Remembering LR Mayor John Widgery

On June 17, 1802, future Little Rock Mayor John Widgery was born in Portland ME to Mr. and Mrs. William Widgery.  His father died in 1804.  At the age of 11, John Widgery entered Bowdoin College.  He was the youngest student admitted to the college.

Widgery studied law with his uncle, Nathan Kinsman.  He married Ann L. Woodward, who was from Boston MA.  According to Bowdoin College records, he later “wandered away into the Southwest” spending time “in the Cherokee country.”

Widgery spent most of his adult life in the south. For a time Widgery was clerk of the Mississippi House of Representatives.  He then moved to Little Rock prior to 1840.  By 1840, he was Recorder for the City of Little Rock.

According to media reports at the time, several tradesman groups encouraged Widgery to run for Mayor in January 1841.  He did run but lost to Rev. Samuel H. Webb.  The next year, Widgery ran again and this time was elected Mayor.  He took office in January 1842.  On May 24, 1842 he resigned from office.  He later served as Secretary of the Arkansas Senate (where he made $8 a day when the Senate was in session).

Widgery eventually settled in St. Louis.  He later returned up north.  He died on August 2, 1873 in Portland ME and is buried there.  He and his wife did not have any children.

No known painting or photograph of Mayor Widgery exists.

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Happy 183 to Arkansas

Today is the 183rd birthday of the State of Arkansas.

For those who remember the Sesquicentennial – yes it has indeed been 33 years since that celebration! (We are now closer to the Arkansas Bicentennial than we are the Sesquicentennial!)

Congress approved it as the 25th state on June 15, 1836.  (On June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the union following the Civil War – but it is the first statehood date that is celebrated.)

On January 30, 1836, a convention was held in the Arkansas Territory for the purpose of adopting a constitution which would be submitted as part of a request for statehood.

The law granting statehood also established the state as a judicial district known as the Arkansas District.  The judge for that district would be paid $2,000 a year.  (The equivalent of $52,230 today.)  An attorney for the US was also created. That position would be paid $200 in addition to his stated fees. (The equivalent of $5,223 today)

 

June 2nd Friday Art Night – Old State House Museum celebrates Arkansas’ 183rd Birthday

Image may contain: drawing

Celebrate Arkansas’ 183rd birthday at the Old State House Museum’s annual Statehood Celebration on Friday, June 14, 2019, from 5:00-8:00 pm!
Learn what life was like in Arkansas in 1836.

Meet Living History Interpreters portraying artisans, skilled craftsmen, militia, shop owners, tavern workers, as well as gamblers, a medicine man, and even a magician from the 1836 era.

Play period games like skittles, graces, and faro.

Enjoy the puppet theater, hands-on activities for visitors of all ages, dancing, and live music from the Ozark Highballers!

Refreshments provided.

Free Admission!

June 2nd Friday Art Night at Historic Arkansas Museum

Join Historic Arkansas Museum for June’s 2FAN! Jacob Flores Music will be the evening’s musical guest. Flyway Brewing will be the featured brewery.

In addition, there will be a couple of new objects to view in our galleries. While the Arkansas Arts Center is closed for renovations, institutions around Little Rock will host artwork from their collections. HAM is excited to display a delightful wooden mechanical toy created around 1960 by Arkansas artist Marvin Warren (1895-1994). Woman with Spinning Wheel and Man with Banjo is a humorous depiction of life in rural Arkansas, made in the Southern folk art tradition.
Also new in HAM’s exhibit Life in the Western Country is a portrait of prominent Arkansan Peter Hanger (1807-1895) painted by nationally-recognized portrait and landscape painter John Mix Stanley (1814-1872), who became well-known for his genre scenes of Native Americans. Stanley stayed in Van Buren (Crawford County) for a short time, where he painted a portrait of his host, Peter Hanger. The portrait is on loan to the museum from Kathy and Adam Ratcliffe, Peter Hanger’s descendants.

The reception is sponsored by the Historic Arkansas Museum Foundation, with special thanks to 107 Liquor. Beverages and appetizers will be served in the Stella Boyle Smith Atrium. The exhibits and reception are free and open to the public.

Little Rock Look Back: First Little Rock High School graduation

The Sherman School at 7th and Sherman Streets, which contained Little Rock’s first high school. It is now the site of the Kramer School apartments.

On June 13, 1873, the first Little Rock High School graduation ceremony took place. Newspaper accounts do not indicate how many were in the class.

The ceremony took place at the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, North, which was located on Main Street in the 400 block.  (Part of the Little Rock Technology Park is now on a portion of that site.)

Miss Eva K. Smith, the class Salutatorian was unable to attend and bring opening remarks due to illness.  However, several other speeches by students were given including “Earth’s Battlefields” by Mattie A. Chrisman, “Arkansas, Her Past and Future” by Marcus Mentzer, “Turning the Leaves” by Mary W. Smith, and “Water” by Ella Wood.  Mr. Mentzer also delivered a valedictory address which was praised by those in attendance, according to newspaper accounts.

School Board President Frederick Kramer also made remarks as did the school’s principal, Mr. Helm, and General A. W. Bishop.  Mr. Kramer also passed out the diplomas.

While education opportunities had been offered in Little Rock since the 1820s, these had been with private tutors or private academies.  A one room public school was created in the 1850s and governed by the City of Little Rock. No records exist of anyone graduating from that school.  In February 1869, the Arkansas General Assembly authorized the creation of school districts in cities as separate entities.  Little Rock voters approved the establishment of a Little Rock public school system.  Classes began in the autumn of 1869.

The Sherman School was originally built as one of Little Rock’s elementary schools but also contained the first high school classes.  In 1885, high school classes moved to 14th and Scott Streets to the Scott Street School. In 1890, they moved to the Peabody School at Capitol and Gaines Streets where they were located until the new Little Rock High School opened in 1905. This building was constructed on the site of the old Scott Street School. Today it is the East Side lofts. It served as Little Rock High School until 1927 when what is now Little Rock Central High School opened.

In the 1860s and 1870s, African American students studied at Capitol Hill and Union schools, which both contained elementary and secondary classes. By the early 1900s, Gibbs High School had opened as a new elementary and secondary school for African American students. It would serve as the City’s African American high school until Dunbar opened in 1929.