Start of Little Rock’s park system with land swap to create Arsenal Park

April 23, 1892, marked the beginning of the City of Little Rock’s public park sLR City Parkystem.  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.

Little Rock Look Back: Charles Moyer, LR’s 44th and 49th mayor

On April 18, 1880, future Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Moyer was born in Glenwood, Minnesota. A man of contradictions, he was both a candidate backed by (and probably personally involved in) the Ku Klux Klan, yet he also brought the Goodwill Industries organization to Little Rock and Arkansas to help those less fortunate.

He came to Little Rock shortly after the turn of the 20th century as a clerk in the Post Office, and later served as a mail carrier. He then worked for Plunkett-Jarrell Wholesale Grocer Company in Little Rock. On January 1, 1921, he took office as County Judge for Pulaski County. In 1924, he ran against incumbent mayor Ben Brickhouse in the Democratic primary. Since Brickhouse had displeased the Klan, which was an active part of Democratic politics in Little Rock and throughout the nation at the time, Moyer won the primary.

Mayor Moyer led the City of Little Rock from April 1925 through April 1929. In 1927, the last lynching in Little Rock took place. While race-baiting crowds were surrounding City Hall demanding an African American prisoner be released to them for vigilante justice, Mayor Moyer was in hiding at an undisclosed location. Not able to get the prisoner they wanted, they took out their venom on another man who had assaulted a white woman and her daughter.

Mayor Moyer sought a third term, but was defeated in the 1928 Democratic primary.  After leaving office in 1929, Moyer moved for a time to Batesville. He returned to Little Rock and was a chief deputy sheriff. From 1937 to 1941, he served as Pulaski County Assessor. In 1941, he returned to the office of Little Rock Mayor after J. V. Satterfield opted to serve only one term and did not seek re-election. Mayor Moyer led Little Rock through most of World War II. He left office in April 1945 and died on May 29, 1945, barely one month after leaving City Hall.

Little Rock Look Back: The THREE Mayoral Elections of 1951

On September 24, 1951, Pratt C. Remmel was nominated for Little Rock Mayor by the Pulaski County Republican Committee.  This was the first time there had been a GOP mayoral nominee in Little Rock since the 1880s.  It also set up a competitive General Election mayoral race for the first time in decades.

Incumbent Sam Wassell, a Democrat, was seeking a third two-year term. First elected in 1947 (after being unsuccessful in his quest for the position in 1945), Wassell had survived a primary and runoff in the summer of 1951. So confident was Mayor Wassell that Little Rock would remain a Democratic city, he barely campaigned for the office in the General Election.

While Mayor Wassell was ignoring the “run unopposed or run scared” maxim, he was not incorrect that Little Rock remained a stronghold for the Democratic Party.  Indeed there were no Republicans seeking office in Little Rock other than for mayor in 1951. Few, if any, Republicans had run for the City Council since Remmel had unsuccessfully made a race in the late 1930s.

In response to inquiries as to his lack of campaigning, Mayor Wassell averred that the voters had shown their support for him on July 31 and August 14. He continued that he did not see a reason to think the result would be different in November.  The 68 year-old Wassell stated that if he could defeat a young opponent who had over a decade of experience as an alderman, he could certainly defeat a young opponent who had no governmental experience.

In the July 1951 Democratic mayoral primary, Wassell had been challenged by Alderman Franklin Loy and grocer J. H. Hickinbotham.  Two years earlier, Wassell, seeking a second term, had dispatched Loy rather handily by a vote of 7,235 to 3,307.  He fully expected that 1951 should produce the same results as 1949.

But Wassell was trying to buck recent history.  Since 1925, no Little Rock mayor had won a nomination for a third term. One (J. V. Satterfield) had chosen not to seek a second term, while two (Pat L. Robinson and Dan T. Sprick) were defeated in their quest for two more years. Of those who served two two-year terms, a brace (Horace Knowlton as well as Charles Moyer in 1945) had not sought a third term.  Moyer HAD sought a third two-year term during his first stint as mayor (1925-1929) but was defeated. Likewise R. E. Overman also lost his bid for a third term.

