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Clinton House Museum Preserves Another Slice of Life for "Bilgrimmages"


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Clinton House Museum, Fayetteville
Clinton House Museum, Fayetteville
    Clinton House Museum, Fayetteville
Clinton House Museum, Fayetteville
   
November 4, 2005


Clinton House Museum Preserves
Another Slice of Life for "Bilgrimmages"

*****
By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

FAYETTEVILLE -- Thirty years ago, a young couple married in the small living room of their French cottage-style home at 930 California Drive in Fayetteville. Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton were just embarking on their professional lives in law and politics and were 17 years away from becoming the President and First Lady. Today that slice of their life is preserved at that same home, now the Clinton House Museum, which opened this fall.

Built in the 1930s, this one bedroom, 1,800-square-foot home is the epitome of cozy from the inside out. Unpretentious, like many of the homes around it, the house is constructed of a warm, dark brick fa├žade and the inside contains elements such as an alcove fireplace and small breakfast nook.

As a museum, the structure is more than a well-preserved home in the Ozark Mountains that served in 1975 as the backdrop for the wedding of a future president and U.S. Senator. It also marks time in history and helps tell the story of a progressive college town and rural state during an era marked by political issues such as inflation.

The museum contains photographs, displays and memorabilia from Clinton's early political career, including his campaigns for U.S. House of Representatives and Attorney General. Numerous mementos of his eight years as President, pieces from the official Clinton Presidential Library collection, can be viewed.

Museum Director Joseph Barnes said the room between the living room and kitchen was used as a "war room" during Clinton's early campaign years. It now contains photographs and display cases with working copies of speeches and election results by precinct.

The former breakfast nook is now the background for displaying pictures of friends and family of the Clintons and a visitor sign-in book.

"I've had a few international visitors," Barnes said, "as well as tourists from both coasts."

The largest room has been converted to an office for Barnes and check-out area for the gift shop. "I've heard this room was like a library but without shelves, books just kind of stacked on the floor," said Barnes. "I've heard it was kind of like that through the whole house. They were just starting out as college professors."

The bedroom is now a media room with a big screen television showing campaign commercials from the '70s. Barnes said that when he obtained the commercials they were on large 7-inch reel to reels.

"They probably haven't been seen since the '70s," he said. Some of the issues discussed in the commercials are legal rights of the elderly, fighting utility hikes and inflation, anti-trust legislation, preserving the small farmer, economic development and keeping the pay phone call priced at a dime. The commercials also reflect a time in politics when the candidate discussed only his or her issues and the name of the opponent is never mentioned.

The gift shop is housed in the former screened-in porch and contains Clinton biographies and his autobiography titled "My Life," as well as hats, mugs, stuffed bears, pens and pencils, note cards, cookbooks, shirts, golf tees and more.

While the Clinton memorabilia spans Clinton's early political years to his presidency, it mostly focuses on his years in Fayetteville and connections to northwest Arkansas. The Clintons' Fayetteville years range from 1971 to 1976. They were married in the living room of the home on Oct. 11, 1975.

"Bill bought the house to get Hillary to marry him," Barnes said. According to Barnes, "Hillary had pointed out that she liked the home and one day when Bill picked Hillary up from the airport he told her, 'I bought it for you and now you have to marry me.' He had asked her to marry a year before, but she had declined, saying she loved him but was not ready," Barnes added.

More displays will be added over time, such as a replica of Hillary's wedding dress.

Structurally over the years, the kitchen has received updated cabinetry and appliances and the screened-in porch has been enclosed. An enlarged photograph in the kitchen shows what the kitchen looked like when the Clintons lived there.

"Our long-term plans are to make things like they were," Barnes said.

An early owner of the property was Gilbert Swanson of the Swanson TV dinners family fame. His mother-in-law, Roberta Fulbright, Fayetteville newspaper publisher, and mother of Senator J. William Fulbright, for whom Clinton once worked, also lived there, according to Barnes. It has otherwise been owned by several college professors.

"It's actually had a fairly interesting history as a house on its own," Barnes said. "It's important that the house be preserved itself. It's a historic marker structurally. It may not seem so now, but look at Lincoln's boyhood home. On down the line, people will be glad [the Clinton House] has been saved for them."

The museum officially opened on Sept. 20 with a grand opening on Oct. 13 in conjunction with the Clintons' 30th wedding anniversary. Hours of operation are Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment.

The University of Arkansas owns the home, which is leased with an option to buy by the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB is working with the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock and the Clinton sites in Hope and Hot Springs to make the Fayetteville destination one of the links in what is being referred to as tourist "Billgrimages."

The home is located within blocks of the University of Arkansas campus, where the Clintons both taught, and just three blocks south of Dickson Street, the city's cultural and entertainment district.

To reach the museum, phone (479) 444-0066, or 1-877-BIL-N-HIL (1-877-245-6445) or e-mail Barnes at jbarnes@fayettevilletourism.com. The Web address is www.clintonhousemuseum.com.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS & TOURISM
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