Tag Archives: State of Arkansas

Happy 77 to Historic Arkansas Museum

77 years ago today (July 19, 1941), Louise Loughborough presided over the opening of a restored original Little Rock city half-block.  A member of Little Rock’s Planning Commission, she had become concerned about plans to demolish a half-block of dilapidated historic homes—the last remnant of Little Rock’s oldest neighborhood

While the buildings were in desperate need of repair and restoration, they were not yet too far gone to be saved. Using her politically astute skills, she worked with the federal, state, and city governments to get funding and labor to restore the buildings.  They opened at the Arkansas Territorial Restoration.

Over the years, the project grew. It became more than just a historical recreation of bygone days. It became a true museum which celebrated not only Arkansas during its territorial heyday but also the history and culture since then.  Additional historic structures have been relocated to land adjacent to the original property to showcase what rural territorial life in Arkansas was like.

In 1981, the organization became the first history museum in Arkansas to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. The museum was renamed the Historic Arkansas Museum (lovingly shortened to HAM) in 2001 to reflect its expanded facility and mission. At that time, it also opened expanded and new galleries.

Today, HAM continues to thrive as it tells the story of Arkansas’ past, but also the state’s present.

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Little Rock Look Back: Gov. Baxter returns after end of Brooks-Baxter War

On the morning of May 19, 1874, Joseph Brooks cleaned out his belongings from the gubernatorial office in the 1842 Arkansas State Capitol (now the Old State House) and disappeared to points unknown.

The beginning of the end of his stint claiming to be Arkansas Governor came on May 15 when President US Grant accepted the recommendation of his Attorney General that found Elisha Baxter was the duly elected Governor of Arkansas.

Following Brooks’s departure, the grounds and building were in shambles.  A Gazette reporter noted that barricades had been built on the lawn of the building.  The front and back doors remained, but their facings had been removed to make it easier to roll big weapons and equipment in and out of the building.

Inside, furniture was in disarray and broken.  The bookcases in the state library had been turned on their sides to serve as tables.  The reporter described the smell as composed of “a mixed perfume of sour bacon and human beings.”

In preparation for the return of Gov. Baxter, crews were busy trying to restore order in the building. The Senate Chambers were nearly put back in order that day, but the House Chambers needed more attention.

As another illustration of the disarray in state government between April 15 and May 19, the state treasurer, Henry Page, told the newspaper that he had not cut a single check at the request of the Brooks administration.  He stated that he had not denied the request, he just delayed responding to it.

Finally that day, Governor Baxter arrived at the head of a ceremonial parade of carriages.  Among those who accompanied the governor was Arkansas Gazette founder William Woodruff.  In the next carriage, future US Senator and Attorney General Augustus Garland sat with reporters from the New York Times and Arkansas Gazette.

Upon arriving at the Capitol grounds, Baxter delivered a speech.  101 guns were fired in salute to him.  The cannon on the capitol grounds (nicknamed Old Lady Baxter) was shot off several times.  A retinue of Little Rock’s ladies pulled the lanyard to detonate the cannon.

As part of President Grant’s order to end the Brooks-Baxter War, the ground was laid for a new Arkansas Constitution, the end of Reconstruction, and the re-enfranchisement of Democratic voters.  In short order, the 1874 constitution, under which Arkansas still operates, was adopted.  Many of the Republicans and African American office holders soon found themselves out of power. And African Americans were completely disenfranchised.

It would be 92 years before Arkansas would again elect a Republican to be Governor.  The adoption of the new constitution took the term of governor and other constitutional officers from four years to two years.  In 1874, he retired to Batesville and lived there until his death in 1899.  Brooks remained in Little Rock until his death in 1877.

Little Rock Look Back: First Class status granted City of Little Rock

On March 9, 1875, the City of Little Rock became a City of the First Class in Arkansas. It was the first city in the state to receive this designation.

This was in conjunction with the adoption of the Arkansas Constitution of 1874 which created this status.  The Constitution defines them as: “All cities, which at the last federal census had, or now have, a population exceeding two thousand five hundred (2,500) inhabitants shall be deemed cities of the first class.”

March 9 is just one of several dates Little Rock could celebrate as a birthday.

  • January 6, 1866 – Little Rock government resumes operations following the Civil War
  • November 2, 1835 – Little Rock is incorporated as a City
  • November 7, 1831 – Little Rock is incorporated as a Town
  • October 27, 1825 – Little Rock given the right to elect a governing board of trustees
  • June 1, 1821 – Little Rock officially becomes capital of Arkansas
  • April 9, 1722 – Jean Batiste Benard de La Harpe sees Le Petite Roche

There could also be the dates in 1812 when William Lewis built the first home in Little Rock (a shack) or in February 1820 when the first permanent settlement was established.  But neither of those have exact dates that are remembered.

