I live downtown at the Cliffs, a condo complex right on the riverfront just on the west edge of downtown. It’s in a section of town cut off from the rest of the city by La Harpe, but that has a lot of history in it, though not much of it is left today. I’ve included some shots from a bird’s eye view of Little Rock map I have from the late 1800’s which show some of the things mentioned below. This was the original West Little Rock, with houses overlooking the river down below and the city to the east. My most frequent walk is around this area, below my place along the riverside. It’s a secluded area right on the edge of downtown and though it’s not uncommon to see a homeless person or two walking down the path, it’s become my urban backyard.
As a side note, in some of the following pictures, it may be hard to see the things I am describing because the area is so overgrown right now. I will try and do an update of this post when the weather cools and vegetation recedes.
I’ll start off from leaving my place and tell you I live on North St. When Little Rock was first laid out, it was defined by two boundaries, the river to the north and the Quapaw line to the east which was the western boundary of the Quapaw Indian tribe. The furthest street to the east then was called East Street (now called Commerce), and the furthest one north was called North Street. From here it’s pretty easy to walk down to Garland Street and a short walk down Gaines. Not much of Garland was left after highway 10 (La Harpe) was built but parts of it still remain. It was originally called Water Street but changed to Garland to honor a governor of Arkansas who was also a senator and the U.S. Attorney General, Governor Augustus Hill Garland.
Walking down Gaines St, you can see the ruins of old foundations where homes once overlooked the waterfront and town from this elevated point. Jonquils can be seen where the old flower beds were and there are even some blackberry bushes. Only a couple of vacant lots overlooking the riverfront remain today (Why hasn’t anyone developed this site yet!!!)
Gains St just kind of ends but there is a small path leading down to the actual river trail. This section of the trail isn’t currently used because it dead ends at the railroad bridge to the south and it is actually gated off just to the east of here (though it’s never locked). Little Rock is looking for a way to extend the trail below the bridge and around the Dillard’s headquarters which is just to the west but it will probably be a while before this last section of the River Trail loop will be finished. If you look at the trail, it’s a very straight section that travels all the way to the railroad. But it wasn’t originally built by the city. This is what remains of an old railroad line that traveled from downtown to connect with the rail line to the west near the bridge, which the city paved over to make the bike path. It’s a nice stretch of path, similar to some of the wooded riverfront sections of the bike path on the north shore.
When I first moved out here, I was disappointed to find I couldn’t actually reach the riverfront from this trail. The old grade is raised pretty high above the water level to prevent flooding and there’s a dense buffer of vegetation between. However I finally did find a way down by sliding down a vein of gravel, exposed on the surface from the old grade which was accessible in the winter when it wasn’t grown over. So a few years back I decided to build my own trail.
Though I haven’t kept it up much and flood water have washed away the bottom stretch of the trail on the bank, it still provides a good access to the actual waterfront. From which I started my next project.
Just a rock jetty sticking out into the water that provides an excellent view of the river or a great launching area for kayak trips! It too is in a bit of disarray but hopefully I can work on it and the trail some this winter.
Some of you may have seen on the news a few years back about the giant sinkhole along the riverfront here that disrupted some underground utilities.
Here’s the hole!
A large section of the hillside collapsed into the river one night after a big flood. Unfortunately, it’s in such a secluded area it will probably be a while before it is repaired. Also, unfortunately, it’s right below my house.
Further down the path there are some remnants of an old brick structure that used to be here. It’s hard to see in the summer time and I’m not sure what it is, but it makes for a great scene. I was, however, able to find it on my map
Finally we arrive at the Baring Cross Railroad Bridge, the only one of Little Rock’s three railroad bridges still used by trains today, making it a very active spot. I can hear the trains roll by from my bedroomevery night, but I have grown accustomed to them. They’ve become relaxing white noise to me. Not so much to Nicole yet. At this point, trains running on this main line from Los Angeles to Chicago cross paths. I have read somewhere (can’t remember where) this is the oldest continually crossed section of the river. The original Baring Cross Bridge was built here in 1873 but was washed away and has been rebuilt. You can see on the map the original bridge actually had a road on the top of it for wagon and pedestrian traffic. You can read more about it here
From here it’s the end of the line. The area is fenced off and it is private property owned by Union Pacific. And they really really really do not like trespassers! This is the area the city has to figure out how to get a bike path through without crossing the tracks or impeading barge traffic on the river. Good Luck! So we turn around and head back home, taking a shortcut and it’s just a little climb up the stairs back home