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LITTLE ROCK’S HISTORY: ARKOPOLIS, ARKANSAS

10 Apr

Many people have inquired about the exhibit title, “Almost Arkopolis” and where the name came from. The story behind it is that we were almost called Arkopolis! Come to our Open House Friday nigth uring the 2nd Friday Art wWalk at studio MAIN from 5- 9 to see the exhibit.

The story goes back to the early 1800’s when a trapper named William Lewis brought his family to the area which was known then as the “Point of Rocks” In 1812, set up a homestead and laid claim to the area. William was the first setter in the area of what we know today as Little Rock.

The Southwest Trail

The Point of Rocks was a crossroads in Arkansas, where the Southwest trail, which ran from St. Louis to Texas, forded the Arkansas River, and travelers on the river, transitioned between the flat delta to the more mountainous river valley region of Arkansas, making it a good location for a future town. The state was also slowly growing in population and on its way to becoming its own territory and a more suitable site somewhere in the center of the territory was needed to form a seat of government.

The Point of Rocks was becoming a very strategic location in the development of Arkansas and was soon realized by a land speculator named William Russell in 1819 who purchased the land to lay out a town called Little Rock. But William Russell was not the only interested party. Another group, led William O’ Hara (apparently William was a very popular name in those days), laid claim to the land based on the government issued New Madrid Certificates. After the great New Madrid Earthquake in late 1811, many people lost their property to which the federal government issued certificates to affected parties to lay claim to an equal amount of land anywhere in the Missouri Territory (Arkansas was still part of the Missouri Territory until 1819). So the New Madrid group laid claim to a site that overlapped William Russell’s’ claim. The New Madrid group started early building their town which they too called Little Rock, to try and get the upper hand on the dispute. But to differentiate itself from the proposed Russell town site, they changed their name to Arkopolis.

The town was built quickly to hopefully house new legislatures who would be moving to Arkopolis shortly, mostly consisting of log structures. But in true Arkansas style, there was a bizarre twist. While there were two different claims on the area causing the dispute, only part of the two claims overlapped. After many homes and buildings were built, it was realized that the town had actually been built on a section of William Russell’s claim that did not overlap the New Madrid claim. So one night all the men disguised themselves (I’m not sure why) and moved all the log structures 300 or 400 yards to the area claimed by the New Madrid group. Every building was removed except the one brick building in town, which was blown up because it could not be moved.

Eventually, the Territorial Superior Court ruled in favor of William Russell and Arkopolis faded into history.  All the buildings were destroyed in spite so that Little Rock could not use them. But the curious thing is, it did not disappear completely. Many old maps around 1820 – 1822 still show a city in the center of Arkansas called Arkopolis

1822 Map of Arkansa By S. H. Long showing Arkopolis, Arkansa (Open and zoom in)

I can envision a lot more ancient Greek influence in our architecture if we had been called Arkopolis. City hall would be the Arkopolis Acropolis!

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Little Rock

 

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