Photo: Home in thel Historic District, Little Rock. The District on the National Register in 1990 with boundary extension in 2023. Photographer: wikipedia username: Valis55, 2015, [cc-3.0]; accessed June, 2023.
A Streetcar Suburb
Aside from a few farms, the earliest development in the neighborhood now known as Hillcrest [†] took place in the 1890s, when a group of Michigan investors acquired 800 acres of hilly, heavily wooded property about a mile northwest of Little Rock. Organized as the Pulaski Heights Land Company, the investors were led by H. F. Auten and Edgar Moss, two young attorneys who had moved to Little Rock from St. Johns, Michigan, in 1890. With suburban development in mind, the Pulaski Heights Land Company purchased the 800 acres of land early in 1891, and in 1892 the first ten blocks of the Pulaski Heights Addition were platted.
Before the turn of the century, a few Pulaski Heights Land Company investors built homes within the original ten-square-block area of Pulaski Heights, located north of Lee Avenue between Oak and Walnut streets. Just two of those homes now retain their historic integrity. They are the Retan House, built in 1893 by Albert Retan, who— like Auten and Moss—moved to Little Rock from St. Johns, Michigan, and the Leaming House, built about 1900 by Edward H. Leaming, a lumberman who came to Little Rock from Greenville, Michigan. Other than the investors, Pulaski Heights had very few residents until after 1903, when a streetcar line was extended from Little Rock to the fledgling suburb.
Once construction of the Pulaski Heights Streetcar Line was underway, the pace of development quickened. In 1903 and 1904, three new additions—Auten and Moss, East Pulaski Heights, and a large expansion of the original Pulaski Heights Addition—were platted in the section of Pulaski Heights that now forms the northern half of the Hillcrest neighborhood. During the same years, two additions to the City of Little Rock—Ridgeland and Glendale—were laid out immediately south of Pulaski Heights, an area that now comprises the south-central section of Hillcrest. Although houses did not spring up immediately on all the lots in these new additions, enough construction took place to accommodate the estimated 300-400 people who resided in Pulaski Heights at the time it was incorporated as a town on August 1, 1905.
As was common practice in the U. S. during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the Town of Pulaski Heights was incorporated primarily so that residents could tax themselves to provide public improvements. Through the creation of improvement districts, Pulaski Heights residents built sidewalks and paved streets. However, the town never was able to afford the cost of building and equipping a fire station. Hence, Pulaski Heights had no fire protection. Eventually, as often happened during the course of early-twentieth suburban development, the residents of Pulaski Heights decided they would like the superior city services— especially fire protection—offered by Little Rock. On January 4, 1916, residents of Pulaski Heights and Little Rock voted to consolidate the two municipalities. Ten months later, on November 1, the new Pulaski Heights fire station opened at the northeast corner of Kavanaugh Boulevard and Beechwood. (This Craftsman-style station was demolished in the 1940s.)
The houses in the Hillcrest Historic District that were built during this first major phase of development—1903-1916—make it obvious that, from the very beginning, the style of development in Hillcrest was diverse. This thirteen-year period is represented by vernacular "pyramid cottages," Colonial Revival cottages, a few large examples of the Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles, numerous Bungalows and Foursquares, and imposing architect-designed examples of the English Revival style. The developers of Pulaski Heights and nearby additions to Little Rock apparently understood that Little Rock could not support large-scale suburban development that catered only to the affluent or to any single segment of society. The diversity of its development was a key ingredient in the long-term success of Pulaski Heights.
(What all Pulaski Heights additions and adjacent areas of Little Rock did have in common—and not merely by chance—was the fact that all their residents were white. Little Rock's nineteenth-century neighborhoods were racially diverse. Within just a few blocks of one another—sometimes within a single block—could be found the homes of black and white families of varying income levels. Such was not the case in the areas of Little Rock developed during the Jim Crow era, which began in Arkansas in 1903. The developers of Pulaski Heights, in particular, made it clear that property would not be sold to blacks. Advertisements for Pulaski Heights bluntly stated that the area was "exclusively for white people" and that there would be "No Negroes nor No Shanties")
In general, the most modest scale of development in the Hillcrest Historic District took place in the section of the district south of Lee Avenue and west of Colonial Court, an area which by 1916 included not only the Ridgeland and Glendale additions but also Elmhurst and Lydia Dice's Addition. It is in this section of the historic district that 11 of Hillcrest's 14 pyramid cottages—arguably the district's most modest historic homes—are found. Clustered primarily on Pine, Cedar, Rose, and Walnut streets, these cottages (whose "country cousins" can be found in many rural areas of Arkansas) stand in sharp contrast to the high-style, architect-designed houses that were built at the same time in other sections of Hillcrest.
The rest of the existing pre-1916 houses in the southwestern section of the historic district are Colonial Revival cottages, Bungalows, and one-story Foursquares. While all are relatively modest, several of these houses are noteworthy because of "quirks" in their designs. The Bungalow at 408 North Cedar, for instance, has a cut-away corner trimmed with decorative brackets—a Queen Anne holdover. A Craftsman-influenced Bungalow at 326 North Ash has porch supports that are appropriately square but much too thin. Obviously built by and for people whose knowledge of design was limited, these houses nevertheless add an interesting dimension to Hillcrest's architectural history.
