NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Long before Argenta was filled with murals and restaurants, it was home to Alonzo Clayton— However, Alonzo was quickly on the move as a child
“He ran away from home when he was 10 years old. He had tried making money as a shoeshine and he just got frustrated,” said Sandra Taylor Smith, Director of the North Little Rock Commission.
Clayton left and joined his older brother, a jockey by the name of Albertus in Chicago.
It wasn’t long until Clayton followed in his brother’s footsteps, and made his racing debut in 1890. In just two short years he found himself in the Kentucky Derby.
“In 1892 he was riding a horse named Azra and he won by a nose when he was 15 years old,” Smith added.
A victory that would go down in the history books.
He was the youngest person ever to win the Kentucky Derby, and that was just the beginning.
Clayton won hundreds of races in the 1890s including the Arkansas Derby in 1895. He also earned as much as $10,000 dollar in one season.
“With the earnings, he came back and built this house for his family.” The house was a $3,000 residence considered to be the top design of the late 19th century," she said.
Smith described the design of the home as “Queen Anne, textbook Queen Anne with the corner tower torrent of a slate roof on it.”
At the time, it was the most luxurious house North Little Rock had ever seen.
“Newspapers when the house was built described it as gorgeous and one of the finest houses in the area. It had a gymnasium in the attic. It had a library and one of the finest of everything,” Smith explained.
The Clayton family received celebrity status and even earned mentions in newspapers statewide. Though, tragically their lives were changed forever by hatred and jealousy.
“He was forced out of the racing field due to racial tensions of trying to force all the black riders out. So, by 1900 he wasn’t riding," said Smith.
With the sport he loved taken from him, Clayton was forced to do the unthinkable— Sell his dream home and move out west where depression and consumption took over.
“He moved to Los Angeles. He died in 1917 when he was 41 years old working as a bellhop,” she said.
Sadly, for nearly a century Lonnie Clayton’s name was mostly forgotten. That is until Smith and her team were able to revive his legacy.
“We discovered and wrote about it and researched it. We decided he should be in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame,” she added.
In 2012, just down the road from the home he built, Clayton was memorialized forever.
Executive Director of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Terri Conder-Johnson, organized his display.
“I put together the history of Lonnie and the picture of the Kentucky Derby when he won it. Yeah, come in here and anybody can see it,” Conder-Johnson explained.
Sadly, Lonnie Clayton has no family left, but his legacy lives on.
Not only has his legacy continued to live on in North Little Rock where his house still stands, but here also at a memorial marker in Louisville, Kentucky.
That marker is placed just miles away from where he made history over a century ago.
Clayton's house is known now as the Engelberger house and has been passed on from generation to generation in the family— The current owner has renovated the home to resemble its original appearance as it was in 1895.