The NLR Heritage Center contains a deadly sense of humor

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A civic sense of humor enlivens the tombstone on display at the North Little Rock Heritage Center museum, housed in a former fire station built in 1895.

Opened in 2014, the museum receives less attention than it deserves, given the variety and fascination of its exhibits. It is operated by the North Little Rock History Commission on the ground floor of a brick building along Main Street that served as the town’s main fire station until 1962.

The facetious gravestone is tucked away in a side room.

The imaginary burial took place on July 30, 1965. It was part of a civic pride campaign sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. Performed by Mayor William F. Laman, the ceremony involved an actual coffin as well as a freshly dug grave and gravestone.

A false headstone, created in 1965, was intended to put “Dogtown” to rest. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
The faux marker resonates with the massive ‘Dogtown Proud’ mural, painted in 2020 on Fourth and Main streets, showing a pack of mutts rushing towards viewers. The gravestone, like other museum exhibits, makes it clear that North Little Rock is more than just an appendage to its more populous neighbor south of the Arkansas River.

A large artificial conifer stands just inside the museum. Now decorated for the Christmas season, it is surrounded by rails for a small train spiraling up the branches. The railroad has long been an important part of North Little Rock’s economy. A model of a steam locomotive and tender is on display next to one of the two poles used by firefighters when the building was used as a fire station.

Visitors to the museum learn that the name “North Little Rock” was not permanently affixed until 1917. The old name was Argenta, a municipality annexed by Little Rock in 1890. After controversial legal maneuvers, the territory north of the river was released to become a town in 1904. The original name is preserved in the historic downtown area of ​​Argenta.

Photo A sign at the Heritage Center explains the origin of “Dogtown”. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
Photographs show that the 1923 grand opening of the old Broadway Bridge was a much grander civic occasion than the 2016 opening of today’s Veterans Memorial Bridge. For the 1923 festivities, two queens were crowned, one on each side of the river. They reigned, with 28 princesses, on a parade which extended for more than three kilometers in front of a crowd estimated at 50,000 people.

Among the former North Little Rock businesses depicted in the museum’s photographs is Jim’s Roller Rink, which longtime residents still fondly remember. The exhibit includes a pair of white roller skates as well as photos of skaters and the cavernous rink.

The exhibition “From Dark Hollow to the Smithsonian” shows images of predominantly black residents taken primarily in the 1970s by Chinese-American photographer Crystal Huie. Dark Hollow is a historically black neighborhood that stretches about 10 blocks north of the city’s Union Pacific lanes and several blocks west of Main Street. Its name obviously comes from the lack of public lighting. Some of Huie’s photos are in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection.

Photo Roller skates at the North Little Rock Heritage Center bring back memories of Jim’s Roller Rink. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
Black history and culture in North Little Rock is widely studied in large panels with titles such as “Surviving the Island of Racial Separation”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/nov/30 / nlr-heritage-center- contains-deadly-sense-of-humor / “Cultural immersion through the arts,” https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center- contains-deadly-sense-of- humor / “From Jim Crow to Civil Rights,” https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of -humor / “Military: fighting for the same cause,” https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/ “Sports : a sense of community pride, “https: //www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/” North Little Trend Makers Rock, “https: //www.nwaonline. com / news / 2021 / nov / 30 / nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor / “Family: The Glue That Binds” and “Resettlement on the North Side of the River”.

As for the Dogtown tag, a museum publishing reports: “One legendary story is that the residents of Little Rock began to throw their dogs in revenge on Argenta for seceding from the capital in 1904. John Cook of Argenta Drug Co. wrote: ‘The citizens of North Little Rock fed the dogs and adopted them, and they were given the name Dogtown.’ “

  • North Little Rock Heritage Center
  • 506 Main Street, North Little Rock
  • 10 am-4:30pm Monday to Friday
  • Free entry.
  • Call (501) 371-0755; northlittlerock.org.


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