North Little Rock Heritage Center contains a deadly sense of humor

A civic sense of humor animates the headstone 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 lower of two stories of a brick building along Main Street that served as the town’s main fire station until 1962.

The facetious headstone 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 casket as well as a freshly dug grave and headstone.

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

A large artificial evergreen stands just inside the museum. Now decorated for the Christmas season, it is ringed with tracks for a little train that spirals up through the branches. The railroad has long been an important part of North Little Rock’s economy. A model steam locomotive and tender is displayed next to one of the two poles used by firefighters when the building served as a fire station.

Museum visitors learn that the name “North Little Rock” was not permanently affixed until 1917. The former name was Argenta, a municipality annexed by Little Rock in 1890. After controversial legal maneuvers, the territory north of the river broke free to become a separate territory. town in 1904. The original name is preserved in the historic downtown district of Argenta.

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

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

The “From Dark Hollow to the Smithsonian” exhibit features 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 tracks and several blocks west of Main Street. Its name obviously comes from the absence of streetlights. Some of Huie’s photos are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s national collection.

photo The roller skates at the North Little Rock Heritage Center are reminiscent of Jim’s Roller Rink. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
Black history and culture in North Little Rock is explored extensively in large panels with titles like “Surviving the Island of Racial Separation,” https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/ nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/“Cultural Immersion through the Arts”, https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains -deadly-sense-of-humor/”From Jim Crow to Civil Rights,” https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of- humor/”Military: Fighting for the same cause,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/”Sports: a sense of community pride,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/”Trend Setters of North Little Rock,” https ://www.arkansasonline. com/news/2021/nov/30/nlr-heritage-center-contains-deadly-sense-of-humor/”Family: The Glue That Binds” and “Relocation to the North Bank of the River.”

Regarding Dogtown etiquette, a museum publication reports, “A story of legend is that the people of Little Rock began throwing their dogs out in revenge on Argenta for seceding from the capital. in 1904. John Cook of the Argenta Drug Co. wrote: ‘The citizens of North Little Rock fed the dogs and adopted them, and the name Dogtown was given to them.'”

  • North Little Rock Heritage Center
  • 506 Main Street, North Little Rock
  • 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday
  • Free entry.
  • Dial (501) 371-0755; nordlittlerock.org.

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