Tag Archives: Benard de La Harpe

A Bastille Day look at Benard de La Harpe

Today is Bastille Day, or as they say in France, la Fête nationale.  It commemorates both the 1789 storming of the Bastille as well as the 1790 Fête de la Fédération.   

At the time both events occurred, the land today known as Little Rock, like the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, was under Spanish control. (A fact overlooked in the operetta The New Moon which is set in New Orleans during the French Revolution.)

However, since this area was “owned” by the French from 1699 to 1762 and again from 1800 to 1804, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the French heritage of the area on this day.

Even though Arkansas was explored by the French in 1722, no official settlement of the area now known as Little Rock took place until 1812.  There was no permanent settlement until 1820 (though by 1818 settlement was eminent as evidenced by the Quapaw Treaty).

Jean-Baptiste Benard de La Harpe was the lead French explorer who first came to Little Rock in 1722.

From 1718 through 1723, he spent time exploring various areas of the southern sections of North America.  His 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers was at least his third such expedition along a river in the area.  From 1718 to 1719, he explored part of what is now Oklahoma up from the Red River.  Next, he explored part of what is now the eastern section of Texas.

After a trip back to France in 1720, he came back to the New World in 1721.  After his February to May 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, he then went to transfer Pensacola to the Spanish on behalf of the French. In 1723 he went back to France and remained there until his 1765 death.

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Little Rock Look Back: Opening of La Harpe Boulevard

Knoop, Parkin and Remmel in this DEMOCRAT staff photo

Not all events in Little Rock on May 25, 1959, were school-related.

On that day, Harry W. Parkin, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission was joined by Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop and Pratt Remmel, a former mayor of the city,  in a brief ceremony.

With Mayors Knoop and Remmel standing by, Mr. Parkin snipped the ribbon to officially mark the opening of LaHarpe Boulevard in Little Rock.  Owner of Parkin Printing Company in LR, he had been appointed  to the Highway Commission in 1957.

Mr. Knoop was the current mayor of the City, having been chosen by his colleagues on the initial City Board in November 1957. He was re-selected in January 1959 to a second stint as mayor.  Mr. Remmel had been mayor in 1952 when Little Rock voters approved bonds to pay for their portion of the $3million project.

In February 1957, the street was named in honor of the explorer Jean-Baptiste Benard de La Harpe, who had first claimed the area for the French.

Little Rock Look Back: La Harpe and La Petite Roche

On April 9, 1722, French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe rounded the bend of the Arkansas River and saw La Petite Roche and Le Rocher Français.  He had entered the mouth of the Arkansas River on February 27 after traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Though La Harpe and his expedition are the first Europeans documented to have seen La Petite Roche, the outcropping of rocks was well-known to the Quapaw Indians in the area.  The outcropping jutted out in the Arkansas River and created a natural harbor which provided a perfect place for boats to land.

The rock outcropping is the first one visible along the banks of the Arkansas River.  It marks the place where the Mississippi Delta meets the Ouachita Mountains.  Geologists now believe that the Little Rock is not the same type of rock as the Ouachita Mountains and more closely matches the composition and age of mountains in the western US.

In 1813, William Lewis became the first European settler to live near La Petite Roche but only stayed a few months.  Speculators and trappers continued to visit the area throughout the 1810s. During that time, the outcropping became known informally as the Little Rock.

La Petite Roche had become a well-known crossing when the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819. The permanent settlement of ‘The Rock’ began in the spring of 1820, and the first building has been described as a cabin, or shanty, and was built on the bank of the river near the ‘Rock.’ In March 1820, a Post Office was established at the ‘Rock’ with the name “Little Rock.”

Over the years, La Petite Roche was altered.  In 1872, Congress authorized the building of a railroad bridge. A pier for the bridge was built at the location of the La Petite Roche which caused the removal of several tons of rock.  The bridge was never built.  When the Junction Bridge was built in 1899, even more rock was removed in the process of erecting part of the bridge on top of the rock.  It was not viewed as being disrespectful of the City’s namesake at the time.  Indeed, it was viewed as a testament to the sturdiness of the rock.

In 2010, La Petite Roche plaza opened in Riverfront Park.  It celebrates the history of La Petite Roche and explores its importance to various aspects of Little Rock’s history and geography.

Little Rock Look Back: First Class status granted City of Little Rock

On March 9, 1875, the City of Little Rock became a City of the First Class in Arkansas. It was the first city in the state to receive this designation.

This was in conjunction with the adoption of the Arkansas Constitution of 1874 which created this status.  The Constitution defines them as: “All cities, which at the last federal census had, or now have, a population exceeding two thousand five hundred (2,500) inhabitants shall be deemed cities of the first class.”

March 9 is just one of several dates Little Rock could celebrate as a birthday.

