Little Rock Look Back: LR’s first government created

Little Rock started functioning as the capital of Arkansas in June 1821. But by 1825 the settlement known as Little Rock was little more than a loosely defined group of structures. One hundred and ninety-three years ago today, on October 27, 1825,Territorial Governor George Izard signed legislation which started establishing a framework for Little Rock to function as a city.

It established that Little Rock citizens could elect a board of trustees to decide matters. Those trustees would choose one of their own to be a presiding officer. Though Little Rock would not be officially incorporated until 1831, this was the first step towards incorporation. The first trustees, elected for 1826, were Robert Crittenden, Joseph Henderson, Nicholas Peay, Bernard Smith and Isaac Watkins. Smith was chosen to be the presiding officer.

Crittenden had been largely responsible for the relocation of the capitol to Little Rock, where he owned a lot of land. He was a major political force in Arkansas politics during the territorial days. Watkins was a nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had established the first tavern in Little Rock in 1821 and later he first mill in 1826. He was murdered in 1827 and the perpetrator was never captured.

Peay bought the tavern from Watkins in 1826 and continued in the tavern and hotel business the rest of his life. He later served on the Little Rock City Council and was acting mayor. His son Gordon Neill Peay served as Mayor of Little Rock. The Peay family also cofounded Worthen Bank and Christ Episcopal Church. Members of several branches of Mr. Peay’s descendants including the Worthen and Hurst families remain active in Little Rock affairs.

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Little Rock Look Back: 190 Years of 1st Presbyterian Church

This weekend, Little Rock’s First Presbyterian Church will celebrate 190 years.

The Sunday service will feature a Scottish Bagpiper, special music, and historical readings to recognize the church’s history. The message will be delivered by Reverend Stewart Smith, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Arkansas.

The church was organized in July 1828. It is the oldest continuously serving Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi River.  Not only that, it appears to be the oldest, continuously serving church of any denomination in Little Rock.  It predated the establishment of Catholic (1830), Methodist (1833) and Episcopal (1839) churches in the city.

Little Rock’s first Presbyterian congregation was organized in July 1828. Reverend James Wilson Moore had been commissioned by the Northumberland Presbytery of Pennsylvania as a Presbyterian Missionary to the Territory of Arkansas.

Prior to the formal establishment  of the church, Rev. Moore preached his first sermon in Little Rock on  January 28, 1828. It took place in Jesse Brown’s schoolhouse (Little Rock’s first school) which was at the foot of Rock Street.

When the church was established, it had seven members: two men and five women.  From 1828 until 1833, it met in a variety of temporary locations.

The congregation’s first permanent structure was at the southeast corner of Second and Main (where the Main Street Parking Deck is sited). In 1853, it moved to land on Markham between Cumberland and Rock.  Following an 1866 fire which destroyed the church and several other buildings, the church made plans to move.  In 1869, the congregation moved to three lots at the northwest corner of Capitol Avenue and Scott Streets. This brick sanctuary with a steeple was the first church built in Little Rock after the Civil War.

By 1909, the church was outgrowing the building. There was discussion as to whether the building should be expanded or a new building built elsewhere. Due to the increase in the property value in the existing site, the decision was made to move.  In 1913, property at the southwest corner of 8th and Scott Streets was purchased.  Construction began first on an education building (with a temporary auditorium). That building opened in 1914.

In May 1920, ground was broken for a new sanctuary building; the cornerstone was laid on November 7, 1920.  The first worship service in the sanctuary took place on October 2, 1921.

A disastrous four-alarm fire gutted the sanctuary in May 1958, causing thousands of dollars damage of the chancel and the organ. The sanctuary was restored for worship services within nine months.

A Sesquicentennial Anniversary celebration marking the 150 years of First Presbyterian Church history was held in the summer of 1978. Governor David Pryor (Governor of Arkansas and shortly U. S. Senator-elect) was principal speaker at worship services.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Birth of William E. Ashley in 1823 – first LR Mayor to have been born in LR

On August 6, 1823, future Little Rock Mayor William Eliot Ashley was born in Little Rock.  He would go on to become the first Little Rock Mayor to be born in Little Rock.  Ashley was the son of Mary and Chester Ashley; his father would later serve as a U. S. Senator from Arkansas.  He was the second of the couple’s seven children.

Though he was raised in Little Rock, he did receive some schooling out of state. The State History Commission has correspondence between eleven year old William, studying in New York, and his father. Part of the letter is a request for money.

On October 26, 1846, he married Frances Eliza Grafton at Christ Episcopal Church.  They were the first Little Rock residents to be married in that church.  The couple had five children, including triplets.  Only one of the children, Frances (who was one of the triplets) survived to adulthood.

