The Port of Little Rock is the capital of the State of Arkansas. Located on the south bank of the Arkansas River, the Port of Little Rock is about 190 kilometers (118 miles) west-southwest of Memphis, Tennessee, and some 565 kilometers (350 miles) north-northwest of New Orleans. The Port of Little Rock got its name from the small rock formation called "la Petite Roche" that was used as a landmark for early travelers on the river and a popular river crossing. In 2000, the US Census reported that over 183 thousand people lived in the city, and the metropolitan area was home to more than 657 thousand souls. The 2010 Census reported a metropolitan population of almost 700 thousand.
The western part of the Port of Little Rock lies in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. The Port of Little Rock gets its drinking water from the area of Pinnacle Mountain and Lake Maumelle to the northwest of the city limits. Today, the Port of Little Rock economy is based on financial services, government, and food processing. It is also home to manufacturers of cosmetics, data-transmission equipment, and telecommunications equipment.
Archeological evidence shows that indigenous peoples have inhabited the Central Arkansas area and the future Port of Little Rock for thousands of years. Scholars believe that Mississippian culture peoples built earthwork mounds here that were recorded by Hernando de Soto on his 1541 expedition.
Other early inhabitants may have included the Paleolithic Folsom people and Bluff Dwellers that lived in the Ozark caves. More recent First Nations residents living in the Port of Little Rock area included the Caddo, Osage, Quapaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw.
French explorer Bernard de la Harpe found two rock formations on the Arkansas River in 1722. He named them "little rock" and "big rock." A Quapaw village was located near the smaller formation where La Harpe established a trading post. Later travelers in the area used the "little rock" as a landmark for a river crossing and, eventually, for the Port of Little Rock.
In 1803, Arkansas was transferred to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase between the United States and France. An 1808 treaty between the Osage Nation and the United States ended the tribe's claim to a large piece of land north of the River. Americans began to trickle into the area, but the land was not surveyed or put up for sale until 1815.
Fur trapper William Lewis built a home near what would become the Port of Little Rock in 1812, the same year that Louisiana became a State. In 1818, the Quapaws entered into a treaty with the US that ceded their land south of the river and west of the "little rock." The tribe would not, however, give up their claim to the land east of the Port of Little Rock until 1824.
The Arkansas Territory was formed in 1819, and Port of Little Rock was made the territorial capital in 1921. In 1820, the new town was surveyed, and the first law firm was established by Robert Crittenden and Chester Ashley, laying the ground for the Rose Law Firm, today the oldest such establishment west of the Mississippi River. While the city was founded in 1821, it was not incorporated until 1831.
While it was ideally suited for a town, the infant Port of Little Rock was remote. Growth came slowly. By the late 1820s, there were about 60 buildings and some 400 inhabitants. Most of the buildings were constructed from logs, although some of them were brick or wood frame.
The Port of Little Rock gained a fairly rough reputation, and it remained quite rustic for some time. Still, it had a newspaper, schools, and churches since the early 1820s. Congress appropriated funds to build a road from the Port of Little Rock to Memphis in 1823. When the road was finished in 1826, the first stagecoach opened to carry mail and passengers, traveling from the Port of Little Rock to Arkansas Post every other Tuesday, returning the following Monday.
In 1836, Arkansas became a State in the United States. The Port of Little Rock was its capital. By 1860, 3700 people lived in the Port of Little Rock. Gas lighting brightened streets, homes, and businesses for the first time that year. But the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, and construction of the railroad to Memphis was delayed until 1871.
The State of Arkansas seceded from the Union in 1861, becoming one of the Confederate States of America. Citizens volunteered to fight and to provide food, weapons, clothing, and horses for those that went to war. The Confederate government moved from Little Rock to Washington in southwestern Arkansas in 1963. In 1864, the Union government established itself in the Port of Little Rock. The State's current post-war constitution was adopted in 1874.
After the Civil War during Reconstruction, the Port of Little Rock began to grow quickly. In 1870, almost 12.4 thousand people lived there, creating a building boom. By the end of the 19th Century, the Port of Little Rock was a modern city with a public water system, telephones, and electric lights. When streetcars came to town, the Port of Little Rock began to spread to the west into the city's first suburb, Pulaski Heights (now Hillcrest).
By 1900, the Port of Little Rock was home to almost 40 thousand people, and it supported over 170 businesses, a public library, 75 churches, over 60 social clubs. It also had a seven-story skyscraper.
The skyscrapers continued to appear through the 1930s, and the Port of Little Rock's population grew to almost 82 thousand people. The Great Depression hit the Port of Little Rock hard, as it did most US cities, and major construction through the 1930s and 1940s was mainly accomplished by the federal Works Progress Administration. Projects included the city zoo, the art museum, and Robinson Center.
Turning their attention to industry, city leaders of the Port of Little Rock worked to attract new companies. By the early 1950s, there was a new industrial district in southwestern Little Rock. Residents continued to arrive in the Port of Little Rock, and new suburbs and roads blossomed.
The Port of Little Rock became a focus of national and international news in the late 1950s as a result of the US Supreme Court's ruling in the famous "Brown v. Board of Education" decision that said racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. History was made by nine black students who entered Central High School under the protection of the US Army in 1957. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the troops in because Governor Orval Faubus had called out the National Guard to keep the students from entering the school.
Governor Bill Clinton also brought attention to the Port of Little Rock when he ran for and won the office of United States President, celebrating his victories in the city in both 1992 and 1996.
Today, the Port of Little Rock is home to some 182 thousand people, and it is a thriving modern city. Growth continues at a steady pace with new projects opening regularly. The modern Port of Little Rock boasts an expanded convention center and hotel, one of three Peabody hotels in the United States. Other new developments in the Port of Little Rock include the River Market District, a 18-thousand seat arena, a 3.9-thousand meter (42-thousand square foot) arts center, and a new city visitor center in a historic antebellum home. Future projects include the William J. Clinton President Center and Park and Heifer International's new global headquarters.