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December 15, 1818
382,748 (2010 Census)
759.76 square miles (2010 Census)
Population Characteristics as per the 2010 U.S. Census:
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Some Other Race
Two or More Races
Hispanic Origin (may be of any race)
496.5 people per square mile
Median Household Income (2009)
Per Capita Income (2005–2009)
Percent of Population below Poverty Line (2009)
Pulaski County has a diverse population, economy, natural setting, and social structure. Its balanced economy results from state and local government, business and industry, and finance and nonprofit sectors. Three of Arkansas’s six natural divisions converge in Pulaski County—the Ouachita Mountains, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (the Delta), and the Coastal Plain—representing the state’s wealth of flora, fauna, and geological features. In the geographic center of Arkansas, Pulaski County is one of the state’s five original counties and has been at the center of state government, politics, business, art, and culture for almost two centuries.
Pre-European ExplorationThe Plum Bayou culture flourished in central Arkansas between AD 600 and 1050, as can be seen in sites such as the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties). By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Quapaw were the dominant tribe in the part of Arkansas that would soon become Pulaski County. In 1818, the Quapaw signed a treaty restricting them to one million acres between the Arkansas and Ouachita rivers, and in 1824 they ceded this land in exchange for land they would share with the Caddo along the Red River in northern Louisiana. Eventually, they were relocated to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.
European Exploration and SettlementSpanish explorer Hernando de Soto led an expedition through Arkansas between 1541 and 1542, although it is unlikely that he visited Pulaski County in these two years. Between 1721 and 1722, Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe, a French explorer, traveled up the Arkansas River through Pulaski County. He noted a rock formation which he called “Le Rocher Francais” (meaning the French rock), where he inscribed the French king’s coat of arms on a tree trunk on April 9, 1722, thus claiming for France the north bank of the Arkansas River in central Pulaski County. Eventually, this bluff claimed by La Harpe would become known as the Big Rock, and a smaller but more famous formation across the river would be designated Little Rock. La Harpe’s French rock became the site of an army post called Fort Roots in 1897, a facility later converted to a veterans hospital. The little rock on the south bank of the river became the abutment for a railway bridge in 1872.
Louisiana Purchase through Early StatehoodIn 1812, Congress established Missouri Territory, which reached south to Louisiana. Two of the territory’s southern counties (Arkansas and Lawrence) included much of the area that would become Arkansas. When Congress established Arkansas Territory in 1819, the two counties were divided into the five original Arkansas counties. Pulaski County was established at that time and named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman who fought and died in 1779 in the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Savannah. The territorial legislature voted in 1821 to move the capital from Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) to Little Rock because of flooding and disease at the former location. The legislature had, in 1820, established Cadron, a fur-trapping post on the Arkansas River which was located in what is now Faulkner County, as the county seat but moved it to Little Rock in 1821 when it chose to move the territorial capital there. The new state constructed a capitol building in Little Rock on the Arkansas River bank between 1833 and 1842, and state government operated out of the statehouse until the present capitol was completed in 1915. County government operated out of the statehouse until 1883, when the state government came to require the entire building and displaced the county government to a temporary location. County officials began planning and building the Pulaski County Courthouse, completed in 1889.
Civil War through ReconstructionThe secessionist movement dominated Arkansas and Pulaski County politics in 1860 and 1861. Secession Convention delegates voted almost unanimously on May 6, 1861, to secede from the Union. Arkansas formally joined the Confederacy on May 20, 1861. Little Rock remained the state capital, but in 1863, as the Union army approached, the capital was moved to Washington (Hempstead County). Union forces led by General Frederick Steele prevailed in the Battle of Little Rock in September 1863, defeating Confederate troops led by General Sterling Price. Union forces occupied Pulaski County for the rest of the war. At the end of the war, state officials moved the capital back to Little Rock.
Post Reconstruction through World War IIThe population surged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Little Rock and North Little Rock’s populations increased significantly, and several small crossroad settlements grew into Alexander, Jacksonville, Levy, Mabelvale, Roland, and Scott. In 1890, the city of Little Rock derailed the community of Argenta’s plans to incorporate as a city by annexing the community as Little Rock’s Eighth City Ward. In 1904, Little Rock’s Eighth Ward split off to become part of North Little Rock, a separate municipality. In 1906, the city’s name was formally changed to Argenta but then reverted back to its present-day name, North Little Rock, in 1917. About eighty-five percent of Pulaski County’s population lives in incorporated areas of its eight cities: Alexander, Cammack Village, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Maumelle, North Little Rock, Sherwood, and Wrightsville.
