Roswell Beebe (1795–1856)
Roswell Beebe was the first benefactor of the city of Little Rock (Pulaski County); the town of Beebe (White County) was named after him. In the late 1840s and the 1850s, he was one of the most important businessmen and politicians in Little Rock. He donated several pieces of land to the city.
Roswell Beebe was born on December 22, 1795, in Hinsdale, New York, to a wealthy English family. When he was seventeen, he talked his father into letting him go to New Orleans, Louisiana. He was behind the cotton bales with Andrew Jackson when the United States turned back the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Roswell was successful in several businesses. The 1832 New Orleans City Directory lists him as a lumber merchant. He also had a brickyard there.
In 1834, because of his rheumatism, his doctors advised him to move to a drier climate. When he left Louisiana, he had planned to found the town of Fulton on the Red River in southwest Arkansas. In 1835, he was in Little Rock and became debilitated by his rheumatism. While recuperating in the home of Colonel Chester Ashley, he met Ashley’s sister-in-law, Clarissa Elliott. They married in 1835, and after an extended honeymoon, they returned to Little Rock to live. They had at least two children: a son, Roswell, and a daughter, Cora.
In the 1820s and early 1830s, there were several land speculators and developers in Little Rock. Several did not have clear title to the land they were selling, so the buyers did not receive clear titles. In early 1839, Roswell acquired 240 acres which had the only incontestable title in town. This acreage comprised most of Little Rock. He went to Washington DC in 1839 and, on September 25, received the original patent for the town of Little Rock, signed by President Martin Van Buren. It is recorded in the Pulaski county recorder’s office Book L, page 312.
Upon his return, he gave all the people who had bought lots from a certain real estate developer, whom Roswell considered to be fair and honest, title to their land for a dollar. In December 1839, he drew up a plan for Little Rock, laying off blocks and streets. He deeded the streets and alleys to the city for a dollar. He gave the state the title for the land on Markham Street, where the new capitol building was located. In 1852, he donated the land for a school. This school was the first building specifically for educational purposes. The school opened in 1853 with sixty-eight students. Roswell also donated four blocks of land for a cemetery. This became Mount Holly Cemetery.
In the 1840s his primary business interest was real estate development. He was elected an alderman for Little Rock in 1848 and mayor in 1849, both on the Democratic ticket.
His greatest business venture was the organization of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company. He was elected president of the company in 1853. This company was to become a large part of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railroad Company.
Beebe died on September 27, 1856, while visiting his native New York. His body was returned to Little Rock for burial in the cemetery for which he had donated land. Because of his service, the railroad company passed a resolution that the first locomotive to run on the railroad would be called the Roswell Beebe. Where the railroad crossed Des Arc Road (in southwest White County) was a wood and water stop for the steam engines. The railroad designated this stop as Beebe Station in 1872 in his honor. When the town was incorporated in 1875, the name was shortened to Beebe.
For additional information:
Atkinson, J. H., ed. “Letters from Solon Borland to Roswell Beebe.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 18 (Autumn 1959): 287–290.
Roswell Beebe Materials, 1795–1925. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Cook, Weaver Bruce. “Emperor without an Empire: The Story of Roswell Beebe and the Cairo and Fulton Railroad.” Pulaski County Historical Review 33 (Fall 1985): 50–62.
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