Although Little Rock was established by 1820, settlement on the comparatively low-lying north side of the Arkansas River did not parallel the growth on the south side. On most early Arkansas maps, the land area was referred to simply as “opposite Little Rock.” North Little Rock was first known as Argenta, the name derived from the Latin word argentum (silver), chosen when silver was discovered in small quantities north of the town site. From the beginning, Argenta’s success was tied with the railroad. In 1862, the fate of the area was determined when it became the western terminus of Arkansas’s first railroad, the Memphis and Little Rock, and in 1866 the town of Argenta was surveyed and platted. The 1870s was a boom period; by the end of the decade several railroads crossed through the town, and railroad-related industries were thriving. The town made no attempt to incorporate until 1890, when it officially filed a petition. The City of Little Rock saw the tax potential of the area and, against the wishes of most of Argenta’s residents, annexed the area as the city’s eighth ward. In 1904, Argenta was incorporated as the newly created town of North Little Rock, though it clung to the name Argenta until 1917, at which point it saw an opportunity in capitalizing on the name recognition of Little Rock.
As residential areas of North Little Rock expanded to the north, the original area of the city near the Arkansas River, the original Argenta, began to decline. Urban renewal efforts of the 1960s took their toll on the historic building stock of the city’s downtown, and through the early 1990s its condition became critical. Strong local support, though, has made the city one of the best preservation success stories in Arkansas. A large number of the houses in the historic district have been restored, and thriving businesses once again line the district’s commercial area. One of the grandest houses in the historic downtown is the Baker House (1899; 109 W. 5th Street), a Queen Anne structure enriched with a wraparound one-story porch with spindlework and a three-story circular tower with a conical roof. North Little Rock High School (1928–1930; 101 W. 22nd Street), designed by the firm of Mann, Wanger and King, is a Moderne design of buff brick and features a five-story central tower with setbacks near its top and geometric and scrolled ornamentation.
Adding to the city’s current vibrancy are the former railroad bridges, now converted for pedestrian use, that link it to Little Rock. These are the Junction Bridge (see PU11) and the bridge that leads to the Clinton Library (see PU12). The Big Dam Bridge (7600 Rebsamen Park Road), which opened in 2006 for pedestrians and cyclists, spans the Arkansas River above the Murray Lock and Dam of 1969 and forms another link in the Arkansas River Trail.
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