What is little Rock Named for

Just how Little Rock, Arkansas, got its name continues to drive curiosity among tourists. Today’s travelers can get a first hand glimpse of the rocky outcropping that gave birth to the city’s name. By visiting the north end of Rock Street (in Riverfront Park) in Little Rock, travelers can look out over the Arkansas River, where they will see “La Petite Roche,” the “little rock” discovered by a French explorer in 1722.

The Discovery of “La Petite Roche”
The first known explorers to the territory that eventually was to become Little Rock, Arkansas, came in 1673, where they encountered the Native Americans then inhabiting the area, the Quapaw Indians. Some years later, the famed LaSalle Expedition also explored this area of the Arkansas River.

However, it was not until 1722 when French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bernard de La Harpe (1683-1765), sailed up the river and, upon sighting the first rocky outcropping since leaving the Mississippi River, took note and named it “La Petite Roche” (Little Rock). A trading post was subsequently established there.

Later expeditions of both French and Spanish explorers came to the area, but it was not until 1819 that the Arkansas territory was officially established. Even then, the land that would become Little Rock was still wilderness, with its graceful bluffs and flowing river. In 1821, Little Rock would officially become the new territory’s government seat. It became a real city (incorporation) in 1831 and the capital of Arkansas in 1836.

Unique Geographical Area
“The Natural State,” Arkansas’s moniker, reflects its outstanding landscape and vast natural beauty. So, too, Little Rock, named for its geologic properties. With the intersection of the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River, this natural plateau dotted with rocky deposits of sandstone was a natural navigational tool for early explorers and settlers.

Like many of the earliest cities in the United States, it’s of little surprise that Little Rock’s strongest asset was its location along the Arkansas River. With transportation by explorers and early settlers focused on use of the river, a natural rock formation would serve as a remembered spot. Over time, this designated stone area would see an increase in river traffic. Today, it retains its importance as a landmark, with new explorers (this time from tour buses traversing the city) making their scheduled stops as well.

Its Role in City Life Today
Along with being a favorite tour stop, today the area surrounding this once important stony outcrop is the River Market District, the newly renovated area of galleries, restaurants, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. Where once warehouses stored goods brought by the river traffic, today this pedestrian-friendly parkland has gained a new life. What’s hasn’t changed, however, is that the Arkansas River and this small rocky landmark retain their importance for the city of Little Rock, and are likely to continue to do so far into its future.