In 1833, Governor John Pope chose the site for Arkansas’s new territorial courthouse or capitol: two blocks situated on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River, just west of the stone outcrop that gave the town its name. Pope envisioned a building that would, in his words, “give an impulse to the general improvement of the country.”
To design it, the governor chose Kentucky-based architect Gideon Shryock, designer of the Kentucky state house. Shryock drew up plans for the Arkansas capitol and in March 1833 sent his associate George Weigart to Little Rock with the drawings.
Pope liked the plans but told the Arkansas Gazette that they “were on too large and expensive a scale.” He and Weigart modified the design, reducing the size of the structure somewhat, using brick instead of stone for exterior walls and scaling back on decorations.
Construction began in March 1833. Political controversies and accusations of fraud and theft played out in local newspapers but work on the building—dubbed “Pope’s Folly” by local wags—progressed. In September 1836, although far from completed, the new State House was deemed “done enough” to host the first session of the first General Assembly of the new State of Arkansas.