Making History

It was a partly cloudy summer Saturday, and downtown Little Rock was a bustling place. I’m sure it was. I would have been there. I know some folks who assume I was there, taking the gray on my face and head as documentation of more years than I can legitimately claim. So I was not there. I was non-existent, except in the eternal present sense, so my relationship with the Arkansas Territorial Restoration began by proxy. My proxy was my dear mother, and she was there. She remembered the day. July 19, 1941.

That Saturday was the culmination of great planning and much hard labor. Just a few years before, the East Half of Block 32, Original City of Little Rock, sat as a deteriorating remnant of an earlier time — a decrepit survival nestled between the commerce of Markham Street and the retail on Main. Chief among the architectural relics on Block 32 was the Hinderliter Grog Shop, at least that’s what it was called 100 years before when Jesse Hinderliter raised the log structure at the corner of Third and Cumberland. It had until recently continued to fulfill its original service to the drinking public as the Green Goose Beer Garden. Louise Loughborough found this collection of old houses and thought they ought to be preserved. As it turns out, a government work program — the Works Progress Administration — was active in Little Rock and she had attracted its help, after persuading the State of Arkansas to buy the half-block. She had then leaned on volunteers and donors to accumulate enough funding and a nice sample of old furnishings to make the houses homey.

This was a pretty revolutionary accomplishment — saving old houses and preserving them. The usual response to the imminent demise of all but the most “significant” structures was a note of passage in the newspaper and the replacement of said structures. The National Trust for Historic Places was but a dream, and history was hardly on the minds of a citizenry bracing for another World War. Besides, significant structures were always associated with what are now called “great white men” and while she tried to drape greatness on these houses, Louise Loughborough knew that, except in its possible brief role as a territorial government rent house, the Hinderliter was a common man’s bar. The closest to greatness she could muster was William E. Woodruff — that’s pretty great, really — and she tried to get the pioneering Conway family in there too, but later research foiled her. So Louise Loughborough saved a half-block of an antebellum middle-class neighborhood.

Governor Homer Adkins was there at the grand opening, according to the news story. Mom didn’t remember that. What she remembered was the great compliment Louise Loughborough paid her by assigning her to the Hinderliter House with Elizabeth Taylor. Not the movie star, but Little Rock’s own Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor was the daughter of a mayor of Little Rock and a celebrity in her own right — she had been the president of the national Association of Junior Leagues. And there with Taylor was the young and recently married Mary Fletcher Worthen. Mom could hardly have known what was in store for the museum and her, but her presence does seem rather providential. She volunteered at the museum off and on for an additional 70 years, aside from all the other good things she did in the community. She mothered three boys — no small feat — and one of them was named director of the museum in 1972. That was I.

When we started planning for the Historic Arkansas Museum’s 75th birthday, we looked around for anyone who might have been there who could give us an eye-witness account of the birth. The only person we came up with was our longest-serving volunteer — my mother. A few months ago, a small crew descended upon Presbyterian Village where Mom lived, to document her memories of opening day. The video was captured and on June 15, 2015, our informant died, her mind still present but her body worn out by almost 98 years. I will continue to have questions for my mother — I do now — but those will have to wait. Just know that when the Historic Arkansas Museum celebrates 75 years on July 19, 2016, I will look around for Mom, and I will also look around for someone who might be able to tell today’s story 75 years from now.

This essay was written by Bill Worthen, director of the Historic Arkansas Museum. A son of one of Arkansas’ most notable pioneering families, Worthen has been with HAM for more than 40 years and has overseen many restoration and interpretation projects

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