. Jones, Alexander George, Jr., Joseph W. Bossert, and Daniel Ottenheimer.  The reception committee was W. D. Blocher, H. C. Ashley, A. McDonald, P. W. McWhorter, T. Lafferty, and F. H. Moody.   Tickets could be purchased at the stores of J. E. Reardon, G. H. Gibbs, Joseph Meyer, Lafferty & Raleigh, S. L. Griffith, McAlmont & Stillwell, Beideman & Co., and Dodge & Co as well as at the Anthony and Commercial Houses.  (It is interesting to note how so many people at the time were publicly listed by only their first initial.)

The building stood for 56 years after City Hall vacated it.  It housed a variety of businesses over the years including being home to Breier’s restaurant (until it moved to a Cantrell Road location in the early 1960s).  The building was torn down in 1964 as part of Urban Renewal.  Today it is the site of part of the Statehouse Convention Center.  It is directly across from the One-Eleven restaurant side of the Capital Hotel.