Ashley was first elected Mayor of Little Rock in 1857. After completing a two year term, he was succeeded by Gordon N. Peay (another scion of a prominent Little Rock family).  In 1861, Ashley returned to the office of Mayor.  He was reelected to a third term in 1863.  In September 1863, following the defeat of Confederate troops by the Union forces at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations.  On September 21, 1863, Little Rock municipal government closed its doors, stopped collection of taxes and disbanded.  Thus Ashley’s third term ended.

In addition to his interest in local government, Ashley was a member of St. John’s College Board and a director of the newly-formed Little Rock Gas Company.

William Eliot Ashley died on August 16, 1868, at the age of 45.  He was buried in Mount Holly Cemetery (which sat partially on land that had once belonged to his family). His parents, wife and children are all buried in Mt. Holly as well.

Interestingly, for someone who grew up in a prominent family, there does not appear to be a surviving likeness of Mayor Ashley – either in painting or photograph.  Several exist of his parents, but none of him.

2nd Friday (the 13th) Art Night

For those who do not have paraskevidekatriaphobia, tonight is a good night to stop by several downtown museums and galleries for 2nd Friday Art Night.

It runs from 5pm to 8pm (though times at some individual locations may vary slightly).

Among the locations and their offerings are:

CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (401 President Clinton Avenue) –

A Matter of Mind and Heart: Portraits of Japanese American Identity holds up a mirror to Arkansas and U.S. culture and asks what it means to be an American today. Displaying portraits created by Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, this exhibition invites visitors to reflect on American identity and challenge widely held assumptions about living in a diverse society.

A Legacy of Brewers  – Incorporating paintings from both private and public collections, this exhibition of paintings by Nicholas, Adrian, and Edwin Brewer includes portraits and landscapes featuring people and places in Arkansas, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas going back to the early 1900s.

Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E Third Street) – Justin Bryant: That Survival Apparatus.  The exhibit will contain pieces from Justin Bryant’s most recent body of work, which was made in response to Maya Angelou’s poem “Mask.” His drawings and paintings show the bottom half of black faces, images pulled from documentary and commercial photographs of famous individuals and civil rights leaders. Each mouth and chin is carefully rendered, while the eyes and other features are left blank.

Old State House Museum (300 W Markham Street) – Erin Enderlin in Concert.  Beginning at 5:30 p.m., Enderlin will perform on the second floor of the museum. Recently named to the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2018, Enderlin is an Arkansas native and award-winning singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville, Tenn.

Christ Episcopal Church (500 Scott Street) – a selection of small works including paintings and mixed media by a variety of artists from the Little Rock area.

Matt McLeod Fine Art (108 E Sixth Street) – Arkansas League of Artists 2018 Members Show and Sale.

Other participating sites include Nexus Coffee and Creative (301 President Clinton Avenue); The Art Group Gallery in the Marriott Little Rock (3 Statehouse Plaza), Bella Vita (523 S Louisiana), and Gallery 221 (221 W Second Street).

 

LR Look Back: Thomas D. Merrick – who nearly started the Civil War 2 months early

Thomas D. Merrick was born on 23 May, 1814, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He later moved to Indianapolis IN and Louisville KY before ending up in Little Rock.

On January 17, 1841, he married Anna M. Adams of Kentucky at Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock. They had seven children: George, Annie, Ellie, Mollie, Lillian, Dwight, and Thomas. Thomas died at age ten.

Merrick became a prominent member of the Little Rock business community, as a merchant and cotton broker. He was involved in Freemasonry, holding the position of Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in 1845.

In 1855 Merrick entered into a business partnership with future LR Mayor John Wassell. Merrick was also involved in city politics, serving on the city council and also as mayor from January 1854 to January 1855.

He saw active service during the Civil War. On February 6, 1861, Merrick delivered an ultimatum to Captain James Totten of the United States Arsenal at Little Rock, demanding the surrender of the federal troops.  This was more than two months before Fort Sumter was attached,.

Merrick also raised a regiment of Confederate Arkansas Militia, holding the rank of Colonel of Infantry at Camp Conway, near Springfield, Arkansas.  Following the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), Merrick resigned his commission and returned to Little Rock.

Merrick died in his home in Little Rock on March 18, 1866.  He is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.

Remembering when Royal Wedding speaker Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke in Little Rock

Today, the sermon for the Royal Wedding was delivered by the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry,  the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church.

In December 2016, he delivered remarks twice in Little Rock.

On Sunday, December 11, 2016, he delivered the homily at Christ Episcopal Church. The next day, he spoke in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center as part of  the Clinton School Speaker Series.  His remarks can be viewed here.

Presiding Bishop Curry has a national preaching and teaching ministry, having been featured on The Protestant Hour and as a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.  He has authored numerous publications including columns for the Huffington Post and the Baltimore Times. His most recent book, Songs My Grandma Sang, was published in June 2015; Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus was his first book, in August 2013.