Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Voters approve annexation of Pulaski Heights into LR

010416 PH electionOn January 4, 1916, voters in Little Rock and Pulaski Heights voted overwhelmingly to annex the latter into the former.

First platted in 1890, Pulaski Heights had been incorporated as a city in August 1905.  By 1915, Pulaski Heights was booming.  It was growing so fast, that its infrastructure and public safety needs were far outpacing the city’s ability to pay for them.  Though there was a ribbon of commercial businesses along Prospect Avenue (now Kavanaugh Boulevard), it did not produce enough sales tax revenue to pay for City services. Then, as now, property taxes were also an important part of city revenue sources but not sufficient without sales taxes.

The City of Little Rock, likewise, was looking for ways to grow physically. At the time, the City was hemmed in by a river to the north and low, marshy land to the east. Current development was to the south, but even that presented limits in the foreseeable future. The best option was to grow to the west, but Pulaski Heights was in the way.  In 1915, Little Rock Mayor Charles Taylor (after failing in a previous attempt to re-annex North Little Rock into Little Rock), approached Pulaski Heights leadership about the possibility of annexation.

010516 PH electionIn November 1915, there were public meetings in Little Rock and Pulaski Heights to discuss the issue.  As a part of the annexation, Little Rock promised to build a fire station in the area and to install traffic lights, sidewalks and pave more streets.

On January 4, 1916, Little Rock voters approved the annexation of Pulaski Heights by a ten-to-one margin. The majority of Pulaski Heights residents also approved the deal.  The suburb became the city’s ninth ward.

Another special election was held in January 1916 to select the first two aldermen from the 9th Ward.  L. H. Bradley, John P. Streepy and Tom Reaves ran for the two slots. Bradley and Streepy were the top two vote recipients.  Streepy served until April 1921 and Bradley served until April 1928.

This established a couple of precedents for the City of Little Rock which are in effect to this day.  The first is that Little Rock would not be a central city surrounded by a variety of small incorporated towns (in the manner that St. Louis and other cities are).  It was this thought process which has led the City to continue to annex properties.

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Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Little Rock Board of Trustees

On Monday, January 2, 1826, Little Rock voters elected their first Board of Trustees. This five member governing body was authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in October 1825.  The five men getting the most votes were Bernard Smith, Isaac Watkins, James C. Collins, Ezra Owens and Sam C. Roane.

The evening of the election, the Board of Trustees held their first meeting.  They chose Mr. Smith (a former US Congressman from New Jersey) as the president.  To serve as the clerk, the men selected Jesse Brown, who was Little Rock’s first school teacher.

In June 1826, Robert Crittenden was appointed to fill out the remainder of Mr. Owens’ term.  The latter had resigned, though media accounts do not indicate why.

Mr. Smith, whose job was as secretary to the governor of Arkansas, would serve on the Board through 1828.  Mr. Watkins served until his murder in December 1827.  Mr. Collins served in 1826 and again in 1828.  Mr. Roane only served in 1826.  Mr. Crittenden served a full term in 1827 and then again in 1830 and 1831.

The Little Rock Board of Trustees was disbanded with the January 1832 election of Little Rock’s first mayor and aldermen.


Little Rock Look Back: Elections on New Year’s Day

M_Cunningham_fIn the first few decades of Little Rock, municipal elections usually took place on January 1.  While occasionally they would take place on another day, it was usually when January 1 fell on a Sunday.

On January 1, 1832, Dr. Matthew Cunningham was elected as Little Rock’s first mayor.  He convened the first Town Council meeting at his house later in January.   (More on that meeting in another post later this month.)

By the 1850s and 1860s, elections were still in January but no longer took place on New Year’s Day.   Municipal elections moved to April with the adoption of the 1874 state constitution.  In the late 1940s, they moved to November to be in line with the federal and state general elections.


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Little Rock Look Back: First edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE to be published in Little Rock

First LR ArkGaz front

First LR ArkGaz insideAfter months of planning, on December 29, 1821, the first edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE to be published in Little Rock came off the press.  Due to a shortage of paper supplies, it was only a two page edition, instead of the four pages which publisher William Woodruff had been customarily printing.

