Old Argenta

Platted in 1866 by the heirs of Thomas W. Newton Sr.,  Argenta was named for the silver mines at the old Kellogg Diggins on what is  now Mine Road  off Kellogg Acres Road north of here. Newton, who owned the land where Argenta  sprang to life beginning in the 1870s, had overseen the Southwest and Arkansas  Mining Company, which extracted lead and silver ores from shafts 90 feet deep  by the late 1850s. All told, some 70 short tons of silver-lead concentrates  valued at about $6,000 were mined at the site between 1840 and 1926, according  to the 1942 Arkansas Geological Survey. Mining operations ceased when an  underground stream flooded the main shaft, which had reached 1,125 feet deep.

Before the coming of the railroads in the 1860s and 1870s,  the north shore of the Arkansas River opposite  Little Rock was  sparsely settled and functioned primarily as a terminal for river and overland  traffic. It was a major junction along the Trail of Tears during the Indian  Removal of the 1830s and 1840s. At least three ferry businesses operated in the  area, including one at the end of what is now Magnolia Street near the Old  Junction Bridge across from the “little rock” and one at the end of Locust  Street across from Little Rock’s Ferry Street. The Memphis and Little Rock Railroad, which  completed a 49-mile segment for track from the White River  to the ferry site opposite Little Rock  in January 1862, was captured by federal forces the next year. During the  1860s, the north shore was called Huntersville, but that name was replaced in  favor of Argenta, bequeathed by the Newton  heirs. On the original plat, Argenta’s boundaries stretched northward from the  river to Eighth Street  and eastward from Main Street  (then known as Newton Avenue)  to Locust Street.

Until 1890, Argenta remained unincorporated, though a few  attempts were made to establish a city government. Finally, enough support  coalesced in favor of incorporation, but Little    Rock stepped in and annexed Argenta without allowing  north side electors to vote. That was the way the law was written at the time.  A faction in Argenta failed to overturn the annexation in court during a legal  battle that ended on March   26, 1892, with the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in favor of Little Rock. Argenta and  surrounding territory — bounded by 15th    Street on the north, the middle of the Iron Mountain  shops on the west and Buckeye    Street on the east — became the Eighth Ward of  Little Rock. The area elected two aldermen to the Little Rock City Council in  1893. One of these men, William C. Faucette, would play a crucial role in  freeing Argenta a decade later.

Faucette, who had moved to Argenta to work as an engineer  for the Little Rock  and Fort Smith Railroad, was joined in 1885 by his younger brother, James P.  Faucette, who hired on as a fireman when coal began replacing wood as fuel for  locomotives. The brothers left their railroad jobs about 1888 to run a boarding  house near the Memphis  and Little Rock  depot. Having a knack for making money, they got into the saloon and hotel  business. They constructed the building that still bears their name on the  northeast corner of Fourth and Main in 1890,  started a small power generating company that provided the first electric  lights in Argenta in the 1890s and founded a bank in 1901 that became Twin City  Bank in 1904 and is now U.S. Bank. Their commercial interests also branched  into real estate. Among their partners was Justin Matthews, the future  developer of Park Hill, Lakewood  and Sylvan Hills. By 1901, the older Faucette had turned his attention back to  politics and was plotting to take Argenta out from control of Little Rock.         In his memoirs, James P. Faucette recalled that his brother  conspired with about 200 Argenta businessmen to hatch an elaborate scheme.  First, in 1901, was the incorporation of a town, which the organizers named North Little Rock, north  of Argenta, followed that same year by the creation of an independent school  district north of the river. A book published in 1906 by the Argenta Business  League likened the incorporation of the new town to the Boston Tea Party. In  1902, North Little Rock  expanded its boundaries to include a roughly 12 square-block area from 15th Street  on the south to modern-day Pershing    Boulevard on the north and from Pike Avenue on the west to Olive Street on the  east. The next move came during the legislative session of 1903 with the  passage of the ”Hoxie-Walnut” Ridge bill. Little Rock  was caught unaware, though James P. Faucette commented years later that “we had  a terrible time keeping it a secret[.]”

