Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Mother’s Day Look Back: Little Rock’s first mother – Eliza Cunningham

Eliza CunninghamEliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock.  She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.

She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock.  She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock, as well as several other children with Cunningham.  When he became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets.  Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.

Born in Scotland in December 1788, she emigrated with her parents to the United States as a young girl.  In 1804 or 1805, she married a French businessman, Pierre Bertrand in New York City.  She lived in New York City, while he traveled to his various business ventures.  He never returned from a trip to his coffee plantation in Santo Domingo and was presumed to have died in 1808 or 1809.  She and Bertrand had three children, Charles Pierre, Arabella and Jane. (Jane may have died in childhood, because records and lore only indicated Charles and Arabella coming to Little Rock with their mother.)

Eliza married Dr. Matthew Cunningham in New York City.  He later moved to Saint Louis and settled in Little Rock in early 1820.  Eliza and her two children came to Little Rock in September 1820.  In 1822, she gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first documented baby born in Little Rock.  (There are unsubstantiated reports that at least one slave child may have been born prior to Chester.)  She and Matthew also had Robert, Henrietta, Sarah and Matilda.  The latter married Peter Hanger, after whom the Hanger Hill neighborhood is named.

Dr. Cunningham died in June 1851.  Eliza died in September 1856. They and Chester (who died in December 1856) are buried in the Hanger family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery.


Little Rock Look Back: Land for first LR public park is transferred to city

April 23, 1892, marked the beginning of the City of Little Rock’s public park system.  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: John Herndon Hollis

John Herndon HollisOn February 5, 1870, future Little Rock alderman and acting mayor John Herndon Hollis was born shortly before his family moved to what is now Cleveland County. His parents were originally from Georgia and came from prosperous and longtime families there.

The Hollis family came to Arkansas after the Civil War and settled in Union County. A portion of that county was carved off and became Dorsey County (named after a Republican US Senator from Arkansas) but was renamed Cleveland County after Grover Cleveland was elected President. Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President in over 20 years. This name change also reflected the political shift in Arkansas from the Reconstruction-led Republican politics to the Democratic Party politics which would dominate for the next century.

John Herndon Hollis was one of six children, and the only one with a middle name. Herndon had been his mother’s maiden name. As one of his brothers described their childhood in Cleveland County, “they all went to country schools in their home neighborhood, worked hard on the farm in the summertime, and were inside their little Methodist Church every time the doors were open.”

Around 1900, Hollis and his new wife Malinda M. “Linda” Taliaferro Hollis (formerly of Rison) moved to Little Rock.  Together the couple had six children. In Little Rock, Hollis worked in the banking industry. For years he worked for People’s Building and Loan Association.

Hollis was first elected to the Little Rock City Council in April 1904. He would serve as one of the Aldermen from the city’s Fourth Ward until April 1918.  This was on the western border of Little Rock at the time. The family lived at 1510 S. Schiller, which is one block east of Central High, though at the time neither the school nor its predecessor (West End Park) existed.  From 1907 until 1913 he also served on the Little Rock School Board.

In April 1908, at the first City Council meeting in the new City Hall, Mayor W. E. Lenon announced his resignation. Because the resignation was effective immediately, there was a vacancy in the office of mayor.  Hollis was selected by his colleagues to serve as acting mayor until a successor could be elected. So from April 1908 through June 1908, Hollis was the City’s chief political and executive leader.

Though he was never formally mayor (and did not resign his position as alderman), since 1908, Hollis’ name has appeared on the list of mayors of Little Rock. The reason seems to be as a sign of respect since there was a vacancy.

There previously had been acting mayors when the mayor would be absent on business or due to illness. But in those instances, the mayor had not resigned. This is the only instance in Little Rock history when a mayor resigned immediately with no successor in place. So John Herndon Hollis holds a unique role in Little Rock history.

Hollis’ wife died in 1920.  He later married Ann Jewell of Little Rock (who was a distant cousin of his first wife). They were married until his death on October 23, 1941.  Ann Hollis lived in Little Rock until her death in 1980.  The Hollis family is entombed in the mausoleum at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Both of John Herndon Hollis’ wives are distant cousins of the Culture Vulture, so he is particularly fond of John Herndon Hollis.


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Little Rock Look Back: The Public Library Opens

carnegieOn February 2, 1910, the Little Rock Public Library officially opened its doors.  There had been an open house the night before, but this was the first day of acquiring a library card and checking out books.

Various private libraries had existed sporadically in Little Rock throughout the 19th Century.  In November 1900, a Little Rock School District committee made the first inquiry into the the creation of a Carnegie Library in Little Rock.  Over the next several years, numerous entreaties were made, but funding for the City’s portion was an obstacle.  On December 17, 1906, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance to move forward with building, furnishing and equipping a library.  Finally, in February 1908, the City approved acceptance of $88,100 from Andrew Carnegie.  The building would be designed by Edward Tilton, who designed Carnegie libraries, working with local architect Charles Thompson.

Mary Maud Pugsley was hired as the first librarian for Little Rock in May 1909. She began her duties on September 15, 1909, in order to get ready for the opening of the library at the southwest corner of 7th and Louisiana Streets.

