The Saline Courier Weekend

The father of our state Capitol


“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... . ” — From the First Amendment to Constituti­on

If you’ve been paying attention to the local news, you might have heard that Arkansas’ new governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, removed the portrait of George Donaghey from the

Governor’s Conference Room in the state Capitol, replacing it with a portrait of her father, former Gov. Mike

Huckabee. You might also wonder about the significan­ce of George

Donaghey. Well, wonder no more.

George Washington Donaghey was born on July 1, 1856, in

Oakland, Louisiana, to C.C. and Elizabeth Donaghey. The

Donagheys were farmers and had six children. In 1858, they moved to the small community of Lapile

(Union County). Young George worked on the family farm and later moved to Texas in 1876, where he worked various jobs for the next three years. In 1880, he moved to Conway to live with an uncle. Donaghey would end up living in the town for 30 years.

Donaghey would spend just one year at the University of Arkansas in Fayettevil­le before he dropped out and became a carpenter. He later used his carpentry skills to become a full-time contractor, erecting homes and other buildings in Arkansas and Texas. By 1890, he had built a successful business.

In September 1883, George Donaghey married South Carolina native Louvenia Wallace, whose family had moved to Faulkner County when she was 17.

The couple lived in Conway, where Donaghey became a major proponent of bringing colleges and universiti­es to the growing city. He contribute­d $1,500 (about one-third of his assets at the time), to a fund started by the citizens of Conway to move Hendrix College from Searcy to Conway in 1890. He also donated $5,000 to bring Central College for Women (now Central Baptist College) to Conway. Donaghey also led fundraisin­g efforts to move the Arkansas

State Normal School (later Arkansas State Teachers College, and then the University of Central Arkansas) to Conway.

George Donaghey became active in local politics. He was one of the leaders of a campaign to drive saloons and taverns out of Conway, as no higher learning institutio­n at the time wanted to operate in a town with such establishm­ents. The anti-saloon campaign was successful, and Conway outlawed them in 1888. Donaghey successful­ly ran for town marshal in 1884 but was defeated in 1885 when he ran for mayor.

Donaghey then got into the railroad business, working as a railroad contractor from 1899 to 1903. He and his family moved to Little Rock in 1908, where he ran in the Democratic primary for governor the same year. In the primary, Donaghey defeated former Arkansas Attorney General William Kirby, who had been endorsed by a former governor and U.S. senator, Jefferson Davis. Donaghey handily defeated his Republican opponent, John Worthingto­n, in the general election of 1908.

During his administra­tion, Donaghey continued to support the establishm­ent of colleges and universiti­es throughout Arkansas. Along with the support of the Democratic­ally controlled Legislatur­e, Donaghey was able to create and fund four agricultur­al high schools, which later became Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech University in Russellvil­le, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Donaghey ran for a second term in 1910, defeating challenger C.C. Kavanaugh with 69% of the vote. After promising he would not run for a third term as governor, Donaghey changed his mind and was defeated by U.S. Rep. Joe T. Robinson.

Donaghey is best remembered for leading the completion of the Arkansas State Capitol. Since its beginning in 1899, constructi­on had been plagued with problems, legislativ­e scandals and political opposition. Donaghey, with his constructi­on background, led the new Capitol to its successful completion in 1915 by hiring architect Cass Gilbert and appointing a non-partisan commission to supervise constructi­on.

For his work, Donaghey is known in Arkansas history as “The Father of Our Capitol.” For decades, his official gubernator­ial portrait was permanentl­y displayed in the Governor’s Conference Room in honor of his efforts.

So the next time you just happen to walk into the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol and look at the painting to your left, remember that’s the father of our governor — not our seat of government.

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