by John P. Gill

History of Governor’s Mansion Celebrated in New Book

In its six decades of existence, the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, which sits in the middle of Center Street near downtown, has played a prominent role in Arkansas history and has on occasion garnered national attention.

Now, much of that history is available in a new book by Little Rock attorney and historian John P. Gill. In Open House: The Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and Its Place in History, the doors of the mansion open to share the stories of those who have lived there and reveal how the building has changed throughout the years.

The building has had many important inhabitants and has served as a backdrop for history in the making. Three occupants of the mansion have been serious contenders for the office of president of the United States, and three U.S. senators lived first in the Governor’s Mansion. It also served as a temporary presidential office after Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States. During much of 1957, the Governor’s Mansion was the headquarters for a pivotal event in the birth of live television journalism as Central High School was embroiled in an integration crisis of national importance during the administration of Orval Faubus, who served six consecutive terms as governor.

The mansion has seen its lighter moments, too. During the administration of Mike Huckabee (1996-2007), Little Rock drew national attention when the Huckabee family lived in a large mobile home on the mansion grounds while the mansion itself was undergoing renovation. During an interview with First Lady Janet Huckabee on the mansion grounds, a national television crew filmed as the family dog crawled out from under the "trailer."

Phillip McMath, now a Little Rock attorney, has fond memories of life at the mansion during the administration of his father, Sid McMath (1949-1953). McMath remembers that, as a boy, he and a friend strung a rope across the front gate of the mansion and demanded a dime from the drivers of each of the cars coming onto the grounds. "We didn’t make more than a buck for it before a reporter for the Arkansas Gazette showed up and put us out of business," McMath said.

With numerous photos and anecdotes from those who lived in the mansion, Open House is a valuable addition to any Arkansas history collection. "Gill’s labors combine dogged documentary research with dozens of oral histories in an exemplary way," said Morris S. Arnold, United States circuit judge. "The result is a highly readable and lively account of an important Arkansas landmark."

240 pages, 337 photos, index, 11" x 9"
$50.00 hardcover | ISBN 978-1-935106-26-5 (10-digit 1-935106-26-0).
December 2010