MacArthur Park, has a long history of public usage, and The MacArthur Park neighborhood is historically significant because prominent, politically-connected people have lived there since territorial days.
The MacArthur Park Historic District includes sites related to Arkansas history, from the Quapaw Line, Arkansas Territorial and early Statehood days, the Confederacy, through Depression W.P.A. projects, up to the L. Desegregation Crisis.
In 1834, a group of Little Rock citizens formed the Little Rock Jockey Club to race horses, choosing that piece of land for the track. Citizens came here to socialize, drink, and enjoy the races. According to newspaper reports, the races were action packed and full of boasting and bravado of the competing horse owners. But the racetrack would last only a couple of years. Arkansans had long begged the Federal Government to give them a Federal Arsenal to protect them from what they perceived to be dangerous Indians. So Governor James Sevier Conway pled with the United States War Department "We are a frontier people exposed to savage invasion and are often in pressing need of assistance and protection which only the Federal government can afford."
In 1836 the United States Government, or the War Department responded by giving the city $14,000 to build an arsenal and purchased 36 acres, now comprising the park grounds. Some 26 structures stood on these grounds between the years 1838 and 1890. In the months leading up to the Civil War, the Arsenal came under greater state scrutiny. In February 1861, armed citizens threatened to seize the Arsenal in anticipation of Arkansas's secession from the Union. A confrontation was averted when authorities negotiated a peaceful compromise with the commander and Federal troops withdrew. Confederate forces held the Arsenal until September of 1863 until Union troops led by General Frederick Steele captured Little Rock. A marker is placed on the so called parade ground in the Park and it reads "The Civil War could have begun at this US Arsenal. As other states seceded rumors that reinforcements were heading for the Arsenal lead around 1000 militia from south and east Arkansas to demand the surrender of the garrison. On Feb 12, 1861 Captain James Totten with no orders from his superiors abandoned the Arsenal "to avoid the cause of Civil War". Two month later Fort Sumter , in S.C was attacked.
After the war, life returned to normal for the soldiers at, the now renamed Little Rock Barracks, and the need for federal protection diminished. The War Department began consolidating forces. Upon being informed that its small facility would be closed, city officials worked with Congressman William L.Terry to negotiate an agreement whereby the federal government would trade the Little Rock Arsenal and 36 acres to the city in exchange for 1000 acres on the north shore of the Arkansas River, now known as Fort Roots. Judging by newspaper articles of the day there was a fierce debate whether to either establish a brewery or a park. While this heated debate was going on a bill in Congress was introduced, and on April 16,1892 the Arkansas Gazette received a telegram from Congressman Terry saying that a settlement had been reached and on Friday April 23, 1893 eleven deeds involving the transfer of the arsenal grounds and structures to the City Park Improvement District were filed for record at Little Rock. This Land SHALL BECOME VESTED IN THE CITY OF LITTLE ROCK UPON THE EXPRESS TRUST AND CONDITION THAT SAID GROUNDS SHALL BE FOREVER EXCLUSIVELY DEVOTED TO THE USES AND PURPOSES OF A PUBLIC PARK FOR SAID CITY.
All Arsenal structures with the exception of the Tower Building (now Arkansas Military History Museum.)...were torn down or sold and moved to other sites and the grounds were landscaped for a park. The new park was first named the Arsenal Park though only a short time later renamed City Park.
The name was again changed to Mac Arthur Park to honor the then famous Genenral Douglas MacArthur who had been born in the Tower Building on January 26, 1880, while his father was stationed here.
In 1911, the City Park hosted the 21st Annual Convention of United Confederate
Veterans. 6,000 veterans were expected, over 12,000 veterans attended, with families and descendants increasing the participants to over 100,000. Many traveled by train, arriving at the Choctaw Station, now the Clinton School of Public Service. A grand parade, from the State House to City Park and back, took two hours for all entrants to pass a given spot. The parade crowd of 150,000 remained the largest in Little Rock until Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign activities. Other events for the convention included hot air balloon rides, receptions, dances, with 5800 attending the Veterans Ball. The veterans also dedicated the Capitol Guard statue, near the front corner of the Museum.
In 1917 city officials gave permission to build Little Rock Fire Company no.2 . It was moved from 1107 Main Street and remained in the park until the new generation of fire trucks became too large to be housed there and a new building was built in 1959 on Ninth Street, across the Park. The building has since housed various organizations, but most recently the City has given a 50 year lease to the Firehouse Hostel and Museum to restore the building and convert it into a Hostel and Museum. Phase 1 is the Hostel, and a later addition will be a museum. The building is in desperate need of repair or it will not survive.
We are fundraising, and have been for some time, to be able to start the restoration. One article in the Arkansas Gazette in 1922 talks about a planned establishment of several auto camping grounds for tourists visiting the city at the southwest corner of the Park. A favourable vote for the auto campground was secured, but how long this campground actually existed is not known except it was very popular with tourists who sent cards thanking the city for such a fabulous facility.
Let’s hope the hostel will have the same result with tourists when we get it opened
Arkansas Political History in the MacArthur Park Neighborhood, explains sites related to Arkansas political history and is based on the Museum, Art and Heritage Trail map. A brochure explaining the audio tours is printed and distributed to visitor centers, trolleys, and hotels. Significant sites along the route are designated by special sidewalk markers.