Presidential Pathways: Bill Clinton

George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter attend the Clinton Library Dedication
George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter attend the Clinton Library Dedication

President Bill Clinton’s Arkansas: Home of a Place Called Hope

A tour of Arkansas wouldn’t be complete without visiting the sites where President Bill Clinton grew up and honed his political skills. Born in Hope, Clinton would eventually call Hot Springs, Fayetteville and Little Rock home on his personal path to the Oval Office.

“I Still Believe in a Place Called Hope.”

The 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, was born William Jefferson Blythe IV at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope on August 19, 1946. Hope, where President Clinton spent the first seven years of his life, is known as the “Watermelon Capital of the World” and hosts the Annual Watermelon Festival on the third weekend in August. Clinton lived at 117 S. Hervey Street, now the site of the Clinton Birthplace, with his grandparents as his mother studied nursing in New Orleans. In 1994, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is open to the public for tours. His second home is located at 321 E. 13th Street, a tidy, white, wood-frame, one-story house where he lived with his mother and stepfather, Roger Clinton. Clinton attended Miss Mary’s Kindergarten with fellow classmates Mack McLarty and Vince Foster. McLarty would later serve as Clinton’s first White House Chief of Staff, while Foster was Deputy White House Counsel. Clinton’s education in Hope continued at Brookwood Elementary School.

Drop by the Hope Visitor Center and Museum at the intersection of U.S. Highway 67 and Arkansas 29 for information and directions to President Clinton’s points of interest. The Visitor Center is located in a restored 1912 train depot and features exhibits on Clinton and other Arkansas politicians, including Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, also a Hope native.

Growing Up In The Spa City

In 1953, the Clintons moved to 1011 Park Avenue in Hot Springs, where Bill was later baptized at Park Place Baptist Church located at 721 Park Avenue. The Clintons would later move to 213 Scully located between Summer and Seventh Streets.

Clinton attended Ramble Elementary School off Park Avenue and Ramble at Ramble Terrace. The First Apostolic Church is now located at this site, and the red brick auditorium is all that remains of the original school. At Hot Springs High School, 215 Oak Street one block off Central Avenue, Clinton participated in the band as an all-state saxophone player, a talent he would later display on “The Tonight Show” and “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Clinton was also active in the Order Of DeMolay, where he served as Master Counselor.

The group met at the Masonic Temple at 311 West Grand. Clinton’s social life revolved around school activities, including his high school proms and senior party. Clinton’s junior and senior proms were held at the Arlington Resort Hotel, located on the corner of Central Avenue and Fountain Street, in the Crystal Ballroom. His senior party was held at 201 Central on the top floor of the DeSoto Hotel (now closed). In addition to his senior prom and party, his class held a senior banquet at 217 Park Avenue, the Roundtable Restaurant that is now called Trumpets. The area high school students occasionally attended weekend dances at the “Y” located at 500 Quapaw Avenue, now the home of the Quapaw Community Center.

Clinton and his friends spent many hours bowling at 3917 Central Avenue or taking in a movie. The Malco, where they often caught films, is an Art-Deco style building and home of the Annual October Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. They also enjoyed the spectacular view of Lake Ouachita from Mountain Vista near the sheltered overlook on West Mountain Loop.

These activities were often followed by a snack at one of his favorite eateries

  • The Polar Bar, now Bailey’s Dairy Treat
  • World-famous McClard’s Bar-B-Q, known for its ribs, fried catfish and Clinton memorabilia 
  • 314 Albert Pike, the former site of Cook’s Ice Cream, which now houses Gene Lockwood’s Sportsmart.

After his junior year in high school, Bill became the first “Senator Clinton” while representing Arkansas at the American Legion Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. 

Clinton was famously photographed shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy.

You can see Clinton’s 1967 light blue Ford Mustang convertible at the Arkansas Museum of Automobiles atop Petit Jean Mountain on Ark. 154 near Morrilton. In the Clinton family since 1972, the car was first used by Roger Clinton and then passed along to Bill Clinton.

Fayetteville: The Clintons’ First Arkansas Home

After graduating from Yale Law School, where he met future wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill returned to Arkansas after a brief stint working for South Dakota Senator George McGovern’s unsuccessful presidential campaign against Richard Nixon. Bill taught constitutional law from 1973 to 1976 at the University of Arkansas School of Law. Classes were held in Waterman Hall, which was established in 1952.