Women’s History Month – Judge Alice Lightle, first female Little Rock District Judge

Judge Alice Lightle was first appointed by Governor Mike Beebe in June 2007 to fill out the remaining term in Little Rock District Court, Third Division (colloquially known as Environmental Court). She became the first woman to serve as a permanent District (formerly Municipal) Judge in Little Rock history.

In November 2008, she was elected to a four year term in the Little Rock District Court, First Division (informally called Criminal Court). This made her the first woman to be elected a Little Rock District Judge.  She was re-elected in 2012 and again in May 2016, when she was unopposed.  She started her third term in January 2017.

Judge Lightle comes from a family of attorneys and public servants.  Prior to serving as a judge, she was a former assistant state attorney general and commissioner on the state Workers Compensation Commission.

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock becomes a City of the First Class

On March 9, 1875, the City of Little Rock became a City of the First Class in Arkansas. It was the first city in the state to receive this designation.

This was in conjunction with the adoption of the Arkansas Constitution of 1874 which created this status.  The Constitution defines them as: “All cities, which at the last federal census had, or now have, a population exceeding two thousand five hundred (2,500) inhabitants shall be deemed cities of the first class.”

March 9 is just one of several dates Little Rock could celebrate as a birthday.

  • January 6, 1866 – Little Rock government resumes operations following the Civil War
  • November 2, 1835 – Little Rock is incorporated as a City
  • November 7, 1831 – Little Rock is incorporated as a Town
  • October 27, 1825 – Little Rock given the right to elect a governing board of trustees
  • April 9, 1722 – Jean Batiste Benard de La Harpe sees Le Petite Roche

There could also be the dates in 1812 when William Lewis built the first home in Little Rock (a shack) or in 1820 when the first permanent settlement was established.  But neither of those have exact dates that are remembered.

The birthday that is used is the November 7, 1831.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor John Widgery

LR sealOn June 17, 1802, future Little Rock Mayor John Widgery was born in Portland ME to Mr. and Mrs. William Widgery.  His father died in 1804.  At the age of 11, John Widgery entered Bowdoin College.  He was the youngest student admitted to the college.

Widgery studied law with his uncle, Nathan Kinsman.  He married Ann L. Woodward, who was from Boston MA.  According to Bowdoin College records, he later “wandered away into the Southwest” spending time “in the Cherokee country.”

Widgery spent most of his adult life in the south. For a time Widgery was clerk of the Mississippi House of Representatives.  He then moved to Little Rock prior to 1840.  By 1840, he was Recorder for the City of Little Rock.

According to media reports at the time, several tradesman groups encouraged Widgery to run for Mayor in January 1841.  He did run but lost to Rev. Samuel H. Webb.  The next year, Widgery ran again and this time was elected Mayor.  He took office in January 1842.  On May 24, 1842 he resigned from office.  He later served as Secretary of the Arkansas Senate (where he made $8 a day when the Senate was in session).

Widgery eventually settled in St. Louis.  He later returned up north.  He died on August 2, 1873 in Portland ME and is buried there.  He and his wife did not have any children.

No known painting or photograph of Mayor Widgery exists.

Little Rock Look Back: John Widgery, LR’s 8th Mayor

LR sealOn June 17, 1802, future Little Rock Mayor John Widgery was born in Portland ME to Mr. and Mrs. William Widgery.  His father died in 1804.  At the age of 11, John Widgery entered Bowdoin College.  He was the youngest student admitted to the college.

Widgery studied law with his uncle, Nathan Kinsman.  He married Ann L. Woodward, who was from Boston MA.  According to Bowdoin College records, he later “wandered away into the Southwest” spending time “in the Cherokee country.”

Widgery spent most of his adult life in the south. For a time Widgery was clerk of the Mississippi House of Representatives.  He then moved to Little Rock prior to 1840.  By 1840, he was Recorder for the City of Little Rock.

According to media reports at the time, several tradesman groups encouraged Widgery to run for Mayor in January 1841.  He did run but lost to Rev. Samuel H. Webb.  The next year, Widgery ran again and this time was elected Mayor.  He took office in January 1842.  On May 24, 1842 he resigned from office.  He later served as Secretary of the Arkansas Senate (where he made $8 a day when the Senate was in session).

Widgery eventually settled in St. Louis.  He later returned up north.  He died on August 2, 1873 in Portland ME and is buried there.  He and his wife did not have any children.

No known painting or photograph of Mayor Widgery exists.