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 Only in Little Rock

Story and photos (except where noted)
by Kathleen Walls

Replica of the La Patite Roche

Replica of the La Petite Roche Credit Arkansas Travel

You may think of Little Rock as just the capital of Arkansas, but did you know it has many unusual attractions worth a trip. Little Rock has attractions that are the biggest, oldest, first, or only one of a kind ranging from history to nature and culture. Here are a few things you will find only in Little Rock.

La Petite Roche

Some of the gardesn leading down to the Little Rock

While many cities are named for valuable minerals, Little Rock is one of the few named for a rock outcropping that was just large enough to form a small harbor for early explorer’s boats. The men named it “la petite roche,” or “the little rock.” The path leading down to the original site of the rock has beautiful gardens and sculptures along the path. Pass through the garden and take the path down to Junction Bridge, once a train bridge, now a pedestrian bridge, at Riverfront Park where the original “Roche” is located. At the park and around the city, there are replicas of the original rock.

Oldest State House

old statehouse

Old State House, built with hand-laid brick in 1836, was the state capitol for 75 years, making it the oldest surviving state Capitol building west of the Mississippi River. It saw a lot of history, ranging from a fatal knife fight in 1837 to the election night celebration of Bill Clinton in 1992. It’s now a history museum. When I toured the Statehouse, there were several re-enactors. My favorite was the Union surgeon who showed me how he would amputate the leg of an injured soldier. Just looking at those knives and saws was enough to make me glad we have more humane methods of surgery today.

surgeon at old statehouse

Another re-enactor portrayed a steamboat captain and told how steamboats operating on the Arkansas river were an important part of Little Rock’s history.

lr_Steamboat capt

The statehouse has a lot of Little Rock’s story. There is a room dedicated to music history. From Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Johnny Cash, Arkansas was home to many musicians. Other rooms are dedicated to all the facets of Arkansas history, from first ladies’ dresses, to the railroad era.

Historic Arkansas Museum

Historic Arkansas Museum is the place to go to learn all about Little Rock. It’s a good place to get an overview of Little Rock’s and all of Arkansas’ history. Little Rock’s oldest building, Hinderliter Grogshop, dating to around 1827 served as a restaurant, hotel, and home, as well as a tavern. Oral history claims it was the last meeting place of the Arkansas Territorial Legislature. If that could be proven, it would make Arkansas the only state having three legislature buildings.

brownlee house

Brownlee House, a Georgian vernacular brick cottage built by Scotsman Robert Brownlee for his brother and his brother’s wife, James and Isabelle Brownlee, in 1847. James was a blacksmith. Robert migrated to California during the gold rush as did many of Little Rock’s residents.

Two lawyers in McVijer huse

Another historic home here was built by another Scotsman, James McVicar, around 1848. He was director of the state penitentiary, fought in the Mexican American War, and another Arkansas resident who caught gold fever and headed for California during the Gold Rush.I met a pair of living history re-enactors portraying lawyers hired to entice people to go to California for the gold rush.

offset press

There are other historical buildings there including Woodruff Print Shop, a reconstruction of the Arkansas Gazette newspaper building and home of the state’s first lending library. A re-enactor showed us how they printed on an antique offset press.

seamstress ar work

Another room in the building housed a talented seamstress, Amy, who was creating an 1800s dress on an antique sewing machine.

Inside the museum itself, the galleries are filled with paintings, jewelry, furniture, and other memorabilia that tell of life in Arkansas from past to present. There are exhibit in the Native American Gallery telling the story of Arkansas’s first people.The Knife Gallery has over 50 historic blades and tells the history of the bowie knife and other knives in Arkansas.

young reenactors at farmstead

The farmstead across the street showcases Arkansas’s rural lifestyle. There is a double dogtrot log house once owned by the Pemberton family who lived in Scott, Arkansas. There’s also a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, privy, barn, and a cabin where one of the enslaved families, John Perry, his wife, and two children lived. Perry remained in Arkansas after emancipation and became a successful farmer.

Little Rock Nine


Emerging from the Jim Crow era, Little Rock was one of the first to experience the dark side of history. The Little Rock Nine were nine African American students who made history in 1957 when they succeeded against terrible odds in the first integration of public schools in the South.

Ranger Randy at Central High School Museum Visitors Center told us their story with a power point presentation of actual photos of the events. When the Supreme Court allowed Black children to attend white schools, local authorities put unfair rules in place to make it almost impossible for an African American child to qualify. One rule even said a Black child could not retaliate against an aggressor who insulted or attacked them. There originally were ten, but one child dropped when his father was told he would lose his job if the boy persisted.