In 1906, the Hillcrest Addition—from which the entire neighborhood now takes its name—was platted as an addition to the Town of Pulaski Heights. In this addition, as well as in the Pulaski Heights, Auten and Moss, and East Pulaski Heights additions, development was varied prior to 1916 but generally could be described as middle to upper-middle income. Several Colonial Revival cottages are located in the area encompassed by these additions, as are assorted Foursquares and Bungalows.
Also located in this section of Hillcrest are some of the neighborhood's largest and finest pre-1916 residences, all built for prominent business and professional men and their families. On Hill Road, which spans the Pulaski Heights, Auten and Moss, and East Pulaski Heights Additions, stand two of Hillcrest's most notable historic homes: the McDonnell-Hamilton House and the Wright House, dating from 1910 and 1911 respectively. The Colonial Revival-style McDonnell-Hamilton House, designed by local architect Theo Sanders, was built for James Smith McDonnell, who operated several successful cotton-related businesses in Jefferson County, Arkansas. George R. Mann, best-known as the architect of the Arkansas State Capitol, designed the Wright House in the English Revival style for banker Moorhead Wright. Also on Hill Road is the Craftsman-style Cochran House, built about 1911 for Samuel A. Cochran, president of a lumber company.
At 800 Beechwood, in the vicinity of what once was known as the "first Hillcrest [Addition] entrance," stands the Siegle-Donham House, built about 1914 by Otto Siegle, a "planter," but better-known as the home of Judge William R. Donham, who served on the Arkansas Supreme Court. In the Hillcrest Addition are two pre-1916 houses designed by Little Rock's best-known and most prolific turn-of-the-century architect, Charles L. Thompson. The Colonial Revival-style Myers-Peek House, designed by Thompson in 1912 for Thomas T. Myers, partner in an insurance firm, stands at 4223 South Lookout. At 4301 South Lookout is the Butterworth House, a c. 1912 Craftsman Bungalow picturesquely situated on a deep, wooded lot. Its original owner, Asa Butterworth, was an engineer.
In the southeastern corner of the historic district, Midland Hills, with "its winding driveways follow[ing] the foothills and the hillcrests" (in the words of a 1911 promotional brochure), clearly was aimed at a more affluent group of homebuyers than any other addition in the Hillcrest neighborhood dating from before 1916. In Midland Hills, even the Bungalows and Foursquares are a cut above average. The developers of the addition claimed that forsaking the standard grid pattern of street layout and platting in an "irregular . . . way demanded the sacrifice of many a lot to sell," which probably made Midland Hills lots more expensive than lots in other additions. The result, however, was a very attractive addition.
Midland Hills was opened to development in three phases between October 1908 and May 1911. Most of the oldest homes are located on Berry, Woodrow, Kavanaugh, Charles, Louise, and Fairfax. Among the several notable residences built in Midland Hills before 1916 are the Lipscomb-Smith House, a Craftsman-style home dating from about 1911; the English Revival-style Volkmer-McKinney House, built in 1911; the Loeb House, dating from about 1915 and influenced by the Prairie style; and the Craftsman-style Williamson House, designed by Charles L. Thompson and built in 1911. In the 1400 block of Kavanaugh stands a row of three of Midland Hills' best early houses: the Robinson-Beal House, an excellent Craftsman Bungalow built about 1914; the 1911 Reid House, a Charles L. Thompson design that combines Craftsman and Dutch Colonial features; and the Perrie-Bathurst House, a particularly good example of the English Revival style dating from 1910-1911. On Ridgeway is the Poole House, a nice Craftsman-style residence (currently "disguised" as Colonial by white paint and blue shutters) built about 1911 as one of the first two houses on its street.
Except for construction of the new Pulaski Heights fire station, consolidation seems not to have had an immediate impact on development in the Pulaski Heights area, perhaps because World War I intervened. Between 1916 and the early 1920s, only one addition, Doyle Place, was platted in what now is the Hillcrest neighborhood, and development of that addition was delayed for almost a decade. }} Though no new additions were under development, new houses continued to be built in existing additions during the World War I era. It was during this period that the influence of builder Kenneth E. N. Cole (whose name usually appeared in print as "K. E. N. Cole") began to be felt in what now is the Hillcrest neighborhood. Until the early 1920s. Cole apparently earned the major part of his living as a traveling salesman, but by 1916 he also was building "spec" houses in Pulaski Heights. The earliest-known examples of his work are the Cole-Mehaffy and Cole-Rainwater Houses, two nicely detailed Craftsman Bungalows dating from about 1916. Until the early 1920s, Bungalows were Cole's specialty, and the ones he is known to have built were of the type labeled "California Bungalows" by Little Rock newspapers of the period. Such Bungalows were built with more attention to detail than the average builder Bungalow, and their designs usually featured rustic stone porch supports and chimneys. K. E. N. Cole prided himself on building Bungalows that were attractive on the outside and that were "planned for convenience, coolness and general 'livability'" on the inside. Intended for "none but the highest class people," Cole's Bungalows are found in the portion of the Hillcrest Historic District north of Lee Avenue.
† Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Hillcrest: The History and Architectural Heritage of Little Rock's Streetcar Suburb, 2004, www.arkansaspreservation.com, accessed June, 2023.
Barry Street • Broadway • Charles Street • Fairfax Street • Jackson Street • Kavanaugh Boulevard • Lookout Road North • Louise Street • Markham Street • Ozark Point • Woodrow Street