  • January 6, 1866 – Little Rock government resumes operations following the Civil War
  • November 2, 1835 – Little Rock is incorporated as a City
  • November 7, 1831 – Little Rock is incorporated as a Town
  • October 27, 1825 – Little Rock given the right to elect a governing board of trustees
  • June 1, 1821 – Little Rock officially becomes capital of Arkansas
  • April 9, 1722 – Jean Batiste Benard de La Harpe sees Le Petite Roche

There could also be the dates in 1812 when William Lewis built the first home in Little Rock (a shack) or in February 1820 when the first permanent settlement was established.  But neither of those have exact dates that are remembered.

A Lincoln Viaduct Portrait

Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Since today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is a good day to pay tribute to the Lincoln Avenue Viaduct.  This arched bridge is traversed by thousands of cars each day, with most having no idea the name of the structure.  The Lincoln Avenue Viaduct is the arched bridge connecting LaHarpe with Cantrell Road which (literally) bridges downtown with the west along Highway 10.

The Lincoln Avenue Viaduct is a reinforced concrete rainbow arch bridge. It was opened at 2:05 p.m. on Friday, December 28, 1928, and, despite later alterations, it remains particularly well-preserved. The Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, considered the most important railroad company in the state, constructed the bridge amid a series of improvements in Little Rock made necessary by the damage wrought by the infamous spring floods of 1927.

Though the bride was constructed by the railroad, the City had to give authorization to do so, this was accomplished by the passing of Ordinance 4,335, at the May 28, 1928, City Council meeting.

Lincoln Avenue was one of several names for stretches of Highway 10 in Little Rock. By the 1960s, the areas west of the Lincoln Avenue viaduct were all renamed Cantrell in honor of the man who had developed much of the area west of the Heights. The longest stretch of the road already carried that name. There had been an effort to rename Highway 10 (including sections named Lincoln, Q, and Cantrell) in Little Rock for Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson in 1930. He declined the offer because he did not want to diminish the contributions of Mr. Cantrell.  Over time the entire stretch bore the name Cantrell.

The stretches east of the viaduct which involved a couple of names were renamed La Harpe Boulevard in honor of the French explorer who first saw the Little Rock. (La Harpe was originally an extension of Riverfront Drive. But with changes to development along the Arkansas River and the coming of I-30, the streets were reconfigured significantly in the 1950s and early 1960s.)

Though the street has been renamed, the bridge still carries the name of the 16th President of the United States.

Happy 186 to Little Rock!

With the stroke of Territorial Governor John Pope’s pen, Little Rock was officially chartered as a town on November 7, 1831. This followed approval by the Arkansas legislature a few days earlier.

As a chartered, officially recognized municipality, the Town of Little Rock was authorized to create a government and to plan for a Mayor and Aldermen to be elected. That election would take place in January 1832 with the initial council meeting later that month.

There are several earlier and later days which could be used to mark Little Rock’s official birth (La Harpe sighting in 1722, first settler in 1812, permanent settlement in 1820, selection of trustees in 1825, chartered as a City in 1835, chartered as a City of First Class in 1875) — but it is November 7, 1831, which has been the officially recognized and accepted date.

In 1931, Little Rock celebrated her centennial with a series of events.  Likewise, in November 1981, Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey signed and City Clerk Jane Czech attested Resolution 6,687 which recognized the Little Rock sesquicentennial.

Little Rock Look Back: LaHarpe and The Rock

On April 9, 1722, French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe rounded the bend of the Arkansas River and saw La Petite Roche and Le Rocher Français.  He had entered the mouth of the Arkansas River on February 27 after traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Though La Harpe and his expedition are the first Europeans documented to have seen La Petite Roche, the outcropping of rocks was well-known to the Quapaw Indians in the area.  The outcropping jutted out in the Arkansas River and created a natural harbor which provided a perfect place for boats to land.

The rock outcropping is the first one visible along the banks of the Arkansas River.  It marks the place where the Mississippi Delta meets the Ouachita Mountains.  Geologists now believe that the Little Rock is not the same type of rock as the Ouachita Mountains and more closely matches the composition and age of mountains in the western US.

In 1813, William Lewis became the first European settler to live near La Petite Roche but only stayed a few months.  Speculators and trappers continued to visit the area throughout the 1810s. During that time, the outcropping became known informally as the Little Rock.

La Petite Roche had become a well-known crossing when the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819. The permanent settlement of ‘The Rock’ began in the spring of 1820, and the first building has been described as a cabin, or shanty, and was built on the bank of the river near the ‘Rock.’ In March 1820, a Post Office was established at the ‘Rock’ with the name “Little Rock.”

Over the years, La Petite Roche was altered.  In 1872, Congress authorized the building of a railroad bridge. A pier for the bridge was built at the location of the La Petite Roche which caused the removal of several tons of rock.  The bridge was never built.  When the Junction Bridge was built in 1899, even more rock was removed in the process of erecting part of the bridge on top of the rock.  It was not viewed as being disrespectful of the City’s namesake at the time.  Indeed, it was viewed as a testament to the sturdiness of the rock.

In 2010, La Petite Roche plaza opened in Riverfront Park.  It celebrates the history of La Petite Roche and explores its importance to various aspects of Little Rock’s history and geography.