Of the nine who finally qualified, the slides showed how horribly they were treated. Mobs of rabid attackers threw things and spit at them. Watching the slides where one 15-year-old little girl Elizabeth Eckford, who was all alone trying to enter the school as she hadn’t gotten the message to meet at a safe home where the children could go to the school together with adults, was heart rendering. She had dressed in her best and looked so proud as she approached the armed military guards at the school grounds. They let a white girl in and refused her. She was surrounded by a vast mob who abused and terrified her so badly; she sat on a bench and cried. It almost made me cry as well.


We left the Visitors Center and walked across past the gas station that had been the reporters' location, to the school. Since it’s an active high school, we couldn’t go in, but after seeing the slides and the mob and viewing the now peaceful and beautiful building, I can only hope we have moved beyond such horrible violence. Let’s hope we never slide back to that.

Clinton Presidential Center

lr_clintin lib

Arkansas has had only one president, and they honor him with a Library and Museum. The William J. Clinton Presidential Center houses one of the largest archival collections in American presidential history, with 76.8 million pages of paper documents, nearly 2 million photographs, over 84,600 museum artifacts and 21 million e-mail messages from the Clinton presidency.


At first glance, the Clinton Library and Museum seem an odd style. However, there’s a reason for the unusual style. In his 1996 reelection campaign Clinton called for “building a bridge to the 21st century.” Based on that, Clinton chose a site on the Arkansas River and continued the theme by choosing a design of a five-story steel truss glass building next to the river and reaching almost to an old railroad bridge. Inside, it’s equally unconventional but interesting.


We had our closing night dinner for Southeast Tourism Society Showcase there and besides delicious food overseen by Executive Chef Andre Poirot of the 42 Bar and Table, the Clinton Library restaurant, we could browse the museum. Of course, the full-scale model of the Oval Office is a biggie.


Some of my other favorites there were President Clinton’s saxophones, and as a cat person, I loved the portrait of Socks, The First Cat.

ESSE Purse Museum

anita davis

ESSE comes from the Latin infinitive for “to be.” When Anita Davis opened the first and only purse museum in the country, she made two statements. One statement was where she opened the museum. She picked a repurposed garage, painted in a simple black and white color scheme with red accents at a spot in the SoMa (South on Main) district of Little Rock. SoMa was underdeveloped then, but now, in part through her efforts, it is a thriving district filled with shops, galleries, and more.

purses in exhibit

The exhibits are arranged in decades of the 20th century. Each shows the things a woman might have carried in a purse and how the purses, and what was in them, reflected history. Early 1900s purses were usually clutch bags. As the 1920s roared in granting women the right to vote, women moved away from clutch purses that kept on hand tied up carrying the purse. She moved to ones she could sling over an arm and carry power and lipstick, which she now applied in public. Plastics came into fashion, allowing new looks in purses. In the ‘50s, Elvis and I Love Lucy influenced purses. As Vietnam became an issue, peace signs and other antiwar signs dominated.

The museum has an exhibit about Black fashion. The current temporary exhibit is Secret History of Home Economics. It tells more than how to cook or sew and uncovers the history, social impact, and legacy of domestic science.

Little Rock Zoo

mama and  baby orangutan

Little Rock has the only accredited zoo in the state of Arkansas. I was amazed at the size of the exhibits. I entered through the primate area. Imagine my surprise when I saw a mother orangutan with her new baby coming to her. The little male is Kota, born on Feb. 23. In the same area, I saw a gorilla and a chimp. The zoo has over 725 animals representing over 200 species, spread out over an area of 33 acres, so all have large habitats.

Plus, there is so much more than you expect at a zoo. When I walked up to what looked like a large Komodo dragon sitting on a lawn and watched a little boy petting it, I thought it must have gotten out of its cage. What a surprise when, on closer examination, I saw it was an animated statue that moved its head and wagged its tail. It is unbelievably realistic. Another kid magnet is Dragon Kingdom. It’s an entire section filled with a temporary exhibit of gigantic dragons.

Ark heritage farm

The Arkansas Heritage is a way for city kids to learn about farm animals. There are heritage breeds of sheep, goats, donkeys, and other typical farm animals.

train at zoo

When you get tired of walking, you can take a ride on the Arkansas Diamond Express Train. The train is a replica of an 1863 locomotive, the C.P. Huntington. It’s a great way to get an overview of the zoo.


The unique Over-the-Jumps Carousel is celebrating its centennial this year. It’s the only fully operational carousel of its kind in the world, believed to be the only survivor of four that were built by the Spillman Engineering Corp. of New York.

Little Rock truly has a lot that are one-and-only attractions. No matter your interest, you will find something to love in Little Rock.


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