Other major events in this era included the construction of Lake Winona, completed in 1938 as Little Rock’s principal municipal water supply, and the establishment of the Little Rock Housing Authority on October 5, 1940, which provided low-cost rental housing for many families moving to Little Rock during and after World War II. Educational services began to flourish before the nation entered the war.
The Faubus Era through the Modern EraThe crisis over the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957 was the most significant news event in the county in the twentieth century. Considered the first major test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, the crisis foreshadowed the civil rights turmoil that the nation faced throughout the 1960s. The crisis also revealed deep division among local and state leaders, affecting their capacity to grow the local economy. In the last three decades of the twentieth century, the county’s population growth slowed while surrounding counties’ growth quickened.
Despite these trends, Pulaski County developed as a multimodal transportation hub. The interstate highway system was completed in Arkansas with Interstate 30 and Interstate 40 intersecting in North Little Rock. In the 1970s, cross-town Interstate 630 was completed in Little Rock, and the I-430/I-440 loops were completed around Little Rock and North Little Rock. The December 3, 1970, completion of the McClelland-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System opened the Arkansas River to barge traffic, and Little Rock and North Little Rock developed port facilities on each side of the river.
In the last half of the twentieth century, the Adams Field airport in Little Rock grew to a 640-acre development named Little Rock National Airport (now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport) with more than $170 million in capital improvements. In 1952, the county was chosen for a Strategic Air Command base in Jacksonville; it opened September 10, 1955, as Little Rock Air Force Base. Other events of note include the construction of the governor’s mansion, completed in 1950; Little Rock Municipal Waterworks’ construction of Lake Maumelle, completed in 1958; and the establishment of the global headquarters of non-profit organizations Lions World Services for the Blind (1947) and Heifer Project International (1971).
IndustryDillard’s Inc. has its headquarters in Pulaski County, and Alltel, a telecommunications company, was also based in Pulaski County until it merged with Verizon Wireless, based in New Jersey; the Little Rock offices began serving as a regional headquarters for Verizon. Stephens, Inc., one of the largest off–Wall Street investment banking companies, is headquartered in Little Rock. In November 2004, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library opened on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock.
Major health facilities such as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Baptist Health Medical Center, John L. McClelland Veterans Affairs Hospital, St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, and the Arkansas Heart Hospital are all in Little Rock. These institutions receive national recognition in trade and business journals. Medical facilities and practices in Pulaski County employ about 34,665 people. They serve most of the state but also attract patients and researchers worldwide.
GovernmentPulaski County performs the typical functions that other Arkansas counties perform but also provides many services not performed by other counties, including housing, community and economic development in unincorporated areas, and youth development programs for at-risk children. In 2005, the county’s budget totaled $98 million, and county government employed 1,200 full-time workers.
Most local government issues transcend local boundaries. Consequently, the municipal and county governments in Pulaski County have formed cooperative governmental service organizations. They include the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA), which provides public transportation; the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), which provides library services for Pulaski and Perry counties; Central Arkansas Water, which provides municipal water service to all the municipalities of Pulaski County and parts of Saline County; Metroplan, which serves as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for federal highway appropriations and programs; the Multi-Purpose Civic Center Facilities Board, which owns and operates the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena (known until 2009 as Alltel Arena) in North Little Rock; and the Pulaski County Bridge Public Facilities Board, which is developing the Junction Railroad Bridge into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge in the River Rail Project area of downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.
EducationAt the beginning of the twenty-first century, Pulaski County had three public school districts: the Little Rock School District, the Pulaski County Special School District, and the North Little Rock School District. In 2014, Jacksonville and northern Pulaski County approved a proposal to detach from the Pulaski County Special School District to form a new district. The Arkansas State School for the Deaf and the School for the Blind, which was first established in Little Rock in July of 1868, began the groundbreaking on its new education complex in 1939.
In 1927, leaders established Little Rock Junior College, which began offering four-year degrees as Little Rock University in 1957; it became the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) in 1969. UALR, with almost 12,000 students, provides undergraduate- and graduate-level study.
In an attempt to make education available to freedmen after the Civil War, Philander Smith College was established in Little Rock in 1877. Shorter College (1895) and Arkansas Baptist College (1884) were established to serve predominantly black student bodies.
The University of Arkansas (UA) assumed management of a Little Rock–based, privately established nonprofit medical school in 1879 and merged it into the public university in 1911. The medical school became UAMS, which provides graduate- and professional-level education. University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College is a comprehensive two-year college.
For additional information:Capital County: Historical Studies of Pulaski County, Arkansas. Little Rock: Pulaski County Historical Society, 2008.
Pulaski County Historical Review. Little Rock, AR: Pulaski County Historical Society (1953–).
Ron CopelandPulaski County Government
Joe FosterUniversity of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 12/19/2017
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