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.