April 23, 1892, marked the beginning of the City of Little Rock’s public park system. On that date, the City officially took possession of land which would become what is now known as MacArthur Park.
The park land 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.
After clearing most of the buildings from the land and preparing it for recreation, 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.
The City Council’s action to name it MacArthur Park in March 1942, was accompanied by petitions encouraging the action which were submitted by the Arkansas Authors and Composers Society, the Arkansas Engineers Club and the Pulaski County Republican Central Committee.
City records do not indicate if anyone registered opposition to the name change. It would be another decade before General MacArthur would return to the site of his birth, a place he had not visited since his infancy.