Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Founding of what is now Rose Law Firm

Rose Law FoundersOn November 1, 1820, Robert Crittenden and Chester Ashley signed an agreement to form a “Partnership in the Practice of Law.”  This document is the genesis for what is now known as the Rose Law Firm, the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi River.

Crittenden and Ashley were both political leaders.  At the age of 22, Crittenden was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas Territory by President James Monroe.  Ashley would serve as a U.S. Senator from Arkansas from 1844 to 1848.  His son William E. Ashley was the first Little Rock mayor to be born in Little Rock.

Both Crittenden and Ashley have counties in Arkansas named in their memory.  In addition both Chester and Ashley streets in Little Rock are named for the latter.

In 1832, Crittenden and Ashley dissolved their partnership, though each continued practicing law.  George Watkins joined Mr. Ashley in 1837.  By 1865, U.M. Rose joined partnership. The name Rose has been in the firm’s name ever since.

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Little Rock Look Back: Roswell Beebe

Roswell Beebe, Little Rock's 16th Mayor

Roswell Beebe, Little Rock’s 16th Mayor

On December 22, 1795, future Little Rock Mayor Roswell Beebe was born in Hinsdale, New York.  His family were wealthy English immigrants.  At seventeen, Beebe went to New Orleans and fought with Andrew Jackson in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.  He stayed in the Crescent City for the next two decades building successful lumber and brick businesses.

Due to health concerns, he moved north to a drier climate in 1834.  After first stopping in Fulton, Arkansas, he settled in Little Rock in 1835 at the age of forty.  He stayed at the home of Chester Ashley and married Ashley’s sister-in-law, Clarissa Elliott.  He and Clarissa had two children, Roswell and Cora.

For nearly 30 years, Little Rock had a complicated history of deeds, titles and land ownership.  In 1839, Beebe went to Washington DC and received the original patent from President Martin Van Buren.  He then set about clearing up the land and title issues, as well as drawing up a plan for the city and laying off blocks and streets.  Beebe deeded the streets and alleys to the City for a dollar.  He also donated the land on Markham Street for a new State Capitol building (now home of the Old State House Museum).  Along with his brother-in-law Chester Ashley, he donated the land for the establishment of Mount Holly Cemetery.

In 1848, Beebe was elected to the Little Rock City Council.  The following year, he was elected Mayor.  He served as Mayor of Little Rock from April 1849 to February 1850.

While his primary business focus in the 1840s had been real estate, in the 1850s he focused on railroads.  Beebe was named president of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company in 1853.

While on a visit to New York, Beebe died on September 27, 1856.  His body was returned to Little Rock, and Roswell Beebe was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  The town of Beebe, Arkansas, is named in his honor.


Black History Month Spotlight – Philander Smith College

reynoldslibraryphilandersmithThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

Philander Smith College is Little Rock’s oldest historically black educational institution. It was established in 1877 as Walden Seminary, by the African Methodist Episcopal Church to educate ministers. Its name changed after an endowment in 1882 by the widow of Illinois philanthropist Philander Smith. Wesley Chapel has always been associated with the college’s activities. The enslaved William Wallace Andrews founded Wesley in 1854 on land donated by his owner, U.S. Senator Chester Ashley. In 1864, parishioners celebrated their freedom with a “Parade of Emancipation.”

Pastors at Wesley included Rev. J. C. Crenchaw, president of the Little Rock NAACP, and Rev. Negail Riley, leader of the Black United Fund. In the 1960’s, Philander Smith students participated in “sit-ins” at downtown lunch counters.

Noted alumni include Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general; professional athletes Elijah Pitts of the Green Bay Packers; Hubert “Geese” Ausbie of the Harlem Globetrotters; and Milton Pitts Crenchaw, a Tuskeegee Airman; James Hal Cone, a pioneer of black liberation theology; Lottie Shackelford, former Mayor of Little Rock; Al Bell, founder of Stax Records and former president of Motown Records; and Stephanie Flowers, Arkansas State Senator.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau


Little Rock Look Back: LR Mayor Roswell Beebe

Mayor BeebeOn December 22, 1795, future Little Rock Mayor Roswell Beebe was born in Hinsdale, New York.  His family were wealthy English immigrants.  At seventeen, Beebe went to New Orleans and fought with Andrew Jackson in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.  He stayed in the Crescent City for the next two decades building successful lumber and brick businesses.

Due to health concerns, he moved north to a drier climate in 1834.  After first stopping in Fulton, Arkansas, he settled in Little Rock in 1835 at the age of forty.  He stayed at the home of Chester Ashley and married Ashley’s sister-in-law, Clarissa Elliott.  He and Clarissa had two children, Roswell and Cora.

