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George Washington Donaghey: Wikis


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George Washington Donaghey (1 July 1856 - 15 December 1937) was the 22nd Governor of the U.S. state of Arkansas from 1909 to 1913.

George W. Donaghey was born in Oakland, Union Parish, Louisiana. From 1882 to 1883, Donaghey attended the University of Arkansas. He was a school teacher, carpenter, and studied both architecture and structural engineering. Donaghey established his residence at Conway, Arkansas in 1883 and adopted it as his hometown; one of the city's major streets today bears his name.

Donaghey entered business as a contractor and constructed courthouses in Texas and Arkansas. He also built ice plants and roads in Arkansas and constructed water tanks and railroad stations for the Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Gulf Railroad.

Donaghey was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1908 running on a "Complete the Capitol" program. The Arkansas capitol building project had languished for many years. He was reelected in 1910. During his term, Donaghey's administration focused on roads, public health, and railroads. His administration established four agricultural high schools that later developed into Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Southern Arkansas University, and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Donaghey was also personally responsible for eliminating the convict-lease system by pardoning 360 convicts, making the leases worthless.

After leaving office, Donaghey served on a number of boards and commissions responsible for a variety of tasks such as constructions, education, and charities. Donaghey wrote a book, "Build a State Capitol" which detailed the construction of the Arkansas capitol building.

George W. Donaghey died in Little Rock and is interred at the Roselawn Memorial Park Cemetery there.

To be merged: George W. Donaghey may well have started the progressive movement when the Louisiana lad of 15 came to Conway in 1871 to live with his uncle, William Ingram. From this early beginning, the unschooled 6-foot (1.8 m), 175-pound individual grew to manhood and led Conway and the state as a two-term governor through his progressive thoughts and ways that are indelibly stamped on Arkansas to this day.

Donaghey was named No. 2 in a Log Cabin Democrat survey of the 10 most influential people in Faulkner County history.

A highly principled man, he was greatly responsible for bringing three colleges to Conway, helping eliminate liquor and remove five saloons (1879) from the city's streets, and construction of many of the city's commercial buildings at the turn of the century.

His progressive outlook from living in Conway for 30 years, coupled with his anathema for politics that prevented completion of the state Capitol caused Donaghey to run for governor, be elected and serve from 1909 through 1913 in an effort to erase Arkansas's hillbilly image.

His 18-year struggle, even after he was defeated for a third term as governor, succeeded in completing the Capitol. Donaghey was recognized in his latter years for his civic, charitable and public works until his death in 1937 at age 81.

Donaghey, known through an Arkansas Democrat headline as the "Carpenter From Conway," was a jack of all trades – a farmer, cook, carpenter, casketmaker, cowboy, cabinetmaker, hunter, plantation owner, town marshal, governor and philanthropist.

Donaghey's early years were anything but prosperous. Leaving home, a mile south of the Arkansas state line and armed only with six months of schooling, he arrived in Conway not knowing which direction his future was headed. He started work for his uncle in the cotton fields and at the Ingram gin.

George Washington Donaghey inspecting the work on the new state capitol building while governor. After malaria laid him low for six months, he took off for Texas, hoping for better health, but eventually found his way home to Louisiana. Seeing no future in farming, Donaghey returned to his uncle and Conway in 1879, where he lived for the next 30 years.

John Pence introduced Donaghey to a woodworking apprenticeship in his shop. Even though he relished woodworking and cabinetmaking, Donaghey recognized the need for more education and spent a year at the University of Arkansas. However, his friends wrote him that he'd likely lose the love of his life, Louvenia Wallace, if he didn't return home.

Once home, he formed a partnership with Pence, only to see the woodworking shop and his tools go up in flames in an 1886 fire that consumed most of the business district. But the fire also was Donaghey's salvation. Other burned businesses needed to rebuild and they needed carpenters – Donaghey's entrance into business.

The shop's success enabled Donaghey to marry Miss Wallace, a South Carolina native, in September 1887, a marriage that would last 50 years but which would not yield any children.

Donaghey recognized what an education, which he lacked, could do for a community, and he worked diligently to bring institutions of higher education to Conway.

Donaghey's consuming belief in education was exemplified by his serving on the boards and as chairman of Philander Smith College in Little Rock and Hendrix College, where he was a board member from 1906 to his death in 1937. Additionally, he gave generously to both institutions.

In 1890, Donaghey obtained his first major construction job, building the Bank of Conway. He followed with the second structure at Hendrix College, Main Hall at CBC, the Faulkner County Courthouse and the Deaf School in Little Rock. Two of his structures stand to this day. They are the Ott building at Parkway and Oak Street, and Old Main on what is now the University of Central Arkansas. Old Main, built in 1917, was Donaghey's last project in Conway.

Drawing from witnessing his father's drunken binges and a Texas knife fight in which he became involved during a friend's drunken rage, Donaghey arduously worked to rid Conway of liquor. He even accepted the role of town marshal in 1884 to rid the streets of drunks in a town of 1,000 and five saloons. He ran for mayor the following year but lost.

