First documented theatrical performance in Little Rock on January 8, 1835

On January 8, 1835, the Little Rock Town Council passed an ordinance granting the Society of Thalians a one year franchise to conduct performances in Little Rock.

That same day, the Thalians performed She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy.

The following week, on January 17, they performed the comedy Ways and Means (by George Colman, Jr.) and David Garrick’s farce The Lying Valet.

The cost of the license to perform was $10 for the year. That would be the equivalent of $287 today. The ordinance also instructed the Town Constable to attend, by himself or a deputy, all theatrical performances to keep and preserve order.

There may well have been theatrical troupes come through Little Rock prior to January 1835, but records do not exist to any performances they may have given.  The performances by the Thalians are the first documented theatrical productions in Little Rock.

Birthday of Little Rock first mayor, first physician, and many other firsts – Matthew Cunningham

Future Little Rock Mayor Dr. Matthew Cunningham was born on July 5, 1782, in Pennsylvania. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, he ended up in New York City.  He also served in the Army during the War of 1812.

It was in New York, he met and married a young widow, Eliza Wilson Bertrand. After a brief stint in St. Louis, Dr. Cunningham was one of the first settlers of Little Rock in February 1820. With his arrival, he became the first physician in Little Rock.

In September 1820, Mrs. Cunningham and her children joined him. She became the first female in the Little Rock settlement. Dr. and Mrs. Cunningham had a son, Chester, who was the first white baby born in Little Rock. (Though not supported by any public records, there is some unsubstantiated thought that one of the African-American slaves they had gave birth to a child before Chester was born.) The Cunninghams had several other children.  One daughter, Matilda, would marry Little Rock businessman Peter Hanger.  (The Hanger Hill neighborhood is named after Peter Hanger.)

In 1831, Dr. Cunningham was elected the first Mayor of Little Rock. He won the race with 23 vote to 15 votes over Rev. W. W. Stevenson. The first City Council meeting took place at the Cunningham house on the block which is the southwest corner of what is now 3rd and Main Streets. Records are incomplete as to where on the block the Cunningham house was located, but a plaque is on 3rd Street near Main on the side of the Fulk Building which CJRW now calls home.

Dr. Cunningham served one year as Mayor. He lived until June 15, 1851, and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery. His wife, son Chester, and the Hanger family are buried next to him.  Because he lived for two decades after serving as mayor, he was able to see Little Rock continue to grow.

His stepson – Charles P. Bertrand – also served as Mayor of Little Rock.  While there have not been any Little Rock father-son combinations serve as mayor, Dr. Cunningham and Mr. Bertrand certainly shared a kinship.

Descendants of Dr. Cunningham still reside in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: First documented theatrical performance in Little Rock

On January 8, 1835, the Little Rock Town Council passed an ordinance granting the Society of Thalians a one year franchise to conduct performances in Little Rock.

That same day, the Thalians performed She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy.

The following week, on January 17, they performed the comedy Ways and Means (by George Colman, Jr.) and David Garrick’s farce The Lying Valet.

The cost of the license to perform was $10 for the year. That would be the equivalent of $287 today. The ordinance also instructed the Town Constable to attend, by himself or a deputy, all theatrical performances to keep and preserve order.

There may well have been theatrical troupes come through Little Rock prior to January 1835, but records do not exist to any performances they may have given.  The performances by the Thalians are the first documented theatrical productions in Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: First Council Meeting in Little Rock

TowncouncilplaqueOn this date, January 16, 1832, the very first Town Council meeting took place in Little Rock.  It was held at the home of Dr. Matthew Cunningham, Little Rock’s first Mayor. (Prior to the establishment of a City Hall, the Mayor was responsible for hosting the Council meetings.)

Dr. Cunningham owned several properties in Little Rock.  His home was situated on a block at  the southwest intersection of Markham and what is now 3rd Street.  Currently Bennett’s Military Supply anchors that corner in the Fulk building.  The block also includes the Mann on Main project, which is comprised of the buildings originally constructed for the Gus Blass Department store.

Little Rock was chartered as a town in 1831 and elections were subsequently held.  Dr. Cunningham outpolled Rev. W. W. Stevenson to become the first Mayor.

Joining Mayor Cunningham at the first meeting were the original four Town Council members – Charles Caldwell, Benjamin Clemens, David Holt and John McLain.

In 1931 a plaque, as part of Little Rock’s Centennial, a plaque was erected to note the first meeting.  The plaque erroneously implies that the first meeting was in 1831. This mistake is understandable since the first election was in 1831.  The plaque also refers to the body as the City Council.  It was, in fact, the Town Council.  There would not be a City Council until 1835 when Little Rock was elevated to City status.

(Incidentally, the plaque is not the only incorrect date regarding City meeting places.  The date stone above the entrance to City Hall reads 1907. Though construction of the building was largely finished in 1907, City offices did not move in until 1908. The building was not officially dedicated until April 1908.  When the plaque was installed it was probably due to wishful thinking.)