Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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LR Women Making History – Louise Loughborough

Louise Loughborough was the first woman to serve on the Little Rock Planning Commission.  Not only was the she first woman to serve on this body, she was the first to serve on any City commission other than the Board of Censors or Library Board.  Born Louisa Watkins Wright in Little Rock 1881, her ancestors included many early Arkansas leaders including Little Rock Mayor David Fulton.

In 1935, Loughborough was appointed to the Little Rock Planning Commission, and it was in this role that she first heard about the plan to condemn the half-block of houses that she had grown up admiring on Cumberland and East Third streets. Although the neighborhood had fallen on hard times, becoming a red-light district and slum, Loughborough feared the loss of several historic structures, including the Hinderliter House, the oldest building in Little Rock and thought to be Arkansas’s last territorial capitol. She mobilized a group of civic leaders to save these buildings. She enlisted the aid of prominent architect Max Mayer and coined the term “town of three capitols” to try to capture the imagination of potential supporters, grouping the “Territorial Capitol” with the Old State House and the State Capitol.

The Arkansas Territorial Restoration opened on July 19, 1941. The project was the first Arkansas agency committed to both the restoration of structures and the interpretation of their history, and it served as a model and inspiration for historic preservation in the state. Around the same time, she was a moving force behind the creation of a museum at the Old State House as well.  Today both Historic Arkansas Museum (as the Territorial Restoration is now known) and the Old State House Museum are agencies of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

As founding Chairman of the Arkansas Territorial Restoration Commission, Louise Loughborough provided daily direction for the museum house complex through the first twenty years of its existence. She died in Little Rock on December 10, 1962 and was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.


LR Women Making History – Jeane Hamilton

Photo taken for SOIREE

Jeane Hamilton has nurtured the Arkansas Arts Center for over 60 years.  She was present at the genesis of it and has remained so.  In 2007, she was awarded the Arkansas Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award.

Arriving in Little Rock a young wife in 1952, she immediately set about to become involved in her new community as she and her husband James set up a household.  In the mid-1950s, the Junior League of Little Rock tapped her to chair the initiative to create a new art museum for Little Rock.  The two decades old Museum of Fine Arts was threadbare through years of neglect and unfocused programming and collecting.

Hamilton, along with Junior League President Carrie Remmel Dickinson and Vice President Martha McHaney, approached Winthrop Rockefeller (then a relatively new resident) to lead the fundraising effort for the new museum.  He agreed on a few conditions: one was that a base amount had to be raised in Little Rock first, and second that the museum would be for the entire State of Arkansas and not just Little Rock.

Hamilton and her colleagues set about to raise the funds. They raised $645,000 at the same time Little Rock’s business climate was stymied by the aftereffects of the Central High crisis.

Now a lifetime honorary member of the Arkansas Arts Center Board, Hamilton has spent much of her life working on Arkansas Arts Center projects since that visit in 1959.  She has served on the Board, chaired committees, chaired special events, served hot dogs, helped kids paint and danced the night away at countless fundraisers.  She was on the committee which hired Townsend Wolfe as executive director and chief curator.  Jeane has led art tours for the Arts Center to a number of countries over the years.

When she is not at the Arts Center, she is often seen at the Rep, the Symphony or any number of other cultural institutions.  While she enjoys seeing old friends at these events, she also loves to see a room full of strangers – because that means that new people have become engaged in the cultural life of Little Rock.


LR Women Making History – Ellen Turner Carpenter

Ellen Turner Carpenter was born on July 30, 1916 on West Ninth Street.  At the time of her death at the age of 93, her life had come full circle.

As a young girl, she was an active participant in the thriving African American life along west Ninth Street in downtown Little Rock. She attended many events at the Mosaic Templars Hall which sat at Ninth and Broadway.

A longtime Little Rock educator, she became the moving force behind preserving the Mosaic Templars building in the 1980s.   In 1992, she became president of the Mosaic Templars Building Preservation Society, which worked to preserve the Mosaic Templars building in Little Rock to create a museum for black history in Arkansas. Mrs. Carpenter served as president of the society until her death.

In the 1990s, the City of Little Rock purchased the building to keep it stable while the Preservation Society sought to raise the funds.  Due to lobbying efforts led by Mrs. Carpenter, the State of Arkansas purchased the building from the City with the intention of turning it into a museum under the auspices of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.  At a ceremony in 2003, Vice Mayor Willie Hinton handed the keys of the building to Governor Mike Huckabee with Mrs. Carpenter nearby beaming.  Governor Huckabee appointed her to the state advisory committee for this new museum.  She would serve as chair of that committee.

