Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sam M. Wassell

Wassell

On April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney; he practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  (Though the Democratic primary was heated as he took on the incumbent Dan Sprick.)   He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock recently put into naval service, it is interesting to note that Wassell’s wife, Ruth Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.

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LaHarpe Sees a Rock on April 9, 1722

On April 9, 1722, French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe rounded the bend of the Arkansas River and saw La Petite Roche and Le Rocher Français.  He had entered the mouth of the Arkansas River on February 27 after traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Though La Harpe and his expedition are the first Europeans documented to have seen La Petite Roche, the outcropping of rocks was well-known to the Quapaw Indians in the area.  The outcropping jutted out in the Arkansas River and created a natural harbor which provided a perfect place for boats to land.

The rock outcropping is the first one visible along the banks of the Arkansas River.  It marks the place where the Mississippi Delta meets the Ouachita Mountains.  Geologists now believe that the Little Rock is not the same type of rock as the Ouachita Mountains and more closely matches the composition and age of mountains in the western US.

In 1813, William Lewis became the first European settler to live near La Petite Roche but only stayed a few months.  Speculators and trappers continued to visit the area throughout the 1810s. During that time, the outcropping became known informally as the Little Rock.

La Petite Roche had become a well-known crossing when the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819. The permanent settlement of ‘The Rock’ began in the spring of 1820, and the first building has been described as a cabin, or shanty, and was built on the bank of the river near the ‘Rock.’ In March 1820, a Post Office was established at the ‘Rock’ with the name “Little Rock.”

Over the years, La Petite Roche was altered.  In 1872, Congress authorized the building of a railroad bridge. A pier for the bridge was built at the location of the La Petite Roche which caused the removal of several tons of rock.  The bridge was never built.  When the Junction Bridge was built in 1899, even more rock was removed in the process of erecting part of the bridge on top of the rock.  It was not viewed as being disrespectful of the City’s namesake at the time.  Indeed, it was viewed as a testament to the sturdiness of the rock.

In 2010, La Petite Roche plaza opened in Riverfront Park.  It celebrates the history of La Petite Roche and explores its importance to various aspects of Little Rock’s history and geography.

Little Rock Look Back: First Basketball Game in Little Rock

Very few sports can have a definitive “this was the first game in Little Rock” moment. But basketball does.

On April 7, 1893, the Arkansas Gazette ran stories about the final day of horse racing at Clinton Park racetrack (the park stretched roughly from what is today’s Clinton Presidential Park through the East Village to Clinton National Airport), the men who were soon to take office as aldermen met to plan for their upcoming City Council terms, and a preview of a new sport coming to Little Rock.

Less than two years earlier in Springfield, Massachusetts, a YMCA instructor named James Naismith had invented the new game of Basket Ball (then spelled with two words).  The sport caught on in popularity and spread throughout the country through the network of YMCAs.

Now, on April 7, 1893, Little Rock residents would get their first glimpse of the game.  Two hundred men and women gathered at the Little Rock YMCA (located at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main Streets) to see the game, which started at 8:30pm.

The Little Rock YMCA team (which had only formed the night before) took on the Pine Bluff YMCA team.  The Pine Bluff young men had been practicing for six months.  The results of the game reflected that.  At the end, Pine Bluff had scored 70 points and Little Rock had scored 9 points.

Following the game, the Little Rock chapter hosted both teams for refreshments.  Little Rock was scheduled to go to Pine Bluff to play again during the YMCA statewide convention at the end of April.

From those meager beginnings, Little Rock has seen its fair share of basketball triumphs.

Little Rock Look Back: Werner C. Knoop

To Little Rock citizens under a certain age, the name Knoop means Knoop Park — a picturesque park tucked away in a pocket of Hillcrest.  There are, however, still many who remember Werner C. Knoop as a business and political leader who helped shape Little Rock as a modern city.

Knoop was born on March 30, 1902.

In 1946, Knoop joined with Olen A. Cates and P. W. Baldwin to form Baldwin Construction Company in Little Rock.  Knoop had previously founded Capital Steel Company and established his business reputation there.  From 1945 through 1951, he served on the Little Rock School Board.

Following a series of political scandals, efforts were undertaken for Little Rock to shift from Mayor-Council to City Manager form of government.  Even before the desegregation of Little Rock Central put the city in the eyes of the world, an election for new leaders had been set for November 1957.  Knoop was on a “Good Government” slate and was one of the members elected.

At the first meeting of the new City Board, Werner C. Knoop was chosen by his fellow directors to serve as Little Rock Mayor.  Knoop served as Mayor until December 1962.  For the first several months in office, Little Rock had no City Manager so Knoop oversaw the transition of City staff as the forms of government changed.