By trying to win a third term, Wassell was seeking to return to the era of the first quarter of the 20th Century where several of his predecessors had been elected at least three times.  In his 1951 campaign, he was promising to stay the course of the previous four years. He answered his opponents’ ideas with a plan to continue providing services without having to raise taxes.  So confident was he of besting Loy and Hickinbotham that he predicted a 3 to 1 margin of victory.  A large horseshoe-shaped victory cake sat in a room at his campaign headquarters inside the Hotel Marion on election night.

The cake would remain uneaten.

When the results came in, Wassell had managed to get 5,720 votes to Loy’s 4,870. But with Hickinbotham surprising everyone (including probably himself) with 1,235 votes, no one had a majority.  The race was headed for a runoff two weeks later to be held in conjunction with the other city and county Democratic elections on August 14.

The day after the July 31 election, the Arkansas Gazette showed an dazed Wassell with top campaign aids in a posed picture looking at the results.  Further down the page, a jubilant Alderman Loy was surrounded by his wife and supporters.  The differing mood reflected in the photos was echoed in the two men’s statements that evening.  Wassell castigated his supporters for being overly-confident and not getting people to the polls. He further apologized to the Little Rock electorate for having to be “inconvenienced” with another election.  Loy, on the other hand, was excited and gratified. He thanked the citizens for their support.

The day of the runoff, a 250 pound black bear got loose at the Little Rock Zoo after the zoo had closed and took 45 minutes to be captured and returned to its pit.  Perhaps Wassell wondered if that bear was a metaphor for the Little Rock Democratic electorate.  Much like the bear returned to its pit, Little Rock’s Democrats returned to Wassell — or at least enough did.  Wassell captured 7,575 votes, while Loy received 6,544.  The moods that night echoed those two weeks earlier.  Wassell, his wife, and some supporters were combative towards the press (they were especially critical of the “negative” photo for which he had posed) while Loy was relaxed and magnanimous in defeat.

The closeness with which Mayor Wassell had escaped with the Democratic nomination was noticed.  A group of businessmen started seeking someone to run as an independent.  Likewise the Pulaski County GOP was open to fielding a candidate.  At a county meeting held at Pratt Remmel’s office, the offer of the nomination was tendered to their host.

After he was nominated in September, Remmel (who was County Chair and State Treasurer for the GOP) visited with the business leaders who were trying to find someone to run. He had made his acceptance of the nomination contingent on being sure there would be a coalition of independents and possibly even Democrats backing him in addition to the Republicans.

Once he was in the race, Remmel was tireless.  He blanketed newspapers with ads touting his plans and criticizing the lackadaisical attitude of his opponent. He made speeches and knocked on doors. He worked so hard that once during the campaign his doctor ordered him to 48 hour bedrest.

Mayor Wasssell, for his part, was confident voters would stick with party loyalty.  But as the November 6 election day grew nearer some City and County leaders grew increasingly wary.  Still, the Mayor rebuffed their concerns.  Someone had even gone so far as to set up a campaign office for him in the Hotel Marion. But before it could officially open, it was shut down.  (While the Mayor had criticized his supporters for being overly-confident in the July election, he apparently was not concerned about too much confidence this time around.)

Remmel had an aggressive campaign message promising better streets, more parking availability, a new traffic signalization plan, and the desire for expressways. His slogan was “a third bridge, not a third term” in reference to the proposed expressway bridge across the Arkansas River. (This would eventually be built and is now the much-debated I-30 bridge.)

The Saturday before the election, the Hogs beat Texas A&M in Fayetteville at Homecoming while a cold snap held the South in its grip.  In addition to featuring both of those stories heavily, that weekend’s papers also carried the first ads advocating for Wassell. They were Wassell ads, in a manner.  Ads from the County Democratic Committee, County Democratic Women, and Democratic officeholders in the county urged voters to stick to party loyalty.  That would be the closest to a Wassell campaign ad in the autumn of 1951.

