This Month, We’re Honoring “City Park”

A lot can happen over the course of 125 years. As MacArthur Park celebrates its quasquicentennial this month, we’re taking a look back at the events that made Little Rock’s first city park what it is today.
Courtesy of the National Archives

1836: The federal government purchases the land just northeast of what is now the Interstate 630/30 interchange to build a military arsenal. Previously, the land had been used as a horse-racing track.

1840: Construction of the Little Rock Arsenal is complete.

Feb. 8, 1861: Capt. James Totten peacefully surrenders the arsenal to the state of Arkansas after being surrounded by a 1,000-plus man militia force.

April 12, 1861: The Civil War officially begins.

May 6, 1861: Arkansas formally secedes from the Union.

Sept. 11, 1863: Troops commanded by Union Gen. Frederick Steele capture Little Rock and take control of the arsenal, occupying it through the end of the war.

May 13, 1865: The Civil War officially ends.

1873: The arsenal is repurposed and renamed the Little Rock Barracks.

Courtesy of the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture

Jan. 26, 1880: Douglas MacArthur is born to Capt. Arthur MacArthur and Mary Pinkney Hardy in the Tower Building of the barracks.

1890: The Little Rock Barracks closes as part of a mass decommissioning of the nation’s arsenals by the U.S. Department of War.

April 23, 1892: The federal government trades the arsenal property to the city of Little Rock in exchange for 1,000 acres in present-day North Little Rock. The land swap takes place with the stipulation that the arsenal property is “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” Shortly after, all of the arsenal’s originals buildings, save the Tower Building, are destroyed.

July 4, 1893: Arsenal Park opens in Little Rock. As it’s the only park in the city, it becomes more commonly known as “City Park.”

June 11, 1903: Douglas MacArthur graduates at the top of his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Nov. 21, 1930: Douglas MacArthur becomes Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, sworn in at the rank of general.

1937: The Museum of Fine Arts—now known as the Arkansas Arts Center—opens.

July 26, 1941: Gen. MacArthur is named commander of U.S. Forces in the Far East.

March 9, 1942: Ordinance 6,388 is passed by the Little Rock City Council renaming Arsenal Park in honor of Gen. MacArthur. [The Tower Building reopens as the Museum of Natural History and Antiquities (later renamed the Arkansas Museum of Science and History in 1983).]

April 1942: Gen. MacArthur receives the Medal of Honor for his service in defense of the Philippines during World War II.

Sept. 2, 1945: Gen. MacArthur officially accepts Japan’s surrender during World War II aboard the USS Missouri. He would go on to oversee the occupation of Japan from 1945 until 1951.

March 23, 1952: Gen. MacArthur visits MacArthur Park as he considers a run for the GOP presidential nomination. That nomination—and eventually the presidency—would go to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who also visited the park later that year.

July 28, 1970: The Tower Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

April 19, 1994: The Tower Building is designated a National Historic Landmark.

1997: The Arkansas Museum of Science and History relocates to the River Market District, where it’s renamed the Museum of Discovery.

May 19, 2001: The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History opens in the Tower Building.

June 17, 2006: A Centennial Grove of 100 trees is dedicated in the park to replenish the trees destroyed during the devastating storms of Jan. 21, 1999, which produced a record 56 tornadoes across the state.

August 2006: The MacArthur Park Group is formed to steward and improve both the park and the MacArthur Park Historic District.

June 25, 2007: The Arkansas Korean War Veterans Memorial is erected in the park, inscribed with the names of the 461 Arkansans killed during the conflict.

January 2009: The MacArthur Park Master Plan is developed by Conway+Schulte Architects to advance “the concept of MacArthur Park as an outdoor public room, creating a vibrant urban space that is also the focal point, attractor and catalyst for sustainable development.”

2011: The city of Little Rock designates $500,000 from a sales-tax referendum for park improvements.

March 2013: The MacArthur Unleashed Dog Park opens on a 2-acre parcel in the southeast corner of MacArthur Park.

Aug. 18, 2016: The historic Little Rock Fire Station No. 2, located in the southeast corner of the park, reopens as an international hostel and a museum dedicated to firefighting history. The building originally served as a firehouse from 1917 until 1959.

Sept. 29, 2018: MacArthur Park throws a bash to fête its 125th birthday.

The MacArthur Park Group is throwing one heckuva birthday party for the park on Sept. 29, featuring family activities, crafts, live music, a German biergarten (with brats and polka!) and living-history demonstrations. But the celebrations don’t stop there: The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is also hosting a grand reopening party to showcase its extensive renovations with its vintage military-vehicle show. (macarthurparklr.com)