Capitol Snapshots

Capitol Snapshots are 1-minute spots that air at various times throughout the day on KUAR and examine the history of Arkansas's Capitol. The segments are presented by Capitol Historian David Ware.

During the 1890s, it became increasingly clear that in spite of the extensive rebuilding of 1885-86, the State House’s days were numbered. Barely six decades old, it had nevertheless “deteriorated almost beyond repair.”

Serious discussions of a new capitol took place among legislators as early as 1893 but made no progress; an existing state debt, financial caution and lack of a suitable building site combined to impede the idea. In 1895, the session’s opening address from Governor James Paul Clarke did not include a call for a new capitol.

During the 1880s, extensive repairs and remodeling addressed various problems of the State House.

Even the longstanding overcrowding improved a little after a combination of legislative pressure and legal actions succeeded in finally evicting Pulaski County government from the State House’s east wing by 1884.

At the end of the Civil War, the Arkansas State House showed the effects of both the wartime hard use and pre-war deferred maintenance.

In the years following the war, Arkansas secretaries of state carried out extensive remodeling and repair work to the State House. The renovations were helpful but did not address a fundamental problem: the State House was simply overcrowded.

State offices shared the building with the Pulaski County government, which occupied part of the east wing, and also the United States District Court, which maintained chambers in the building.

Arkansas Capitol And The Onset of The Civil War

Mar 5, 2014

By 1860 Arkansas’s state house, not twenty years old, showed signs of severe deterioration. Successive Secretaries of State tried to keep up appearances but their reports to the Legislature detailed patchwork repairs, overcrowding, broken furniture and state records imperiled by being shifted from room to room.

When the First General Assembly of the State of Arkansas met in the unfinished State House in September 1836, incoming Governor James Conway found it impossible to tell which contractors had been paid, how much was still owed and how much money remained to fund the building’s completion.

Conway created a new office, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, to oversee the continuing work. Between 1836 and 1842, three such commissioners carried the work forward; on November 8 1842, Governor Archibald Yell was able to declare the State House officially complete.

Kentucky Architect Designs Arkansas Capitol

Mar 5, 2014

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.

Legislature of Arkansas Territory Needs A Home

Mar 5, 2014

From its first meeting in Little Rock in the summer of 1821 until its last in 1836, the Legislature of Arkansas Territory occupied no home of its own. Instead, it carried out its business in a series of rented spaces.

Efforts to secure a permanent home for Arkansas’s government began during the administration of territorial governor John Pope. After his appointment in 1829, Pope began a campaign to find funding for such a building, lobbying the US Congress for assistance.

When territorial governor James Miller arrived at Arkansas Post in late December 1819, he was not impressed by what he found: a small settlement whose residents seemed more interested in gambling and socializing than community building. In a February 1820 letter to the Secretary of War, Miller wrote, “I should not have resigned, if I had known as much about this country as I now do.”

The first meeting of Arkansas territory’s elected legislators convened at Montgomery’s tavern in Arkansas Post in February 1820.

The quarrelsome first session produced a bill calling for the territory’s capital to be relocated to Cadron, a small settlement near present-day Conway.

The bill was amended to substitute Little Rock for Cadron, and then tabled until the fall session. By the time the solons reassembled in October, tempers cooled and Little Rock emerged as the favorite site for the territorial capitol.

Arkansas Post And A New Government

Nov 25, 2013

On the day after Christmas of 1819, a keelboat arrived at Arkansas Post, bearing General James Miller, who had been appointed Governor of the new Arkansas territory on March 3rd of that year.

Official business and travel delays had slowed Miller’s progress from his New Hampshire home toward Arkansas but in his absence Kentuckian Robert Crittenden, the Territorial Secretary, had moved to set up the new territory’s government.