The ruse was that the bill apparently concerned only a  proposed merger of Hoxie and Walnut Ridge in Lawrence County.  But its language, as the Arkansas Supreme Court held on February 6, 1904, allowed any city or  town within a mile of another one to annex all or part of the other, provided  that voters in the two territories approved. Governor Jeff Davis signed the  bill on March 16, 1903.  By May of that year, after the bill had become law, William C. Faucette and  others gathered the required number of names on petitions, which they presented  to the North Little Rock Town Council on May 11, calling for the annexation of  Argenta to North Little Rock. The council set an annexation election on July  21. Little Rock  sued to try to stop the election, but the Supreme Court refused to halt it.  However, the court enjoined North    Little Rock from officially declaring the result of  the vote. Argenta and North Little    Rock overwhelmingly favored the annexation. The Arkansas  Gazette called the breakup a divorce and its headline on July 22 reported: “For  Divorce 475; 44 Votes Against.”

William C. Faucette, who had lost an election for mayor of Little Rock in April  1903, now had his own city — almost. The court’s injunction had required North Little Rock to lock  up the result, pending a resolution of Little    Rock’s lawsuit to block the annexation. That verdict  came a little more than six months after the election, when the state Supreme  Court upheld the Hoxie-Walnut Ridge law. Associate Justice James E. Riddick,  who read the court’s majority opinion on the morning of February 6, 1904, said  “[t]he question before us, then, is not whether the act is impolitic and  unwise, nor whether its passage was secured by improper influences, but whether  the legislature had the power to pass it.” Clearly, it did, Riddick said. He  also noted that the legislation “seems plainly to authorize the annexation of a  part of one city to another town or city[.]” But the court delayed  implementation of its order for 15 “judicial” days to allow Little Rock due process to seek  reconsideration of the ruling. The north side contingent had raced out of the  courtroom, however, and didn’t hear about the delay. North Little Rock Mayor  William Mara and the Town Council immediately appointed Gabe Pratt as marshal  and ordered him and his deputies to “clear the territory formerly known as the  Eighth [W]ard . . . of all persons acting in an official capacity for the City  of Little Rock, Ark.”

Pratt arrested two Little    Rock patrolmen for carrying concealed weapons and then  went to the Main Street Bridge,  then known as the free bridge because there was no toll. According to the  Gazette on February 7, Pratt drew an imaginary line at the second light pole  from the channel span. “That side is Little    Rock,” he said, pointing south, “and this side is North Little Rock. A  crowd had gathered on the bridge when Pratt stopped a Little Rock patrol wagon from entering  Argenta. Instead of confronting the northsiders, the Little Rock police sergeant in charge walked  back to the Little Rock Municipal Court on Markham Street, obtained a warrant and  returned to arrest Pratt and his deputies. They appeared that afternoon in  court, but were released on an agreement that William Faucette worked out with  Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon in compliance with the Supreme Court order to  delay the annexation.

Negotiations between the two sides concluded about two weeks  later with a property settlement under which Little Rock dropped its lawsuit and  relinquished control of Argenta. North    Little Rock, among other things, agreed to give up  Argenta’s 1903 tax revenue of about $18,000. Little Rock, in turn, transferred the fire  station building and property at 506    Newton Avenue (Main Street) to North Little Rock. Independence came precisely at 7 p.m. February 23 “with no blaring  of trumpets or celebration of any kind,” the Gazette reported the next day. North Little Rock, which had  8,203 inhabitants as a result of the merger, became a city of the first class  on February 26. William C. Faucette was elected mayor on April 4, along with a  new eight-member city council. The new government first met on April 11 at 506 Newton. The Gazette would  lament a few years later that Faucette had “had beaten the best lawyers that Little Rock could pit  against him[.]”