For nearly 30 years, Little Rock had a complicated history of deeds, titles and land ownership.  In 1839, Beebe went to Washington DC and received the original patent from President Martin Van Buren.  He then set about clearing up the land and title issues, as well as drawing up a plan for the city and laying off blocks and streets.  Beebe deeded the streets and alleys to the City for a dollar.  He also donated the land on Markham Street for a new State Capitol building (now home of the Old State House Museum).  Along with his brother-in-law Chester Ashley, he donated the land for the establishment of Mount Holly Cemetery.

In 1848, Beebe was elected to the Little Rock City Council.  The following year, he was elected Mayor.  He served as Mayor of Little Rock from April 1849 to February 1850.

While his primary business focus in the 1840s had been real estate, in the 1850s he focused on railroads.  Beebe was named president of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company in 1853.

While on a visit to New York, Beebe died on September 27, 1856.  His body was returned to Little Rock, and Roswell Beebe was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  The town of Beebe, Arkansas, is named in his honor.


Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock becomes the Capital of Arkansas

Arkansas TerritoryOn October 18, 1820, Territorial Governor James Miller signed legislation designating Little Rock as the new capital for Arkansas.  This was a mere 10 months after the first permanent settlement was established in Little Rock.

While Little Rock became the Capital, technically it was not the Capital City, since it would not be incorporated as a City until 1835. It wasn’t even incorporated as a town until 1831.

The Act provided that after June 1, 1821, the sessions of the Legislature and the Superior Court would be held at Little Rock.  This caused Arkansas Post, the first territorial capital, to fade from prominence.

The move was made based on the lobbying of Amos Wheeler, Chester Ashley and William Russell.  These men all owned land in the Little Rock area and would benefit from the move of the Capital to Little Rock. The official reason given was Little Rock’s geographical center to the Arkansas Territory and that it was elevated land less prone to flooding.

But as important, Messrs. Wheeler, Ashley and Russell promised to donate land for a capitol building and a guarantee of $20,000 for construction of a suitable building. (That would be the equivalent of $408,000 today.)

Around the time the legislation was approved, several members of the Territorial legislature purchased land around Little Rock.  When a subsequent effort to relocate the Capital upstream was launched, it failed due to the financial ties of these legislators to land in Little Rock.


Little Rock Look Back: Roswell Beebe receives Little Rock land title

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

On September 25, 1839, businessman Roswell Beebe received title to all of the land in Little Rock.

Starting in the 1810s, there had been much dissension as to who had title to land in what would become Little Rock.  As the settlement developed into a town and city, these disagreements became greater. Often land speculators would sell land to settlers without having the right to do so.

Coming to Little Rock in 1835, Beebe was a witness to the continued uncertainty over land ownership.  In early 1839, he acquired 240 acres which had the only incontestable title in town. This acreage comprised most of Little Rock. He went to Washington DC in 1839 and, on September 25, received the original patent for the town of Little Rock, signed by President Martin Van Buren. It is recorded in the Pulaski county recorder’s office Book L, page 312.

Upon his return, Beebe gave all the people who had bought lots from a certain real estate developer, whom he considered to be fair and honest, title to their land for a dollar. In December 1839, he drew up a plan for Little Rock, laying off blocks and streets. He deeded the streets and alleys to the city for a dollar. He gave the state the title for the land on Markham Street, where the new capitol building (now the Old State House Museum) was located.  He also donated part of the land for Mount Holly Cemetery, the other portion came from his brother-in-law Chester Ashley.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor John E. Knight

Jno E Knight sigOn September 20, 1816, future Little Rock Mayor John Elliott Knight was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1843 he married Hannah Donnell in New York, and came to Little Rock that same year.

Knight was editor of the Arkansas Democrat from 1846 to 1850. He was also associated with the Arkansas Gazette and published the short-lived Chronicle. In 1851, Knight served as Mayor of Little Rock. In 1855, he served as a member of the City Council.

In 1858 a song was published entitled “I Am Near to Thee” which featured music by Arkansan Benjamin Scull and lyrics by Knight.  The song was dedicated to Mary Woodruff.

During the Civil War, he served as a Colonel.  During the 1850, 1860 and 1880 census, he was listed as an attorney.

He had one daughter, Elizabeth Knight, who married James S. Pollock, a banker in Little Rock. Knight died in Little Rock, Arkansas, on October 28, 1901, and was buried in Mount Holly Cemetery. Elizabeth Knight Pollock died in 1910.

As an attorney and newspaper editor, John E. Knight collected documents about the settlement of Little Rock. Those papers are now part of a collection at the Arkansas History Commission.  The majority of these papers are from William Russell to Chester Ashley, pertaining to pre-emption claims in and around Little Rock. Other material concerns the 1819-1822 dispute related to the the New Madrid Certificate and pre-emption claims of James Bryant, Stephen F. Austin, and William M. O’Hara.