Though City Hall generally stayed out of school district matters, that did not mean that the public viewed the two entities separately.  In September 1959, the Baldwin Construction offices were bombed as part of a series of terrorist activities protesting the desegregated reopening of all Little Rock high schools.

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

After two terms on the City Board, Knoop decided against seeking a third term.  He concluded his elected public service on December 31, 1962.  Following his time on the City Board, Knoop did not retire from Civic Affairs.  In 1970, he served as Chairman of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.   The previous year he served as President of the Arkansas Chapter of Associated General Contractors.

Mayor Knoop died in July 1983.  He is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park next to his wife Faith Yingling Knoop, a renowned author.

In the 1930s, Knoop moved into an Art Moderne house on Ozark Point in Hillcrest.  It was adjacent to Little Rock Waterworks property which was developed around the same time.  Eventually much of the land was deeded to the City for creation of a park.  In 1989, it was named in tribute to long-time neighbor Knoop in honor of his lifetime of service to Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Robert F. Catterson, who united Little Rock and then divided Arkansas

It is interesting that the same man who brought an end to strife in Little Rock’s divided government in the post-Civil War era would then be active in a major rift in the Arkansas state government only a couple of years later. But that is just what Robert F. Catterson did.

On March 22, 1835, future Little Rock Mayor Robert Francis Catterson was born in Indiana, the son of Irish immigrants.  He studied medicine in Ohio and established a medical practice in Indiana upon completion of his studies.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army.  Throughout the war, he was promoted and was eventually mustered out as a brigadier general in 1866.  During his service, he participated in the siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Following his departure from the military, Catterson decided not to return to medical practice.  He moved to Arkansas and worked for a brief time in the cotton commodities field.  He later returned to military service commanding a militia fighting the Ku Klux Klan.  Catterson was appointed US Marshal.

In November 1871, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock. His election ended a tumultuous two-year period where the Little Rock City Council tried unsuccessfully to remove Mayor A. K. Hartman.  Mayor Catterson served a relatively quiet two year term in office until November 1873.

A few months after leaving office, Catterson would return to “military” service as he commanded the troops who were supporting Joseph Brooks as he wrested control for several weeks from Governor Elisha Baxter.

Sometime after order had been restored, along with the return of Governor Baxter to the statehouse, Catterson moved to Minnesota. He later moved to Texas where he died on March 30, 1914 at the age of 79.  He is buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery.

The Eagle Has Landed (in Little Rock)

On March 16, 1822, Captain Morris piloted the steamboat The Eagle to Little Rock, seventeen days after departing New Orleans.  This became the first steamboat to reach Little Rock.  The boat reached Little Rock at an early hour in the morning and Captain Morris, in order to arouse the town, fired a salute of several guns.

It did not stay in Little Rock, but headed upriver toward the community of Dwight Mission, founded by Presbyterians in what is now Pope County at the mouth of the Illinois Creek.  Due to low waters, it was unable to make it to Dwight Mission.  On March 19, 1822, it returned to Little Rock.  It then headed back to New Orleans.

Though it would be the McClellan-Kerr navigation project before the Arkansas River would become a permanent home to commercial river traffic, boats up and down the Arkansas River helped establish Little Rock as an important trading post.

Women Making History: Vada Webb Sheid

Image result for vada sheidVada Webb Sheid was the first woman to be elected to both the Arkansas House and the Arkansas Senate. She was also the first woman in the Arkansas Senate who did not first succeed a husband.

Born in 1916 in Izard County, she grew up there. After graduating in high school in 1934, she attended classes in Little Rock at Draughon School of Business before returning to Izard County.  In 1940, she married Carl Sheid. Over the next few years they lived in Mountain Home, El Dorado, and Little Rock before returning to Mountain Home after World War II.

After an earlier unsuccessful race for Baxter County Treasurer in 1958, Vada Sheid was elected to the position in 1960 and served until 1965. In 1966, she was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives.  She was one of four women in the House during her first term.

Vada Sheid served in the Arkansas House through 1976. That year, she was elected to the Arkansas State Senate. She served as a State Senator from 1977 to 1985. Defeated in a bid for a third term, she was later appointed to the Arkansas State Police Commission.  In 1993, she was returned to the Arkansas House in a special election and served until January 1995.

During her service in the Arkansas General Assembly, public works and higher education projects were a major focus. She championed the construction of a bridge across Norfolk Lake as well as many other river bridges and highways in North Central Arkansas. She also pushed through the bills to establish the Mountain Home campus of Arkansas State University as well as what is now known as North Arkansas College in Harrison.

Though a staunch Democrat, she worked across the aisle to get projects completed. Her work on the Norfolk Lake bridge required lobbying of both Gov. Rockefeller and President NIxon.

Vada Webb Sheid died in 2008, but her legacy lives on.