Little Rock?

Tip of the "Little Rock" with the old 
railroad bridge behind.

How did Little Rock, Arkansas get its name? Glad you asked. The naming of Little Rock happened in 1722 when French explorer Bernard de la Harpe was leading a party of explorers up the Arkansas River from New Orleans and came upon two rock outcroppings, one large and one small, on opposite sides of the river. Indians had long used both rocks as landmarks so de la Harpe obviously spent a lot of time thinking about it and finally decided on the clever name "La Petite Roche" or "little rock" as a means of distinguishing the smaller outcropping from the larger bluff upstream, which he named "French Rock."

Over the next 100 years, control of the region alternated between the Spanish and the French, but few permanent settlements were established, so at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Arkansas was almost uninhabited. Once the territory became part of the United States however, more and more Americans were willing to move west of the Mississippi River. The first white settler near the "little rock" was William Lewis, a hunter. In July, 1812, he built a small hut and planted a few pumpkin seeds so he could file a homestead claim. In 1819, a land speculator from St. Louis named William Russell bought Lewis' claim and by May 1820, he had staked out a town site. Later that same year, members of a rival group laid out a second town site that they named Arkopolis. In 1821, Russell's Little Rock settlement was chosen as the capital of the Arkansas Territory. When tensions between the two opposing groups touched off fears that the capital would be moved elsewhere, the speculators resolved their differences amicably, shook hands, and the site was officially named Little Rock.

Now a beautiful park, this used to be 
Hell's Half Acre.
In the early days of the settlement, the Arkansas River was the lifeblood of the town. The "little rock" extended into the river, forming a natural landing basin for boats to offload their commerce. The earliest ferry that crossed the river was at this point of rocks in 1819. In the Civil War, just before the city was captured, Confederate troops burned the CSS Pontchartrain at the landing to keep it from falling into the hands of the Yankees. Right after the Union forces captured it, to facilitate the movement of troops and equipment, a pontoon bridge was constructed across the river with one side anchored into the rocks at the landing. After the war, the area around the "little rock" became notorious due to the saloons, gambling establishments, and women of ill repute. It quickly became known as "Hell's Half Acre." It was many years later before the area was cleaned up and the less desirable individuals were strongly encouraged to ply their trade elsewhere.

What remains of the original little 
outcrop of rocks.
The original La Petite Roche was located at the present day north end of Rock Street overlooking the Arkansas River. In the late 1800s however, most of the rock was blown up to build a railroad bridge. But some forward thinking soul saved the tip of the rock and after sitting in a warehouse for a few years, it was hauled to the lawn of City Hall. A plaque with the title "Le Petite Roche" was bolted to it.

The change in location caused much confusion. Visitors to Little Rock who wanted to see "the little rock" would be given directions to the riverside where they would wander around fruitlessly looking for a rock with a plaque on it stating "here's the little rock." But the rock was sitting on the City Hall lawn with a French name bolted to it. Finally, in 2009, the problem was solved when the rock was moved back to it's original location on the riverbank. If you want to see it now, it stands in a very visible plaza in Riverfront Park, next to the old railroad bridge and has a plaque attached proclaiming it to be The "Little Rock."

Sculpture in Riverfront Park

Jogging track Riverfront Park with the famous 
Peabody Hotel in background.

Downtown Little Rock