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Centuries of Change: The History of Downtown Little Rock & North Little Rock's Argenta

The downtown areas in North Little Rock and Little Rock have followed similar arcs of development.

Both came from humble beginnings after being discovered by explorers on the Arkansas River — a border which both share — to be developed into blossoming destinations.

In the 1960s, urban renewal projects on both sides of the river had negative effects that lasted for decades, but both areas are now on the rebound and once again flourishing.

Opposite Little Rock

In the early 1800s, the land across the Arkansas River from Little Rock was simply known as Opposite Little Rock and was generally used as a terminal for ferry travel across the river.

What is now known as North Little Rock, was then a place where several towns by different names and leaders tried their hands and failed.

The area went by so many names in so few years that the Arkansas Gazette wrote an editorial in 1871 attempting to educate its readers on the name of the town across the river.

One settlement that stuck and eventually grew into an industrial town was Argenta. The name was derived from the Latin word for silver, Argentum. It was designated by Colonel Robert C. Newton, the son of Thomas Newton, a farmer and president of the Arkansas Mining Company. The mining company was said to have culled silver from the Kellogg Mine, just north of Argenta.

In the early 1860s, the first railroad was built in the area, and by the late 1870s, Argenta was a major railroad crossing in the region. The town blossomed from its roots in railroads, cotton oil mills and factories.

It was industrious, and it was rugged. Without a municipal government, Argenta struggled to rein in its ever-growing population. The town’s saloons invited gambling and crime.

The Engelberger Saloon – owned by Joseph Engelberger, a German-Swiss immigrant – was a popular watering hole in Argenta for more than 25 years until prohibition in 1916. Originally located at 303 E. Fourth Street (shown in this photo), the saloon moved in 1910 to a two-story building at 400 Main Street. Still there, the 124-year-old building was constructed by the Faucette Brothers as a saloon and boarding house in 1890.

To combat the dilemma, in 1890, Argenta residents attempted to incorporate as a city of the first class. But little did they know those plans were about to derail. The City of Little Rock moved swiftly to annex Argenta, making it the city’s Eighth Ward.

Needless to say, the residents of Little Rock’s newest ward were none too happy with the annexation and challenged it, to no avail, all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Click here to read the full article by Little Rock Soiree Magazine.

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