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.

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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.

Making History: African-American Mayors in Arkansas is topic of noon conversation today at the Clinton Presidential Center

Clockwise from left: Smith-Creer, Washington, McGill, Scott

Today at noon, the Clinton Presidential Center will host a program featuring four African-American mayors from across Arkansas.

The panel will be moderated by former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford, who was Little Rock’s first female mayor and second African-American mayor.

The program will feature the newly elected Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer of El Dorado, Mayor George McGill of Fort Smith, Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. of Little Rock, and Mayor Shirley Washington of Pine Bluff, who was first elected in 2016.

Little Rock Look Back: W W Stevenson

On January 29, 1797, future Little Rock Mayor William Wilson “W. W.” Stevenson was born in South Carolina.

In 1811, he came to Arkansas when his family settled in Batesville.  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he married Ruana Trimble in 1821 and had two children. After she died, he married Maria Tongray Watkins in 1831 and had two more children.

In 1831, he ran for Little Rock Mayor in the first election for the office but was defeated by Dr. Matthew Cunningham.  The next year he ran to succeed Cunningham and was elected.  After leaving the Mayor’s office on December 31, 1833, he continued public service.  He was asked to run for Mayor later in the 1830s, but declined.  He did serve as State Commissioner for Public Buildings in 1839.

In 1849, he delivered the funeral oration at the ceremony for Hon. Ambrose H. Sevier.  Later that year, he was hired as a geologist for the Little Rock and California Association which was created to take advantage of the gold rush.  He and his two oldest sons moved to California and never returned to Arkansas. He died in 1888.

Little Rock Look Back: 57th Mayor Martin Borchert

On January 16, 1916, future Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert was born in Stuttgart.  After graduating high school he moved to Little Rock.  During World War II, he served as a bomber.  He started work at ACME Brick and spent 21 years there before engaging in other business interests.  Among these businesses were Martin Borchert Co., ASCO Hardware, Detection Systems Inc. and Component Systems Inc.  In 2005 he was inducted into the Arkansas Construction Hall of Fame.

Mayor Borchert was elected to the Little Rock City Board of Directors in 1964 and served from January 1965 through December 1968. He chose not to seek a second term.  In 1967 and 1968 he served as Mayor of Little Rock. During this time, he laid out the vision for what has become Riverfront Park along the Arkansas River.

Other civic achievements included being a member of the Board of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, being on the Governor’s Citizens Advisory Committee, a member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court, vice chairman of the Arkansas Planning Commission, and being on the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council. In 1967 he served on the President’s National Advisory Council to the Small Business Administration.

Mayor Borchert served on the Little Rock Water Commission, including a tenure as chairman. In 1985, he was chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Policy Board and as chairman oversaw the transfer of the Central Arkansas Transit system to the Central Arkansas Transit Authority. One of the achievements of which he was very proud of was that he was one of the very first in Arkansas to receive an Adopt the Highway road.

Mayor Borchert was married for 57 years to Rosemary “Biddy” Branch Borchert.  They had two children, a son, John “Topper” Borchert and a daughter, Leslie Borchert Wilson.  He died on May 11, 2007.

Little Rock Look Back: First Little Rock edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE

First LR ArkGaz insideAfter months of planning, on Saturday, December 29, 1821, the first edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE to be published in Little Rock came off the press.  Due to a shortage of paper supplies, it was only a two page edition, instead of the four pages which publisher William Woodruff had been customarily printing.

Because the capitol of the Arkansas Territory had moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock earlier in 1821, Woodruff wanted to relocate as well.  Not only did it make sense for a newspaperman to be close to the seat of government for purposes of stories, there was a financial reason for the move, too.  Woodruff wanted to continue to be the contracted official publisher of government records.  If he stayed in Arkansas Post, someone else would certainly have opened up an operation in Little Rock to do the printing.

The first Little Rock edition featured the usual mix of national news (often culled from other newspapers once they arrived at Woodruff’s establishment), local stories, and advertisements.  One of the stories was a letter from General Andrew Jackson to the citizens of the Florida Territory.  There was also a dispatch from Pernambuco, Brazil.

Because it was the first issue from Little Rock, Woodruff took time to write about Little Rock.  He noted it was located on the south side of the Arkansas River on a “beautiful gravelly bluff” with picturesque views of the river and surrounding areas.  He noted the territorial and federal government offices which were located in Little Rock.

Though the Gazette ceased publication in 1991, the 1821 publication of that paper in Little Rock set the stage for more than just that one newspaper.  It marks a continual presence of newspaper and journal publication in Little Rock for 197 years.

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock named Capital of Arkansas

On October 18, 1820, Territorial Governor James Miller signed legislation designating Little Rock as the new capital for Arkansas.  This was a mere 10 months after the first permanent settlement was established in Little Rock.

While Little Rock became the Capital, technically it was not the Capital City, since it would not be incorporated as a City until 1835. It wasn’t even incorporated as a town until 1831.

The Act provided that after June 1, 1821, the sessions of the Legislature and the Superior Court would be held at Little Rock.  This caused Arkansas Post, the first territorial capital, to fade from prominence.

The move was made based on the lobbying of Amos Wheeler, Chester Ashley and William Russell.  These men all owned land in the Little Rock area and would benefit from the move of the Capital to Little Rock. The official reason given was Little Rock’s geographical center to the Arkansas Territory and that it was elevated land less prone to flooding.

But just as important, Messrs. Wheeler, Ashley and Russell promised to donate land for a capitol building and a guarantee of $20,000 for construction of a suitable building. (That would be the equivalent of $432,000 today.)

Around the time the legislation was approved, several members of the Territorial legislature purchased land around Little Rock.  When a subsequent effort to relocate the Capital upstream was launched, it failed due to the financial ties of these legislators to land in Little Rock.