While the Quapaw Indians could be said to "own" the land which
is the Riverfront Park, their villages were actually along the
Arkansas River between the "point of rocks" and the Mississippi
River. However, the Imbeau, Bartholomew, and Coussatt
families, who were French Quapaws, settled near the "point of
rocks" as early as 1769 and, at various times, lived on both sides
of the river.
In 1812, William Lewis, a hunter, built a crude shelter on
Quapaw land approximately one hundred yards west of the site
where the Old State Capitol now stands. This was the first known
habitation of the site of the original city.
When the British naturalist, Thomas Nuttall, visited the area in
1819, he found Edmund Hogan operating a ferry opposite "the
rock." When he returned by "the rock" in January of 1820, he
found a group of men contemplating the establishment of a town
on the site.
The Quapaw Treaty of 1818 had ceded the land along the
riverfront to the United States government, making it available
for settlement. Conflict of ownership occurred when holders of
New Madrid Certificates and holders of Pre-emption Claims
claimed the same properties. A lengthy and colorful contest
followed, with a compromise finally being reached.
After June of 1821, Little Rock was the capital
city and in
October, the legislature met in Little Rock for the first time. The
Arkansas Territorial Restoration at Third and Scott Streets
interprets the history of that period.
In early 1820, the population of Little Rock was 12 or 13 men.
Eliza Cunningham, the first woman to settle permanently in
Little Rock, arrived in September, 1820. She was the wife of Dr.
Matthew Cunningham.) By 1830, the town had grown to 430
permanent residents and by 1836 to 726.
The town of Little Rock was incorporated in 1831 and Dr.
Matthew Cunningham won the first mayoral election.
In 1833, the Old State House at the west end of the park was
begun as the capitol of the Arkansas Territory. When Arkansas
became a state in 1836, the center section of the building was
complete enough to inaugurate the first governor, James S.
Conway, and house the first General Assembly. As the former
political center of the state, the historical structure is now a
museum interpreting early statehood and nineteenth century
domestic life in Arkansas.