On February 2, 1910, formal circulation of books began.  J. N. Heiskell was issued library card number 1.  He was secretary of the Library’s Board of Trustees and had long been an advocate for a public library in Little Rock.  He had often used his bully pulpit as editor of the Arkansas Gazette to advocate for a public library since arriving in Little Rock in 1902.  (Years later — he lived until 1972 — he received a replica of the library card made out of gold.)

That first day of operation, 500 people had applied for library cards. The application process required one to be a Little Rock property owner or to have a property owner sign the application.

Within the first year of operation, 2.5% of Little Rock’s population of 45,951 had applied for a library card.

For more on the history of the transformation of the Little Rock Public Library into the Central Arkansas Library System, read Shirley Schuette and Nathania Sawyer’s From Carnegie to Cyberspace — 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System, published by Butler Center Books.


Little Rock Look Back: Pulaski Heights officially joins City of Little Rock

Ninth WardOn January 13, 1916, the Little Rock City Council formally accepted Pulaski Heights into the City of Little Rock.

The Council had held a regular meeting on Monday, January 10, 1916, which was the same evening as the final meeting of the Pulaski Heights City Council.  Three days later, on Thursday, January 13, 1916, Mayor Charles Taylor again convened the Little Rock City Council to take the steps to officially annex Pulaski Heights into Little Rock.

By Ordinance 2259, the City’s boundaries were increased to include the land which had been Pulaski Heights.  Resolution 918 directed city staff to replat the land, which was necessary to bring the land in accordance with existing city plats and documents.

Resolution 919 set forth January 20 as a special election date to elect the two new members of the Little Rock City Council who would represent the new Ninth Ward of Little Rock.  Those who won would serve until April 1916.  The election would also serve as the primary for the April election.  Back then, winning the Democratic primary for a City race was tantamount to winning the race.  Since there were two seats being created, one would have a two year term, the other would be for only one year.  The candidate receiving the most votes on January 20 would, after April, take up the two year term and be able to run for re-election in April 1918. The candidate with the second highest total of votes would win the one-year term and be up for re-election in April 1917.  At the time, there were three publicly declared candidates for the two seats.  Another had been interested, but dropped out that morning.

Making Pulaski Heights the Ninth Ward was not the only focus of the City Council meeting.  An ordinance was also approved which allocated $438 for the purchase of beds, mattresses, chairs and other furniture for the City hospital.  (That is the equivalent of nearly $10,000 today.)  The Council then reimbursed a doctor the $438, which presumably had been spent on making the purchases.


Little Rock Look Back: Bonds sold for Robinson Center in 1937

clr-res-1418On December 20, 1937, the Little Rock City Council adopted Resolution 1,418 which authorized the sale of municipal bonds to fund the municipal auditorium.

Earlier that year, Little Rock voters had authorized the sale of $468,000 of Municipal Auditorium Bonds.  Since that January election, city leaders had been undertaking various steps to plan for the project.  Finally, they were ready to sell the bonds.  On December 20, a public sale was held.  The US federal government made a bid for the purchase of $418,000 of the bonds. It was the only bid received.

The sale was accompanied by an Emergency Clause so that it would go into effect immediately.  The clause noted: “It is ascertained and declared that by reason of the present economic conditions many citizens of the City are out of work, and the improvements herein provided would furnish work for a large number of persons and thereby add to the peace and happiness of the City; further, that the City has no Municipal Auditorium or facilities for large conventions or gatherings…”

The offer by the US Government to purchase the bonds was in addition to an outright grant of $342,000 to help fund the auditorium.

While there would be other issues in financing and funding the project, the sale of the bonds on December 20, 1937, set things in motion which led to the February 16, 1940, opening.


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Little Rock Look Back: Adams Field Dedicated in 1941

adams-field-first-terminalOn November 11, 1941, Adams Field was dedicated in Little Rock.  The ceremony marked the official opening of the airport’s first administration building.  It also marked the official naming of the building in memory of George Geyer Adams.

Adams was captain of the 154th Observation Squadron of the Arkansas National Guard. He also served on the Little Rock City Council from 1927 to 1937.  During that time he helped develop what would become Little Rock’s airport from an airfield first planned in 1929 for military planes to what would become Little Rock’s municipal airport.

Adams left the City Council in April 1937.  Five months later, he was killed in a freak accident when a propeller assembly exploded and sent the propeller careening toward him.

Adams’ family was present at the ceremony on November 11, 1941.  The fact that it was on Armistice Day was no accident.  Little did few realize that US would be plunged into a second world war just a few weeks later.

Top executives from American Airlines came to Little Rock to participate in the festivities.  Others coming to town included members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation.  New Mayor Charles Moyer shared credit for the building with former Mayor J. V. Satterfield who had led the project for most of the time.  (Satterfield would later be the first chairman of the Airport Commission in 1951.) Hundreds turned out for the ceremony.  While they were in town, the congressional delegation and American Airlines executives made the most of interest in them and spoke to various civic clubs and banquets.  They extolled the virtues of airflight and the aircraft industry.

On a personal note:  the terminal building was built by E. J. Carter, a great uncle of the Culture Vulture.