The night before the election, Wassell made his only radio appearance of the campaign while Remmel made yet another of his several appearances. Earlier that day in driving rain, there had been a Remmel rally and caravan through downtown, including passing by City Hall.

That evening, as the results came in, the fears of Democratic leaders were well-founded.  Remmel carried 23 precincts. Wassell won two precincts and the absentee ballots. His victories in those three boxes were only by a total of 46 votes.  Remmel won both Wassell’s home precinct (377 to 163) and his own (1,371 to 444).

In the end, the total was 7,794 for Remmel and 3,668 for Wassell.

And Little Rock was poised to have its first Republican mayor since W. G. Whipple had left office in April 1891, sixty years earlier.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Primary of 1944

Following his second stint as mayor, Charles Moyer decided to not seek a fifth term leading Little Rock.  It set the stage for the December 1944 Democratic primary.  Alderman Sam Wassell and former Alderman Dan Sprick faced off in a particularly nasty race.  As World War II was drawing to a close, there were charges leveled which questioned patriotism. With both men having service on the Little Rock City Council, there were also plenty of past votes on both sides which could become fodder for campaigns.

The election was on December 5, 1944. Sprick received 3,923 votes and Wassell 3,805. A few days later, Wassell filed suit claiming that there were people who voted who were not on the poll tax rolls and another group of voters who did not live in the ward in which they voted. Sprick countersued making the same charges against Wassell.

The case was heard in Pulaski County Circuit Court in February 1945.  It eventually ended up at the Arkansas Supreme Court, which remanded it back to the lower court. On March 26, 1945, Wassell dropped his case. This was only eight (8) days before the municipal general election.

Two years later, Wassell would challenge Sprick in the primary and be triumphant. Wassell would serve from 1947 until 1951.  Sprick would later return to politics and serve a decade in the Arkansas State Senate.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1928

Robinson

After serving two, 2-year terms, Mayor Charles Moyer sought a third term in the Democratic primary of 1928. There were three people standing in his way of a new term:  City Attorney Pat Robinson, School Board member H. T. “Will” Terry, and Alderman Joe H. Bilheimer, Jr.

Robinson had been elected City Attorney at the age of 27.  He was viewed as a rising star in not only the Democratic Party of Little Rock, but for the state as well.  He was no relation to US Senator Joe T. Robinson, who hailed from Lonoke County. Pat Robinson had roots in Clark County.  Alderman Billheimer had served on the Little Rock City Council since 1917, while Mr. Terry had been on the School Board for several years and been president of that body.

As the incumbent, Mayor Moyer spent most of the campaign on the defensive. His policies and programs were attacked. What was not attacked (or even mentioned) was his disappearance from Little Rock during the 1927 lynching of James Carter.  Mayor Moyer promoted his efforts for the successful amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which expanded the bonding capacity of cities. He also was proud of having established the Planning Commission for Little Rock.

Moyer largely ignored Bilheimer in his remarks. But he charged Robinson with dereliction in duty as City Attorney. He also questioned Terry’s business acumen.  Terry for his part stressed his work as a man who had started driving a milk wagon and then rose to become the head of a large dairy.  He took a swipe at single Robinson by stressing that he was a person with family ties.

Bilheimer questioned Moyer’s expenditures including $4,000 a year to keep City Hall clean. He claimed that was a payoff for a political contribution. He also noted that during Terry’s tenure on the school board, the Little Rock schools were only able to purchase milk from his dairy.  He also charged Terry with campaign violations. At the time, state law set that campaign expenditures could not exceed the salary of the position being sought. At the time, Little Rock paid $5,000 per year to the mayor.  Bilheimer charged that Terry was exceeding that.

Other than defend his record as City Attorney, Robinson fairly successfully stayed above the fray. He admitted that he was not aggressive prosecuting bootleggers or others connected to Prohibition offenses.