Donaghey reclaimed 700 acres (2.8 km2) of swamp land near the Lollie Plantation west of Mayflower. He sold the land in 1916. After leaving Conway for Little Rock in 1909, his house burned. He never rebuilt and eventually sold the lot. Still, Donaghey returned to Conway most every month until his death, visiting friends and conducting business.

Using problem-solving over rhetoric, Donaghey attacked his objectives. This led him to threaten to run for governor because Gov. Jeff Davis refused to build the state Capitol, preferring to remain at the Old Statehouse on Markham Street.

Donaghey was persuaded to seek the governorship, but he was a businessman, not a politician, and his lack of speaking ability proved that. Donaghey ran in the Democratic primary against a protege of Davis, who by then was a U.S. Senator but still in control of the Arkansas Democratic party.

Donaghey won the three-way race of 1908, breaking Davis' stranglehold on the state Democratic Party. Victory in the general election over a "carpetbagging" Republican was a mere formality. Donaghey had to wait 10 months to take office. In the meantime, he traveled the country, and as University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor Calvin Ledbetter Jr., author of the "Carpenter From Conway," pointed out, Donaghey educated himself for political office.

In an unused room in the Faulkner County Courthouse, Donaghey drafted 43 proposals for his two-hour speech while assuming office in 1909. His efforts brought the forerunners of Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, the University of Arkansas at Monticello and Southern Arkansas University into being as agricultural schools. In his second term, Donaghey established the state Board of Education.

The state Health Department was established at his insistence. Donaghey had lost two sisters to typhoid fever, a disease from which his wife barely escaped. He also established the state tuberculosis sanatorium in Booneville, a sister, three uncles and an aunt having died of the lung disease.

Donaghey's progressive stance got the Initiative and Referendum Act passed. It stands today as a hallmark of the ability of Arkansans to take governmental matters into their own hands. Arkansas is the only state in the South to grant its citizens such power.

Vehemently opposed to the use of prisoners as contract-leased labor, especially for building railroads, Donaghey was unable to persuade the legislature to rid the state of the practice. Days before the end of his last term, Donaghey pardoned 360 prisoners, 37 percent of the prison population, leaving the lease system with no more available prisoners. The legislature ended the practice in 1913, a year after he left office.

Completion of the state Capitol was his toughest test. As a builder, he set to work on his objective. But a $1 million cost ceiling, politics, graft, Davis' opposition at every turn, pay-as-you-go attitude of the legislature, battles between and with architects, bribes, use of Batesville limestone rather than Bedford (Ind.) marble, legal attacks, published critical reviews, arbitration, labor disputes and religious controversies worked against progress. The secretary of state, custodian of the Capitol, refused to move from the Old Statehouse.

After his defeat by Joe T. Robinson in 1912 in his third run for governor, Donaghey persisted in his quest to complete the Capitol. A critical year was 1913. Sen. Jeff Davis died two days into the year. Robinson, then governor, was named by the legislature as Davis' successor. J. M. Futtrell, president of the Arkansas Senate, became acting governor. The result was Futtrell and the Capitol Building Commission asked Donaghey to become a commission member and take charge of completing construction. He did.

The result: Donaghey in 1917 completed the Capitol, valued at more than $300 million today, for $2.2 million, ending an 18-year effort. As a hallmark to completion, Donaghey personally built the governor's conference table, which sets today as the centerpiece of the governor's conference room in the north wing of the Capitol.

After four years as governor, Donaghey became president and founder of First National Bank of North Little Rock. He also built the Waldron, Donaghey and Wallace buildings. He and his wife created the Donaghey Trust in which he gave the Donaghey and Wallace buildings to Little Rock Junior College, which had no financial endowments. The gift was valued between $1.5 million and $2 million. Estimates are that the college's successor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has received more than $4 million from the Donaghey Trust.

Donaghey's Monument

In 1931, Donaghey, who felt a kinship to both Arkansas and Louisiana, established a monument at the Union Parish/Union County state line near his birthplace. The Art Deco-style monument contains intricate carvings and includes references to transportation in 1831 and 1931 and mentions Governor Huey P. Long, Jr., whose educational program Donaghey admired. The land was not registered with state parks offices in either state, timber companies cut trees around it, and the marker was forgotten.[1]

In 1975, an employee of the Louisiana Department of Transportation came across the abandoned monument and informed State Representative Louise B. Johnson of Bernice of his discovery. In an article in the North Louisiana Historical Association Journal (since North Louisiana History), Johnson explained that she asked the Olinkraft Timber Company of West Monroe, Louisiana, to cease cutting trees on the property and to help with the restoration of the monument. She introduced a bill to cede the state's part of the property to the state parks system. Governor Edwin Washington Edwards signed what became Act 734 of 1975, and a re-dedication ceremony was held in which he and Johnson planted a tree. Months later, Arkansas sold its part of the land to Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Since that time, chunks of the monument have been lost or spray-painted by vandals. Restoration efforts were unveiled in 2009.[1]


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Political offices
Preceded by
Jesse M. Martin
Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Joseph Taylor Robinson


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