Because the capitol of the Arkansas Territory had moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock earlier in 1821, Woodruff wanted to relocate as well.  Not only did it make sense for a newspaperman to be close to the seat of government for purposes of stories, there was a financial reason for the move, too.  Woodruff wanted to continue to be the contracted official publisher of government records.  If he stayed in Arkansas Post, someone else would certainly have opened up an operation in Little Rock to do the printing.

The first Little Rock edition featured the usual mix of national news (often culled from other newspapers once they arrived at Woodruff’s establishment), local stories, and advertisements.  One of the stories was a letter from General Andrew Jackson to the citizens of the Florida Territory.  There was also a dispatch from Pernambuco, Brazil.

Because it was the first issue from Little Rock, Woodruff took time to write about Little Rock.  He noted it was located on the south side of the Arkansas River on a “beautiful gravelly bluff” with picturesque views of the river and surrounding areas.  He noted the territorial and federal government offices which were located in Little Rock.

Though the Gazette ceased publication in 1991, the 1821 publication of that paper in Little Rock set the stage for more than just that one newspaper.  It marks a continual presence of newspaper and journal publication in Little Rock for 196 years.

 


Little Rock Look Back: Frederick 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: Robinson Auditorium groundbreaking 80 years ago today

 

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.


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Little Rock Look Back: The Central High Chili Incident

Minnijean Brown Trickey & Dent Gitchel at 2006 chili cook-off (Richelle Antipolo/ Flickr)

On December 17, 1957, a chili bowl was dropped in the Central High cafeteria.

It was, of course, not just any chili bowl.  It was dropped by Minnijean Brown as she was being harassed by white students who were trying to make it difficult for her to navigate the cafeteria.

Balancing food on a cafeteria tray and maneuvering around narrow paths around chairs and tables can be difficult in the best of circumstances. But doing it when you are being harassed for the umpteenth time that day makes it even more of a challenge.

Reports differ as to whether she dropped the tray or let it slip. In the pandemonium of the moment, it may be six of one, half-dozen the other.  But what is not disputable is that the chili fell on a junior who was sitting at a table and not taking part in the harassment. That junior was future attorney and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor Dent Gitchel.

While no one had stepped in to stop the pestering, after Minnijean had dropped the chili on Dent, officials swooped in and sent both students to the principal’s office.  Dent was sent home to change clothes.  Minnijean was suspended for six days.  This incident and suspension would be fodder for her foes who pressed for her eventual expulsion in February 1958.  (The student other student involved in that incident – a white female – was only suspended and later returned for the remainder of the school year.)

Minnijean and Dent went their separate ways.  While many knew about the chili episode, the name of the student who was on the receiving end had become forgotten.  It was not until many years later that his name was once again attached to it.  In 2005, he was named in an article in an historical journal.  By that time, he was a retired law school professor.  Later that year, he gave a brief interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about it.

In March 2006, the Central High Museum Inc. board organized a chili cook-off as a fundraiser.  Minnijean and Dent reunited for the first time since December 1957 to serve as co-chairs and judges of the cook-off.  The other judge was Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.  There were nine chilies made by Little Rock area celebrities:  Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, “Broadway” Joe Booker of Citadel Communications, Dave Williams of Dave’s Place, Max Brantley of Arkansas Times, Michael Selig of Vermillion Water Grille, Pamela Smith of KATV, Channel 7, Sanford Tollette of the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Scott McGehee of Boulevard Bread Co. and state Sen. Tracy Steele.

Ten years ago – on the fiftieth anniversary of the incident — NPR did a story and interviewed by Minnijean and Dent.  In various interviews, Minnijean has commented that she told officials that day she knew that Dent was an innocent bystander.  In the few public statements he has made, Dent has commented that while he did not cause problems for the Nine, he also was not one of the very,very few white students who befriended them.  Today, they both focus their comments on the continued need for reconciliation as well as facing up to the issues in order to move forward.

So have a bowl of chili today. And think about how far we have come.  And how very far we still have to go.