Rallies and radio were the order of the day as the campaign wound down.  On November 26, 1928, the primary took place.  Robinson won every precinct.  He captured 4,077 votes to 1,682 for Moyer, 1,518 for Terry, and 298 for Bilheimer.

The polls closed at 6pm.  By 8:30pm, the results were known and a Robinson victory parade filled the streets.  It marched down Main Street and then down Markham to City Hall.  On the steps, Mr. Robinson remarked, “I shall try always to be the same old Pat.”

 

 

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1924

After serving three two-year terms as mayor, Ben D. Brickhouse decided to follow the precedent of his predecessor Charles Taylor and seek a fourth term in the Democratic Primary of 1924.  In the election for his third term, Brickhouse was unopposed. So it would have appeared that he was well-positioned for this fourth bid.

However…

Early in his third term, Brickhouse had broken ranks with the Ku Klux Klan. At the time, the Klan controlled much of Democratic Party politics in Little Rock (and indeed all of Arkansas).  Mayor Brickhouse did not appreciate local Klan leadership trying to dictate City appointments to him.  Beaten but unbowed, the Klan sought someone to run for mayor.  The candidate who was found was Pulaski County Judge Charles Moyer.

In October 1924, Moyer and Brickhouse both announced what everyone in Little Rock already knew, they would be seeking the Democratic nomination for Little Rock mayor.  Traditionally, the primary was in December before the April general election (in which the Democratic nominee was usually unopposed).  The Pulaski County Democratic Committee set the date for the election.

There was a bit of a surprise at the early November meeting of the Democratic Committee when it was announced the election would be in January. Neither Moyer nor Brickhouse nor their surrogates offered much comments on the change.  But Arthur Jones, who announced at the meeting he too would be seeking the office of mayor, protested the change.  The date was set for the later option.

However, a week later, the Committee met again and moved the elections back to the originally anticipated times.  Several of the Committee members had been unaware of the proposed change. Upon further reflection (and likely conversations with candidates), they opted to reverse the earlier vote.

At the start of the race, Moyer talked about the need for better control of City finances, better parks, and improving the police and fire.  Jones attacked the City’s police force and courts in general. He called Brickhouse a “double crosser” who got the City into debt and cannot get it out of it.  About Moyer, Jones said he was reactionary, non-progressive, opposed women’s suffrage, and only improved roads for political purposes.

While Jones was in the race, and lobbed charges at both Brickhouse and Moyer, it really was a two-man faceoff. In fact, neither Moyer nor Brickhouse seemed to discuss Jones much at all.

The major issues in the campaign revolved around government debt and the Klan.  Moyer accused Brickhouse of getting the City into debt and not paying with cash.  Brickhouse countered that the County had more debt than Moyer claimed, and that any fiscal improvements at the County were due to others such as the County Treasurer.  Further, Brickhouse stated he had inherited $1,000,000 in debt. But he gladly took ownership of the $750,000 in debt he had caused because that was the only way to improve the hospital and the parks.  He also laid out plans for a zoo and a City swimming pool.

Moyer was openly backed by the Klan.  Leadership of the KKK attacked Brickhouse. They said he had an attitude of ingratitude for the support he had previously received.  Moyer did not distance himself from the Klan but remained personally silent about the organization or his affiliation with it.  At one of his final rallies, a Moyer Glee Club sang. It was composed of Gus Blass department store employees and contained Jews, Catholics, and Klan members.

The Saturday before the Monday election, both Moyer and Brickhouse had parades on Main Street.  In fact, there were so many people either in the parades or watching them, a retailer estimated he had lost $10,000 in Christmas sales that night.

In the end, the election was not close.  Moyer won all of the City’s wards. His vote total was 5,534, while Brickhouse had 2,944. Jones received 100 votes.  Moyer was unopposed in the April 1925 election.

Many of the Little Rock aldermen were disappointed by the outcome.  Before taking office in April, Moyer met in private with the aldermen to try to assuage their concerns.