Little Rocks name us French Connections Arkansas Geology

Little Rock has been on the map since 1720 when French explorer Bernard de la Harpe led a band of men up the Arkansas River and spotted a small stone outcropping above the river. He declared the site le petite roche when compared to a larger rock formation across the river.

The name Little Rock stuck, but it would be nearly a century before the settlement became a government center for the Arkansas Territory.

La petite roche, was the first stone formation river travelers saw as they rowed 118 miles up the Arkansas River. The stone formation signals the shift from the marshy, flat topography of the Mississippi River Delta to the foothills of the Quachita Mountains.

Harpe was not the first European to set foot in the forest along the banks of the Arkansas River. Spanish explorer Hernando de Sotoled a team along the river during 1541-42 in search of gold. Trappers and hunters continued to pass through the area, but it wasn’t until 1812 that William Lewis and his family settled on the land that is now modern day Little Rock.

Until the arrival of European settlers, the central part of the land that would later become Arkansaswas home to a tribe of Mound Builders, Bluff Dwellers and the Quapaw, Choctaw and Cherokee Indian tribes. According to the city of Little Rock’s website, the name Arkansasis derived from a Quapaw Indian word for downstream people. However, the website About.com claims the name developed from the French pronunciation of the term Arkanseans which referred to the Quapaw Indians and means South Wind.

The shore line below the Little Rock created a natural docking area for boats moving along the river. The site became known as an excellent place to cross the Arkansas River. Although Colonel Edmund Hogan established a ferry at the site, a permanent settlement did not begin at le petite roche until 1820 with the construction of a single cabin and a post office in March of that year.

When the population of the new village reached nine men, Amos Wheeler, postmaster for the village asked the Arkansas Territorial Government to relocate the capital of the territory from Arkansas Post to Little Rock and the Pulaski Countyseat to Cardon an earlier settlement 23 miles up river from Little Rock. Arkansas became a state in 1836 and Little Rock remained its capital.

Until 2009 the remaining sandstone outcropping that gave Little Rock its name has been buried beneath weeds, mud and graffiti at the north end of River Street in the 16 acre Breckling Riverfront Park.

This year that started to change. Like many riverfront properties across America, changes in the shipping industry led to the deterioration of many once vital river front areas. Abandoned buildings were left to decay. Little Rock officials struggled to convert the city’s riverfront into an entertainment center for the city. All that remained untouched was the rock that gave the city its name.

Concerned that la petite roche would be lost beneath layers of silt, city leaders launched a $650,000 project to uncover the rock that had first greeted early explorers to the region.

Geologists aren’t sure how much of the actual rock formation will be uncovered during the blasting operation. Much of the once visible the stone face was removed in 1872 to make way for a railroad bridge.

Reaction to the project is mixed. Some residents applaud the efforts to restore the city’s namesake. Others say the money spent on The Rock could be better used to improve the city and its 184,055 residents.

No matter which side of the debate people support, the legacy of la petite roche, will continue as long as Little Rock keeps its name.