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Renovations and Opening of the MacArthur Park to the Public

By 1890, the former military base was in a terrible state. The Tower Building was empty and deteriorating. A lot of renovation was required to turn the Park around. A landscape engineer, J. H. Pittman, took up the task of redesigning the property. Pittman’s new design included the installation of 2 well houses, a bandstand, a body of water, and the removal of 28 buildings. The Lake came to be known as Pittman’s Lake. After the new design was complete, the area was renamed Arsenal Park and was made accessible to the public on 4th July 1893. Residents of Little Rock mostly used the new Park for baseball games and picnics.

There was a growing concern among the residents that the Lake was attracting a lot of mosquitoes. Therefore, the Lake was drained and filled. From its establishment until this time, most people referred to Park as City Park. It was also shortly known as Camp Shaver in May 1911 when it hosted the Confederate Veterans’ Reunion. In 1942, the official name of the Park was changed to MacArthur Park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, who was born at Little Rock Arsenal in 1880.

A firehouse had been built in 1917 on the southwest area of the Park and was operational until 1959. In 1959 the firehouse was no longer a feasible option for the containment of the large fire-trucks. In 1927, a monument was erected in Arkansas to celebrate the first legal human dissection. The Work Progress Administration built a fishpond in 1933, and in 1936 established a Museum of Fine Arts building. Many changes were made to the Museum of Fine Arts building in the subsequent years. In 1963, the museum’s name was changed to Arkansas Arts Center. There was a plan to build a veteran’s hospital in the southern part of the Park.

The hospital was constructed in a different place due to public pressure and the original agreement that the land be used solely as a public park.

In 1942, at the same time that the Park’s designation was changed to MacArthur Park, the city of Little Rock relocated the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities from Little Rock’s City Hall to the Tower Building, which by this time was the only surviving building from the former arsenal. In 1984 and 1985, new restorations were made to the Park. The bandshell had deteriorated considerably and was past restoration; therefore, a concert pavilion replaced it. During this time, A reflection garden and a playground were constructed. A lake covering 1.7 acres was also incorporated into the southern area of the Park. The Museum of Natural Antiquities was stationed in the Tower Building for 55 years before being relocated to the River Market district.

Over the years, the name of the museum has changed several times. It was renamed Museum of Science and Natural History in 1964, Arkansas Museum of Science and History in 1983, and in 1997 acquired the name by which it is known today- Museum of Discovery. The Tower building was restored, and on 19th May 2001, it became home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Other restorations and additions that have been made to the Park include numerous martial commemorations such as a large memorial to soldiers from Arkansas who served in the Korean War.

On 28th July 1970, the former arsenal was classified as a historic site on the National Register. On 19th April 1994, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Due to the continuing need for renovations, the MacArthur Park Group was formed in 2006. The role of the organization is to conserve and develop MacArthur Park and its environs. The MacArthur Park Group has sponsored fundraising events, including a 5-kilometer race as well as a murder mystery dinner show. The organization has also been successful in leading volunteer park clean up days and refinancing of park bonds producing $150,000 for capital enhancements to the Park, all without IC Systems or outside financing. Some trails have also been developed to connect the Park to the River Market District.

The Civil War Roots of MacArthur Park

MacArthur Park had undergone many transitions before it came to be known as a historical center. The land was first used as a horse racetrack by a local jockey club during the early 1830s. Six years later, the U.S. Department of War purchased the property for the construction of a military arsenal after Arkansas became a state. Initially, Congress had allocated $14,000 for the development of the arsenal. However, the total cost incurred in developing the installation was $30,000. The military base was named Little Rock Arsenal. Soon after the Department of War acquired the land, the first and most unique building on the property was erected-The Tower Building. The tower building derived its name from its octagon tower. The structures in the military base incorporated locally made bricks, stones from the Big Rock (located to the northern part of the Arkansas River), and wood from Pine Bluff. Upon its completion, the arsenal received praise from the Arkansas Gazette for the great artistry employed. More than 30 buildings were constructed on the site during the next decade.

In February 1861, as the Civil War was looming and Governor Henry M. Rector of Arkansas was under pressure from citizens to secure Little Rock Arsenal. The governor preferred to acquire the arsenal through non-violent means. Captain James Totten, who was then the commander at Little Rock Arsenal, sought direction from the authorities in Washington DC. However, in the end, he was compelled to make his own decision. In February 1861, Captain James Totten resolved to hand over the arsenal to the State of Arkansas, even though the state had not yet seceded. He won praise from the women of Little Rock for his peaceful course of action and was bestowed with a ceremonial sword. After the Union troops entered Little Rock in September 1863, the arsenal mostly operated as a housing complex. Many weapon storehouses were cleared and used to host soldiers and their families.

After a review of federal arsenals in 1890, the U.S. Department of War decided to decommission hundreds of military bases. Little Rock Arsenal was one of the stations that were to be decommissioned. The department of War had directed that the arsenal be evacuated before the end of 1st October 1890. By 1890, most of the buildings on the site were deteriorating. Many people wondered what would become of the former arsenal. The general assumption was that the United States government would either sell the property or abandon it altogether. Several proposals were made, one of them being from Tennessee Brewing Company to establish a brewery.

This proposal faced strict opposition from community leaders. Fortunately, Congressman William Terry of Little Rock helped broker a deal in which the site would be traded for 1000 acres of land north of the Arkansas River. The agreement was formalized and took effect on 23rd April 1892. According to the agreement, the land would forever exclusively serve the role of a public park for the city of Little Rock. The property traded for the former arsenal first served the purpose of a military training facility and was later transformed into a hospital for veterans.

A Brief History of MacArthur Park

MacArthur Park is located in the city of Little Rock on a 36-acre piece of land at Ninth Street and McAlmont Street just west of Interstate thirty and opposite St. Edwards Catholic Church. The Park was the first Municipal Park to be established in Little Rock and was initially designated as City Park. Being home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and the Arkansas Arts Center, the Park plays a vital role in preserving the history and culture of the city of Little Rock and the State of Arkansas. The Park and the area around it have been designated the MacArthur Park Historic District. In addition to being a historical center, the Park doubles up as a recreational center for Little Rock residents and guests in the town.

The Park is named after General Douglas MacArthur. General Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock Arsenal on 26th January 1880 during a very transitional period. He was brought up in a military household and graduated at the top of his class West Texas Military Academy. He then became the first-ever captain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he also graduated at the top of his class in 1903. During his military service, General Douglas MacArthur rose to the rank of 5-star general. In the 1930s, General Douglas MacArthur was the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and in World War 2, he performed an essential role in the Pacific Theater. He also served in World War 1, the Mexican Revolution, the Korean War, and the Philippines Campaign as Field Marshal for which he earned the Medal of Honor for his distinguished service.

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