If you are in downtown Little Rock, you are close to what is perhaps the most popular spot in town. The historic River Market District has been part of a re-blossoming of the riverfront of Little Rock over the past decade. The River Market itself is an outdoor farmer's market, with all types of fresh local produce being offered daily, and an indoor market where 17 shopkeepers offer everything from gourmet coffee to fresh sushi. The area has become a center of activity, which is continually fueled by the addition of new restaurants, bars and shops. The City of Little Rock has done its best to keep the momentum going. Events like Big Downtown Thursday, a sort of public happy hour each week from 6pm to 10pm, and the annual Riverfest in the Riverfront Park, adjacent to River Market, bring people down to the area. These events boast live music, great food and a carnival atmosphere.
Just a short way from River Market is the area of restored 19th Century homes around MacArthur Park and the Governor's Mansion known as the Quapaw Quarter. The area is nine square miles of beautiful antebellum and Victorian homes and the central business district. Most of the homes are in private hands, so the access is limited mainly to walking and driving tours. However, twice a year, many homes in the quarter are opened for tours under the direction of the Quapaw Quarter Association. There is the Annual Quapaw Quarter Spring Tour the first weekend in May and the Christmas Open House the first weekend in December. However, there are homes that are open to the public that can be toured throughout the year. They include Villa Marre, dating from 1881, which was the home used in the TV show 'Designing Women,' The Empress Bed & Breakfast and Trapnall Hall Old State House Museum. Some are available for special occasion rental, and may be used for weddings and other events.
Hillcrest Historic District and West
The area west of downtown along Markham is known as the Hillcrest Historic District. This is a National Register of Historic Places collection, being one of the earliest residential areas of the city. The homes date from the early part of the century.
West Little Rock is the newest part of the city. It is further west than Hillcrest, past University, and is continuing to spread westward beyond Shackleford Rd. This is the area of suburbia where most new homes are being built, and upper middle class families proliferate.
The Heights is a trendy, upscale area on the northwest side of town with its own particular flavor, almost a mini-village in itself. Here you will find quaint gift shops, exclusive boutiques, restaurants, cafes and antique shops, mixed into a residential neighborhood that's a bit on the exclusive side. This is north of Hillcrest and dates from the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the houses overlook the Arkansas River, built high up on the bluffs - hence the name.
University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is spread over an area west of downtown. The Razorbacks play at War Memorial Stadium, and housed on the campus south of there you will find the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Planetarium, the art gallery in the Fine Arts Building, and the Theater Auditorium where stage plays are produced. The University area is also where you will find some of the best shopping in town. Two malls, Park Plaza and University Mall, are located at the same intersection, at West Markham and University Ave.
North Little Rock
Of course, North Little Rock has its own personality, not to be outdone by its bigger cousin. Formerly known as Argenta, this municipality has preserved its own local history. The Old Mill in Old Mill Park, famous for being the backdrop to the opening credits in 'Gone With the Wind,' is open for tours. The Argenta Historic District is a large area which includes many structures, including city hall, churches, and a military post. A driving tour brochure will point you in the right direction.
There are many smaller neighborhoods, which you might discover on your own. Each area of town has its little bustling corner, some naturally more bustling than others. Civic pride is evident in the growth and vitality of Little Rock.
History of Little RockThe explorer Hernando de Soto first crossed the Mississippi into what is now Arkansas in 1541. Since the fabled gold he was looking for was not found, the Spanish soon lost interest in the area. The French explorer Bernard de la Harpe called attention to the area in 1722 with reference to the rock formations he called La Petite Roche and La Grande Roche on the banks of the Arkansas River. The area of the 'little rock' turned out to be a convenient area for crossing the Arkansas River, near a Quapaw Indian settlement. La Harpe built his trading post at this point on the river. The 'big rock,' a little further upstream, later became the site of an Army post. The 'little rock' can be seen today downtown in Riverfront Park. A trapper named William Lewis built his home at the Little Rock post in 1812. When Arkansas became a territory in 1819, the capital was at Arkansas Post, a site downriver. Two years later, it was moved to the bustling area of Little Rock. Little Rock was incorporated as a city in 1831 and became the state capital when Arkansas was admitted into the union in 1836.
The territorial history of the city and the state is interpreted at the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, where living history portrayals and displays depict the period. This complex of buildings includes the territorial capital building, where the government met before Arkansas was made a state. Arkansas is unique in being the only state capital with three capital buildings still standing. The second is now known as the Old State House Museum, where the state's first governor was sworn into office in 1836. This was the seat of government until 1911. The present capital building was only partially completed when the general assembly started sessions there in 1911, and was completed in 1916.
Little Rock was the center of a tug-of-war between the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. The Federal arsenal in Little Rock was seized by anti-Union forces in February 1861. In May of that year, Arkansas seceded from the Union. The Confederate state government moved to Washington, Arkansas in 1863, after Little Rock was taken over by the Union. During the time the Confederates were in Washington, AR, the Union had its own state government functioning in Little Rock under Isaac Murphy. It was truly a divided state. More than 10,000 federal loyalists fought in the northern part of the state against the Confederate army.
Rebuilding the Economy
Arkansas was readmitted to the Union in 1868 only after the Murphy government was replaced by a totally new Northern Republican government. In 1874, a month-long struggle known as the Brooks-Baxter War erupted over a gubernatorial election, which ended only when President Grant ruled that Elisha Baxter was indeed the rightful governor. After this debacle, the Democrat Augustus H. Garland won the next election. However, after many years of this rule, which favored businesses, the agricultural interests were suffering. Jeff Davis was elected Governor in 1900 on the promise of redressing the wrongs done to the agricultural community. This became known as the Agrarian Revolt.
By the 1880s, Little Rock was the center of a sinewy network of railroad lines. Even today, Little Rock is the chief market for the state, especially in terms of agriculture, lumber and bauxite. An increasing tourism trade is blossoming across the state. As the state's largest metropolitan area, Little Rock is touting its historical and cultural attractions to great benefit.
In 1969, the economy of the city of Little Rock received a great boost when a series of locks and dams were opened on the Arkansas River, effectively making the city a river port.
Central High School
What many consider one of the defining scenes of the civil rights movement played out in Little Rock. In 1957, nine black students attempted to attend Little Rock Central High School, under a 1954 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation. Troops were called out by the governor to prevent them from attending. President Eisenhower stepped in to prevent the state from interfering, and federal troops replaced the state troops. This is now commemorated at the Central High Museum and Visitor's Center, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Of course, Little Rock moved to center stage with the election of William Jefferson Clinton as President of the United States. The former governor was a lifelong resident of Arkansas, and two-term governor. The Clinton Presidential Library will soon be added to the cultural jewels of the town on the river, 'La Petite Roche.'
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