Little Rock Look Back: John Herndon Hollis

On 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.

After leaving the City Council, Hollis remained active in civic affairs.  He co-chaired a successful campaign in 1929, to raise a tax for a variety of civic issues.

Hollis’ wife died in 1920.  He later married Ann Jewell of Little Rock (who was a 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: Opening of Little Rock Public Library

On 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.

Rock the Oscars 2019: THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL

From April 24 to 26, 1944, future Oscar winner Cecil B. DeMille was in Little Rock for the world premiere screening of The Story of Dr. Wassell.  This 1944 Paramount Pictures Technicolor release told the story of wartime hero Dr. Corydon Wassell.  It would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Special Effects.

Why was Little Rock chosen?  It was the hometown of Dr. Wassell.  His paternal grandfather, John Wassell, was Little Rock’s 27th mayor.  His first cousin, Sam Wassell, was serving on the City Council at the time of the film’s release and would become Little Rock’s 51st mayor.

Based on a book by James Hilton, it was inspired by the heroic efforts of Dr. Wassell, a naval officer, as he led the evacuation of several sailors (and treated their wounds) in Java in February 1942.  President Roosevelt highlighted Dr. Wassell in his May 26, 1942, fireside chat.

Little Rock rolled out the red carpet (literally and figuratively) for DeMille and a contingency from Hollywood.  Dr. and Mrs. Wassell also returned to Little Rock for the festivities.  Unfortunately, Gary Cooper (who played Wassell in the film) was unable to attend due to illness.  His costar, Laraine Day, was making another film and could not attend either.    Those in attendance with DeMille (and Mrs. DeMille) included actresses Signe Hasso and Carol Thurston, and actor Melvin Francis.  The latter played himself; he had actually been one of the sailors saved by Dr. Wassell.

On April 24, 1944, DeMille and Dr. Wassell appeared on a radio program broadcast live from the music hall of Robinson Auditorium.  The next day, the troupe toured Camp Robinson and spoke to the soldiers there.  Later that day, Miss Hasso and Miss Thurston sold war bonds at Pfeiffers and M.M. Cohn’s.

April 26, 1944, was a full day for the DeMilles, the Wassells, and the others.  It started with a luncheon at the Hotel Marion, hosted by the Lions Club and Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.  Governor Homer Adkins presented DeMille with an Arkansas Traveler certificate.  DeMille, in return, presented Governor Adkins with a copy of the script.

When it was Dr. Wassell’s time to speak, he praised Little Rock’s efforts on the home front.  He also asked for a standing tribute to longtime Little Rock school superintendent R.C. Hall, who had died the day before.  Dr. Wassell had taught with Mr. Hall decades earlier.

Following the lunch, there was a parade on Main Street.  It started at 10th and Main and proceeded to Markham before ending at the War Memorial Building (now the Old State House Museum).  Newspaper accounts said that it was four miles long and featured many military units and marching bands.

Dinner that evening was at the Lafayette Hotel before screenings of the movie at the Capitol and Arkansas Theatres. Both screenings were sold out.  On April 27, 1944, a regular run of the movie started at the Capitol Theatre.  It would be released nationally on July 4, 1944, which also happened to be Dr. Wassell’s birthday.

Little Rock Look Back: Pulaski Heights officially becomes part of Little Rock

Ninth Ward

On 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: First six Little Rock Police officers are hired

On January 9, 1866, the new Little Rock City Council held its second meeting after the post-Civil War resumption of municipal government.  At that meeting, a special committee was created to meet with Gen. Williams who was the military commander for Arkansas.  Mayor J. J. McAlmont, Alderman I. A. Henry, and Alderman Henry Ashley were authorized to discuss the creation of a permanent police force in Little Rock.

At the same meeting, the City Council hired the first Little Rock police officers. These six men were hired on a temporary basis until a department could be created. Their pay was $3.00 a day (that would be the equivalent of $47.55 a day in 2019). The first six officers were John O’Brien, Thomas Doyle, James Anderson, John Henry, Fred Kurtz, and Joseph Chears.

Prior to the Civil War, Little Rock had a Constable and volunteers, but no police force.  As the City had continued to grow, even during the Civil War, as the government was reorganizing, it was felt it was time for a permanent police force.

The Little Rock Police Department was officially created on January 15, 1866 by Ordinance 2 of 1866. Two days later, the salary was set at $2.00 a day.  No reason was given as to the reduction from the temporary pay base.

Little Rock Look Back: Post-Civil War government resumes for Little Rock

One hundred and fifty three years ago today (on January 8, 1866), Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.  (It was supposed to have started earlier, but the local elections set for November 1865 were cancelled on the day they were originally set to take place.)

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and future LR mayor John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley

Little Rock Look Back: Museum of Discovery is gifted to City in 1929

At the City Council meeting on December 19, 1929, Bernie Babcock presented the City of Little Rock with a Christmas present — the Museum of Natural History.

After the meeting was convened, Mrs. Babcock was given permission to make remarks to the City.  According to Council minutes from that meeting, she stated “she was at this time making a Christmas gift to the City of Little Rock in presenting to it the museum located on the third floor of the City Hall, setting forth, at length, the struggles in making the collections of which the museum is composed, and stressing the value of the museum to the city.”

Upon a motion, the museum was accepted by the City.  She then presented letters which formally made the offer to the City and suggested persons for a governing board.

Mrs. Babcock had been trying to get the City to accept the museum for a while.  She had been unsuccessful in getting Mayor Pat L. Robinson to agree to it after he took office in April 1929.  Ever-determined, she circumvented the mayor and went directly to the City Council. By December 1929, they had grown estranged from Mayor Robinson.

Since December 19, 1929, the museum has been affiliated with the City of Little Rock.  During that time, it has had several names and three locations.