Who came first to build a residential subdivision on “the heights”: Henry Auten or a streetcar company?
It was the “Dummy Line,” so named because its steam-powered cars looked like those used by the railroads. Through a turn of unexpected (and tragic) events, Henry Auten and Edgar Moss found themselves in the right place at the right time to buy the property that became Little Rock’s first suburb.
Like many street railways and railroads in the 1880s, City Electric Street Railway (“Dummy Line”) expanded rapidly, maybe too rapidly. Established in 1887 by Howard Adams, John B. Jones, and Mason W. Benjamin, the Dummy Line planned residential communities, trolley parks, and amusement areas to increase passengers and expand. When the Dummy Line officially opened in March 1888, it already had 4 miles of track laid in southwest and west parts of town. By July, three miles of its track extended beyond the city’s western limits with plans to go as far as Cunningham’s Lake where the Dummy Line was to build, own, and operate a 40-acre park. Some of the Dummy Line’s right-of-way went past still vacant residential property on the West End, but they planned to build even more. In 1887, director Harry E. Kelley authorized M. W. Benjamin to buy 800 acres "to build elegant residences and manufactories in the highlands west of the city" if he could clear title to it. In January 1888, the Dummy Line bought the land on the heights -- all within Sections 31 and 32, Township 2 North, Range 12 West -- in one mammoth land sale for $60,000.
Several lumbermen were engaged in cutting its timber in 1889. Eugene Hillman was a principal one of these timber operators with a sawmill in what is Allsopp Park South today. Eugene Hillman had dealt in timber real estate in Michigan before arriving in Arkansas in 1882. Once in the state, he established several companies with which Charles C. Prentiss, Charles E. Ferguson, and later Edward Helms Leaming were associated. In 1889, Hillman believed he could have “sold the whole state” and by 1890, he had mortgage obligations on almost all of the Dummy Line’s timber land on the heights. However, Hillman and the Dummy Line were struggling to find investors, and there was less credit and money available for loan.
The Dummy Line began trying to sell the railway’s franchise and assets in 1889, and Eugene Hillman wrote to Henry Auten about prospects in the Dummy Line’s West End property or heights timber land. Henry Auten agreed to gather a syndicate in Michigan to consider one or both but in July 1890, Eugene Hillman died after a short illness.
A lot happened over the course of that year. In January 1890, Henry Auten and Edgar Moss established a law firm in Little Rock. Carrie Hillman would later hire them to settle Hillman’s estate and affairs with his lumber businesses. There was a snowstorm of borrowing and lending involving Horace Allis, First National Bank, Capital Street Railway, Thomson-Houston Electric, and others in anticipation of his railway franchise. Controversy broke out between Allis and the Dummy line, and John Ridgeway bought its assets instead. Horace Allis finally made an acceptable offer for the Dummy Line in November 1890, and with the railway bought its stocks and bonds, cars, equipment, sixty feet of right-of-way, and the property known as Cunningham’s Place for $60,000 mostly in securities. However, Horace Allis did NOT get the 800 acres on the heights. That real estate was sold to Edgar Moss and Henry Auten, instead.
On December 8, 1890, Harry E. Kelley sold the Dummy Line's 800 acres on the heights to Edgar E. Moss for $65,000. On April 16, 1891, Carrie Hillman sold her interest to Frank Leaming, Henry Auten, Edgar Moss, and George Seibert for $23,000. Five days later, Henry Auten, Edgar Moss, Chris Ledwidge, and F. B. T. Hollenberg incorporated Pulaski Heights Land Company and on the following day, Pulaski Heights Land Co. bought the land for $80,000 through loan from Bank of St. John Michigan.
So, the Dummy Line came first to build an upscale residential community on the heights. Eugene Hillman introduced its real estate prospects to Henry Auten and Edgar Moss. And somewhat remarkably, the Dummy LIne's poor financial condition, a credit crunch, and Hillman’s death created the opportunity for Henry Auten, F D Leaming, and Edgar Moss to buy the property instead of Horace Allis.
If not for Eugene and Carrie Hillman, Pulaski Heights might never have been developed. It might have even become a U.S. Military Post named Fort Logan H. Roots.
Excerpted from draft of “The View on the Hill” by Frances Carner © 2016, 2020