Senator Alexander McDonald, the first-ever Republican U.S. Senator from Arkansas, built the McDonald-Wait-Newton House in 1869. It was one of the last remaining large homes built on the north side of Lincoln Avenue, now known as Cantrell Road, during the 1800s.
McDonald (April 10, 1832 – December 13, 1903) represented Arkansas in the U.S. Senate from 1868 to 1871. He was born near Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and attended Dickinson Seminary and Lewisburg University. In 1857, he moved to Kansas and became involved in business. After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, McDonald grew interested in banking and decided to settle in Little Rock, Arkansas. He served as a member of the state’s constitutional convention and, upon readmission to the Union, was elected to the U.S. Senate for one term. Following his unsuccessful re-election campaign, McDonald was commissioned by Chester A. Arthur to examine the conditions of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1900, he moved to New York City to pursue his interest in railroads. He died in 1903 in Norwood, New York.
In the twentieth century, the McDonald-Wait-Newton home began to be referred to as the Packet House because of the “packet boats” that stopped at the house for resupplying while traveling on the Arkansas River. The home was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1978.