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Today, as you enjoy the 243rd anniversary of our nation’s independence, I’d like to note a few other reasons that July 4 is significant in Arkansas.
Civil War experts know that July 4, 1863, was the Battle of Helena. And on the Fourth of July in 1864, there were skirmishes in Searcy County and at Farr’s Mill.
Another historical occurrence on July 4th was in 1803 when President Thomas Jefferson announced the United States had paid France $15 million for the purchase of 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River; 53,000 square miles of the Louisiana Purchase became the Natural State. Congress declared Arkansas a territory in 1819. We became the 25th state on June 15, 1836.
Another historic July 4th was in 1899, 96 years after the announcement of the Louisiana Purchase, Arkansas started construction of the new Arkansas State Capitol. That was 123 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The new state capitol, as it was called for years, replaced the original, which was called the State House and now is known as the Old State House Museum. The state had to build the new capitol because the original literally was falling in – chunks of ceiling plaster fell into the Senate chamber after a heavy rain. Impatient and safety-conscious legislators moved into the new capitol in 1911, four years before it was officially completed and open for business. George Washington Hays, the 24th governor of Arkansas, was the first governor of 22 governors to serve in the new state capitol.
Many important decisions have been made in this building in 120 years since we broke ground for it.
Today, the Arkansas State Capitol Building looks much as it did when construction was completed in 1915. One hundred twenty years later, the capitol is a familiar landmark and a destination for thousands of school kids, students of history, and visitors from around the world.
From the north window of the Governor’s Office, I can see the Arkansas River, and from the east window, I can see the Little Rock skyline, both symbols of all that makes Arkansas great. The sights remind me why Arkansas is such a great place to live. Even in our cities, you’re never too far from the natural beauty.
I’m grateful that I was born an Arkansan, and I am proud to occupy this office where 22 other governors have sat before me.
As we celebrate nearly 250 years as a nation, we also celebrate the birth of the greatest state in the greatest country in the world.