Located in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion has served as the official residence for the state’s Governor and First Family since 1950 and is part of the city’s Governor’s Mansion Historic District. Until 1950, the state of Arkansas provided no official residence for its governor. Campaigns throughout the 1940s were enacted to change this policy, spearheaded by Agness Bass Shinn, president of the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs.
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Though an initial 1945 campaign failed to gain traction within the state’s legislature, a second campaign in 1947 resulted in the passage of Act 257, which allocated $100,000 to the creation of a Governor’s Mansion Commission.
The Commission selected the site of the former Arkansas School of the Blind, located at 1800 Center Street, as its future governor’s mansion site. A new structure was constructed on the property beginning in 1947, using salvaged bricks from the original School of the Blind as part of its foundational structure. Additional funding for the mansion’s construction came from 1949’s Act 401, resulting in the completion of the facility in 1950. Though no formal dedication was held for the facility, its occupancy beginning in February of 1950 by Governor Sidney S. McMath is widely considered as its official historical opening. Since 1950, 11 governors have held residence at the mansion, including Bill Clinton, who went on to be elected 42nd President of the United States, and Republican presidential primary candidate Mike Huckabee. After Clinton’s election as President, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
In addition to its use as a governor’s residence, the mansion is operated today as a living history museum, offering visitor tours of its eight-and-a-half-acre grounds and facilities. Tours are free and open to the public, although individual scheduling is necessary, as tour groups may only be accommodated on days when official state proceedings and events are not scheduled at the facility. Specialized tours are available for school groups, business groups, and other small groups and organizations. The three-story mansion was constructed in a colonial Georgian Revival style by Little Rock architectural firm Cromwell Architects, with dual colonnaded walkways linking the mansion facility to two cottages.
A Grand Foyer with a granite tile floor furnished by the Batesville Marble Company serves as a gathering place and starting point for tours. Three rooms are accessible on the mansion’s first floor, including the Formal Living Room, which serves as a formal meeting space for visiting dignitaries. The room contains the mansion’s oldest piece of furniture, an Irish cabinet clock manufactured in 1770 and given as a gift to 35th Arkansas Governor Francis Cherry. A State Dining Room, hosting formal state dinners, contains 24 Chippendale-style chair with handcrafted needlepoint seats arranged around a Duncan-Phyfe Empire table, with a French Louis XVI chandelier anchored around a hand-blown bell hung above. The dining room also contains the Heppelwhite sideboard, which houses pieces from the U.S.S. Arkansas’ silver collection, including a punch bowl crafted from 3,000 silver dollars collected by the state’s students. The mansion’s Library, which serves as a meeting place for talks with legislators, contains a small book collection donated by Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The back porch of the mansion is now enclosed by a large glass Atrium, which connects the facility to a Grand Hall constructed in 2003. A 220-seat ballroom space, the Grand Hall serves as a site for formal receptions, containing a staircase with a runner displaying the names of all of the state’s governors since 1950. A six-by-eight-foot chandelier, named the Arkansas Chandelier, utilizes native rock crystal to create adornments representing state emblems such as the state flower, state tree, and state insect. The Lower Atrium area serves as a small art gallery, highlighting multidisciplinary works by Arkansas artists and crafters, along with a portrait gallery of all gubernatorial residents of the mansion.
The mansion’s grounds were re-landscaped in 2006 by P. Allen Smith and are divided today into several distinct garden spaces. An Entrance Garden in front of the mansion features a bronze bust sculpture of Bill Clinton, while a Parterre Garden off the Grand Hall is arranged in a diamond pattern to symbolize the state’s diamond production. Other gardens include a Rose Garden, a Vegetable Garden, which contains a miniature mansion children’s play area, and an Herbary, originally cultivated in 1978.
In addition to its notoriety as an historic landmark, the mansion has also been popularized in modern media as a film set, used as a home for prominent characters on the television shows Designing Women and 30 Rock.
1800 Center St, Little Rock, AR 72206, Phone: 501-324-9805