Dusty Relics of Arkansas History
June 10-16, 2019
By Bob Denman
Little Rock College
I attend church in the heights – when I get there a little early and if it’s a pretty morning I often drive through the St. John’s Catholic Center and marvel at the architectural beauty of its original buildings.
On a recent visit, I noticed Academic Symbols on Fitzgerald Hall; music, art, science, and engineering symbols are pretty easy to spot at the main entrance. Curious I had to investigate and found a piece of Little Rock History I had no idea about.
The three magnificent 100-year-old buildings were built originally as Little Rock College.
Little Rock College, opened by the Catholic Church in 1908, occupied a downtown campus between Gaines and State Streets. The college was for men only and had a course catalogue with offerings in the liberal arts, mechanics, chemistry, electricity, mineralogy, geology, and even astronomy. In 1911, the college was joined by the St. John’s Seminary. By 1914 the college and seminary had outgrown its downtown campus and by 1916 had moved to a 40-acre wooded site in the newly developed Pulaski Heights section of suburban Little Rock, some seven miles from downtown and at the time, and two miles from the nearest trolley stop.
No doubt many of you know of this history but I have lived in Little Rock my entire life and I work at UALR – which began as Little Rock College in 1927, and know its 90-year history intimately – yet have never heard of Little Rock College. I even read an account of a 1916 Little Rock College and Russellville Aggie (now Arkansas Tech) football game.
In 1924 they added pharmacy and enrollment was robust. But as the great depression loomed enrollment began to drop. The college welcomed its first class of women students in 1928 to prop up that dropping enrollment. By 1930 the stock market crash resulting in the great depression which had its icy grips on just about everything including Little Rock College – forcing it to close its doors for good in the fall of that year.
The seminary continued producing hundreds of pastors, teachers, chaplains, and priests before finally closing its doors in 1967. Thanks to fairly recent renovations, these spectacular buildings survived and now faithfully serve the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock.
If you have never seen the campus, do yourself a favor and drive to the end of North Tyler Street, make the loop through the old campus, and look for the Little Rock College Seal, still in place over the doors of Morris Hall.
You will be glad you paid a visit to old Little Rock College, a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History.
With Little Rock College and St. John’s Seminary operating under the same location, Bishop John Morris hoped to raise the educational level of his clergy and lay people to counteract Arkansas’s anti-Catholic prejudice. (Photo by Becca Bona)