On March 16, 2005, tragedy struck.  The building burned to the ground.  That afternoon at a press conference at the State Capitol, leaders expressed their resolve that the project would move forward with a new building following the original design.  One of the speakers that afternoon was Mrs. Carpenter. She started out in her usual quiet voice. But as she recalled her youth spent at the Mosaic Templar’s building, the years melted away. She demonstrated some of the step dancing she had done as a teenager.

On September 20, 2008, she presided over the grand opening of the new Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. It was the culmination of 15 years of official work and many more years of dreaming.  At the ceremonies, she declared “We made it!” “We made it! We made it!”

Mrs. Carpenter remained an active supporter of the MTCC until her death on July 27, 2010, just three days shy of her 94th birthday.

Throughout her life she wore many hats (including numerous ones to church on Sunday). She was an educator, neighborhood organizer, and public servant. Everyone who met her was positively impacted by her.  Due to her vision and endurance, thousands each year are still positively impacted by her when they visit the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.  Fittingly, the conference room at MTCC is named in her memory.

Central to Creativity – Deborah Mathis

Deborah Mathis has deep Arkansas roots.  She grew up in Little Rock the daughter of Rev. Lloyd Myers, a Baptist minister, and Rachel A. Myers Jones, a teacher.

Her journalistic pursuits began as early as junior high school, when she became the first black editor of West Side Junior High’s school newspaper. In 1970 she became the first black and first female editor of Central High School’s Tiger student newspaper. From the early 70′s through the early 90′s, Mathis was busy establishing herself as a journalist and broadcaster. She served in various positions ” reporter, editor, columnist and anchor ” at statewide media outlets including the Arkansas DemocratArkansas Gazette, KARK-Channel 4, KTH V-Channel 11, and KATV-Channel 7 From Arkansas, Mathis career took her to briefly to Jackson, Mississippi before she landed in Washington, D.C., where she was a White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service from 1993-2000.

Since 1992, Mathis has been a syndicated columnist, appearing in more than 100 U.S. publications and periodicals. She is also a contributor to such outlets as USA Today and and a frequent commentator on political and public affairs talk shows such as PBS’s Frontline, CNNs Inside Politics NPR’s All Things Considered America’s Black Forum and Oprah, to name a few. She also field-produced, wrote and narrated two nationally aired documentaries: “Edukashun: The Cost of Failure” (1982) and “Return of the Little Rock Nine” (1987).

Mathis is the author of Yet A Stranger Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home, Sole Sisters: The Joy and Pains of Single Black Women and What God Can Do: How Faith Changes Lives for the Better.  She has also been an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Washington office).  In 2003, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Little Rock and World War I – City Auditorium goes to war

From 1906 until 1920, a temporary structure stood next to City Hall.  It was Little Rock’s first city auditorium.

It was a flexible use structure consisting of a large room with a stage on one end. It had a variety of uses including a roller skating rink.  In the lead up to US involvement in the Great War, the Arkansas National Guard obtained permission to use it as a rifle range when it was not being used for other purposes.

Once the US entered the Great War, the facility was also used as a place for recreation for officers stationed at Camp Pike.  It was the site of dances as well as basketball games and other sporting competitions.

In addition, various organizations used the facility for patriotic rallies and music concerts.

(Note, after 1912, the front of the facade which appears in the photo was removed.  The new Central Fire Station was constructed between the auditorium and Markham Street. A new entrance to the auditorium was built off of Arch Street.)

May is Heritage Month in Arkansas.  The 2017 theme is World War I.  On Thursdays in May, the blog will look at various ways Little Rock took part in the Great War.

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Little Rock Look Back: Nicholas Peay

On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children.  (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825.  At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.

After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock.  From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.

He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown.  In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.

Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off.  This past year, museum director Bill Worthen and his daughter were the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog. The Worthens are descended from Mayor Peay’s son who was also named Gordon Neill Peay.

Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.

Women’s History Month – Judge Elsijane Trimble Roy, first woman on Arkansas Supreme Court

judge-trimbleElsijane Trimble Roy was born the daughter of a judge. At an early age, she knew she wanted to be an attorney.  She would eventually become not only the third female to graduate from the University of Arkansas Law School, but the first female circuit court judge in Arkansas, the first female on the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the first female Federal judge from Arkansas.

She was also the first woman in the United States to follow her father as federal judge.  She presided in the same courtroom where her father had served for 20 years. She retired in 1999 after 21 years on the federal bench.

Judge Roy has received many awards and honors including being selected Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Woman’s Club in 1969, Arkansas Democrat Woman of the Year in 1976, an honor that her mother also received, and Outstanding Appellate Judge of 1976-1977 by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

While she was on the Arkansas Supreme Court (to which she had been appointed by Governor David Pryor), she administered the oath of office to Anne Bartley to lead the Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage.  Ms. Bartley became the first woman in an Arkansas Governor’s cabinet.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the federal bench to succeed Judge Oren Harris.