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[.]”