The National Park Service operates dozens of historic places that explore the lives and contributions of many of our U.S. Presidents. They range from homes where future presidents lived as children to memorials that honor their memories after their deaths.
One of the newer presidential sites – President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site – will be celebrating its 12th anniversary as an NPS site tomorrow. And while it is a smaller park, it holds a fascinating history.
Little Billy Clinton (originally named Blythe until he was adopted by his stepfather) spent the first four years of his life in a white frame house at 117 South Hervey Street in Hope, Arkansas. His widowed mother Virginia left town shortly after he was born to attend nursing school, so the young boy was left in the care of his grandparents, who ran a small grocery store. At a time when the southern U.S. was racially segregated, his grandparents served people of all races, a memory that Clinton says shaped his broad view on race relations and social justice.
The 2½-story home – built in 1917 in a quiet residential neighborhood of Hope – was designed in the “American foursquare” style, so called because of its square floor plan. Its interior has been restored in recent years and although the furnishings inside the house aren’t original, they were carefully chosen to evoke the 1940s, when Clinton lived there. The first floor includes a living room, dining room and kitchen; upstairs are three bedrooms.
Little Billy’s bedroom with its cowboy-themed bedspread overlooks the nearby railroad tracks. Billy loved playing cowboy games with the neighborhood children, many of whom remained friends well into the future president’s White House years.
Today, National Park Service rangers offer guided tours of the home upon request. (Their schedule changes often, so it’s best to call 870-4455 for accurate tour times.) The park also operates a Visitor Center next door to the home, where guests can tour interpretive exhibits focusing on the life of the 42nd president. JNPA operates a gift shop there that features books and other products that interpret his life as well as fair-trade craft products from around the world, upon the request of the former president.
President Clinton credits his early days in his childhood home for many of the important life lessons that later defined his presidency and his leadership as a global statesman. As he frequently says, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”