Birth of Little Rock’s 22nd and 24th mayor – William Eliot Ashley

On August 6, 1823, future Little Rock Mayor William Eliot Ashley was born in Little Rock.  He would go on to become the first Little Rock Mayor to be born in Little Rock.  Ashley was the son of Mary and Chester Ashley; his father would later serve as a U. S. Senator from Arkansas.  He was the second of the couple’s seven children.

Though he was raised in Little Rock, he did receive some schooling out of state. The State History Commission has correspondence between eleven year old William, studying in New York, and his father. Part of the letter is a request for money.

On October 26, 1846, he married Frances Eliza Grafton at Christ Episcopal Church.  They were the first Little Rock residents to be married in that church.  The couple had five children, including triplets.  Only one of the children, Frances (who was one of the triplets) survived to adulthood.

Ashley was first elected Mayor of Little Rock in 1857. After completing a two year term, he was succeeded by Gordon N. Peay (another scion of a prominent Little Rock family).  In 1861, Ashley returned to the office of Mayor.  He was reelected to a third term in 1863.  In September 1863, following the defeat of Confederate troops by the Union forces at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations.  On September 21, 1863, Little Rock municipal government closed its doors, stopped collection of taxes and disbanded.  Thus Ashley’s third term ended.

In addition to his interest in local government, Ashley was a member of St. John’s College Board and a director of the newly-formed Little Rock Gas Company.

William Eliot Ashley died on August 16, 1868, at the age of 45.  He was buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery (which sat partially on land that had once belonged to his family). His parents, wife and children are all buried in Mt. Holly as well.

Interestingly, for someone who grew up in a prominent family, there does not appear to be a surviving likeness of Mayor Ashley – either in painting or photograph.  Several exist of his parents, but none of him.

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Birth of Little Rock Mayor James Woodson (aka – future Ron Swanson)

On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina.  The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849.  His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.

Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891.  Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs.  In 1895 he was elected mayor.   He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.

During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street).  He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River.  Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.

In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway.  After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company.  That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.

Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).

Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868.  They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.  Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.  His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him.  Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother.  Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.

Some have noted his resemblance to actor Nick Offerman of the show “Parks and Recreation.”

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.

Flag Day 2019

Flags mark graves at Mount Holly Cemetery

Flag at the Clinton Presidential Center

Flag at Robinson Center

The red, white and blue stand out against the night sky and limestone of the Arkansas State Capitol.

The flag on the Capital Hotel balcony at Christmastime

Memorial Day – Remember the Fallen

Today is Memorial Day – a time to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who died in service to their country.

As a way to give this recognition, today would be a good day to visit a cemetery. One of Little Rock’s most storied cemeteries is Mount Holly Cemetery. There are numerous persons buried there who died while in service to their country.

One of them is 2Lt Carrick W. Heiskell, son of Arkansas Gazette editor J. N. Heiskell.  2Lt Heiskell died while flying for the Air Transport Command in the Himalayas during World War II.  He was posthumously the recipient of the Distinguished Unit Emblem, Purple Heart, and the Air Medal.

Founded in 1843, Mount Holly has been called “The Westminster Abbey of Arkansas.” Thousands of visitors come each year. Those interested in history come to see the resting places of the territorial citizens of the state, including governors, senators, generals, black artisans, and even a Cherokee princess. For others the cemetery is an open air museum of artistic eras: Classical, Victorian, Art Deco, Modern––expressed in gravestone styles from simple to elaborate. Some come to read the epitaphs that range from heartbreaking to humorous to mysterious.

Though a City of Little Rock facility, the cemetery is maintained by the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, a non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors. The cemetery is located at 1200 South Broadway in Little Rock. Gates are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the winter.

Little Rock Mayor T. D. Merrick born on May 23, 1814

_Thomas D. Merrick was born on May 23, 1814, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He later moved to Indianapolis and Louisville before ending up in Little Rock.

On January 17, 1841, he married Anna M. Adams of Kentucky at Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock. They had seven children: George, Annie, Ellie, Mollie, Lillian, Dwight, and Thomas.

Merrick became a prominent member of the Little Rock business community, as a merchant and cotton broker. He was involved in Freemasonry, holding the position of Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in 1845.

In 1855 Merrick entered into a business partnership with future LR Mayor John Wassell. Merrick was also involved in city politics, serving on the city council and also as mayor from January 1854 to January 1855.

He saw active service during the Civil War. On February 6, 1861, Merrick delivered an ultimatum to Captain James Totten of the United States Arsenal at Little Rock, demanding the surrender of the federal troops.  This was more than two months before Fort Sumter was attacked.

Captain Totten ignored the ultimatum. Merrick, however, did not lead an attack on the Arsenal, which would have certainly been viewed as aggression against the federal government.

Merrick also raised a regiment of Confederate Arkansas Militia, holding the rank of Colonel of Infantry at Camp Conway, near Springfield, Arkansas.  Following the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), Merrick resigned his commission and returned to Little Rock.

Merrick died in his home in Little Rock on March 18, 1866.  He is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.

176 years of Mount Holly Cemetery

Mount Holly Cemetery in January 2013.

2019 marks the 176th year of Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.

The land was donated by Roswell Beebe and Chester Ashley in February 1843.  From March through October 1843, the Little Rock City Council would pass a variety of ordinances and resolutions governing the cemetery and making other provisions for it.

Though the opening day sale of lots and picnic would not take place until May 1843, the first burial appears to have been on April 8, 1843.  William Cummins was buried will full Masonic orders on that day.  The service was conducted by Little Rock’s second mayor, Rev. W. W. Stevenson.

On May 1, 1843, it became illegal to bury persons in Little Rock any location other than Mount Holly.  This ordinance had been adopted on March 7, 1843.

The prior cemetery had been at Capitol and Gaines Streets (on which a portion of the Federal Courthouse now stands). Skeletal remains have also been found at Seventh and Rock Streets, in what was probably a family burial plot.  Other small plots were in existence until action in 1834 by the Little Rock Town Council which prohibited private cemeteries.

During the Civil War and years following it, the City would establish other cemeteries and allow additional cemeteries to be created.  But the creation of Mount Holly marked another step in Little Rock’s development as a city.

From 1843 until 1877, Mount Holly was governed by a City Council Committee.  Upset by the lack of attention given to the cemetery, a group of civic leaders asked the City Council to create a separate Commission to govern the cemetery. This was done on March 20, 1877.  It was possibly the first City Board or Commission composed of non-elected officials.

By 1914, the cemetery was once again being neglected.  This time a group of Little Rock’s leading women decided it was time to band together to address it.  In June 1915, the Little Rock City Council disbanded the Cemetery Commission for Mount Holly and designated the Mount Holly Cemetery Association as the governing body.  103 years later, the ladies of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association continue this outstanding work.