Hillary, who also worked for McGovern’s campaign and later landed a job as counsel for the House of Representatives, would join him on staff in 1974.

Hillary moved to Arkansas after Bill’s February 25, 1974, announcement of his candidacy for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Arkansas’s third district.

Campaigning From the Hill

The Clinton Campaign Headquarters was housed at 824 N. College Avenue. Clinton narrowly lost the race to Republican incumbent John Paul Hammerschmidt by a four-point margin. Upon arriving in Fayetteville, Hillary was greeted with a present and a proposal. Bill had purchased a little red-brown brick cottage at 930 California Boulevard on the southwest side of Fayetteville. Their wedding took place in the living room of the cottage on October 11, 1975. While living in Fayetteville, the Clintons’ habitual gathering place was the D-Lux Cafe on the main college strip, Dickson Street.

The Clintons and their friends would socialize and engage in energetic political discussions about the future of American government.

Traditionally the site of the major political rallies in Fayetteville, the Washington County Fairgrounds hosted several Washington County Democratic rallies, where Bill was often an influential and captivating speaker. The family home of Clinton’s political mentor, United States Senator J. William Fulbright, is located at #5 Mt. Nord. Senator Fulbright was highly influential in Clinton’s life, and Clinton assisted him for two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while a student at Georgetown University.

Clinton returned to Fayetteville as a presidential candidate on October 23, 1992. Historic Old Main’s front lawn was the site of an emotionally riveting campaign stop.

Clinton fought back tears as he spoke to an enormous crowd of friends and supporters while reminiscing about his days in Fayetteville.

Little Rock: The First Capital Clinton Called Home

After serving as professors at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, moved to Little Rock in 1976. Clinton was elected attorney general at age 30 and the state’s youngest governor at 32. While serving as attorney general, Clinton and his staff were housed at 1500 West 7th Street, Arkansas’s Justice Building.

Prior to moving into the Governor’s Mansion at 18th and Center Streets, the Clintons lived in a one-story brick home at 5419 L Street. Clinton’s next nonpolitical home was 816 Midland Street, a two-story frame home. The family, which now included newborn daughter, Chelsea Victoria Clinton, moved after Clinton lost his bid for re-election to Frank D. White. From 1983-92, Clinton once again held the office of governor, serving the citizens of Arkansas at the State Capitol (modeled after the nation’s Capitol and built between 1899-1911) at Woodlane and Capitol Avenue.

Governor Bill Clinton put Arkansas on the global map when he announced his bid for the presidency on October 3, 1991. The announcement was made at the Old State House, the original site of Arkansas’s first State Capitol, which now house a museum of Arkansas history. Clinton also delivered his presidential acceptance speeches here at 300 West Markham Street. During the 1992 presidential campaign, the historic 1908 Gazette Building served as the Clinton/ Gore campaign headquarters. Located at 112 West 3rd Street, the building formerly housed Arkansas’s oldest business, the now-defunct Arkansas Gazette.

While living in Little Rock, Clinton was often seen at one of his favorite restaurants, Doe’s Eat Place, well known for its tamales and steaks. 

The restaurant quickly became popular with the presidential campaign staff during the 1992 election. Located in the River Market District at 400 President Clinton Avenue, Andina Cafe and Coffee Roastery was one of Clinton and Vice President Al Gore’s regular stops. It features two special roasts in honor of the Clintons. “Bill’s Decaf Blend,” the President’s namesake blend, is described as: “Well-balanced, refined, familiar. Powerful but gentle. Ideal for those who have very little rest.”

For the First Lady, the cafe owner, Eduardo Gomez, has a Hillary blend that he calls “elegant, bright, strong.”

President Clinton and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee were the keynote speakers at the Central High School National Historic Site in 1997. The City of Little Rock hosted a 40th anniversary ceremony commemorating the 1957 desegregation crisis. A visitors center across the street features exhibits about the event.

1600 Pennsylvania to 1200 President Clinton 

Visit the ultimate presidential point of interest, the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park at 1200 President Clinton Avenue. Anchoring downtown Little Rock’s River Market District on the banks of the Arkansas River, the Clinton Center hosts space dedicated to Clinton’s two terms in the Oval Office. The 20,000 square feet of museum includes replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, and state-of-the-art interactive historical displays. Don't miss the largest archival collection in American presidential history as well as educational and research facilities. All of this, just a few short blocks down President Clinton Avenue from the River Market Entertainment District.