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Clinton childhood home will reopen for tours after 2015 fire

Home restored after Hope fire by Emily Walkenhorst | July 29, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.
Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER The National Park Service operates the President WIlliam Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope

The first childhood home of former President Bill Clinton has been fixed up by National Park Service workers and will reopen for visitors Saturday for the first time since a Christmas Day fire.

The early morning fire, which authorities believe was intentionally set, damaged the back of the house, on the outside and parts of the interior -- in the pantry and second-floor bathroom.

The President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope is a National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service. The site also has a visitors center that has not been closed. The center includes exhibits on Clinton's life while he lived at the home with his mother and maternal grandparents.

An integral part of the "Billgrimage" of Clinton-related tourist destinations across Arkansas, the house signifies Clinton's ties with Hope that followed him throughout his life, said Skip Rutherford, a longtime associate of Clinton and dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. Some of Clinton's kindergarten classmates -- such as Mack McLarty, a former White House chief of staff, and Vince Foster, a former deputy White House counsel -- would remain influential throughout his life.

The Clinton-related tourist destinations also include the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, numerous sites throughout his former residence in Hot Springs and the Clinton House Museum in Fayetteville, where he and Hillary Clinton had their wedding and lived while they taught law school at the University of Arkansas. Clinton mentioned the house in Fayetteville in his speech Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention and mentioned the house in Hope during his 1992 acceptance speech when he was the Democratic presidential nominee.

"This home in Hope has played a significant role in the growth of Arkansas tourism," Rutherford said. "And given Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the president, I would expect that over the fall that you're going to see a lot of people ... expressing interest in seeing the Clinton site."

Hope police said they believe the fire was caused by arson, but neither they nor state nor federal authorities assisting with the investigation had made any arrests as of Thursday.

Assistant Police Chief Kim Tomlin said the National Park Service was leading the investigation.

In December, Hope police interviewed two youths in connection with the fire but did not consider them suspects. The youths were arrested on the morning of the fire several blocks away from the home, which is at 321 E. 13th St.

In addition to the fire, the number "55" was spray-painted in black on a wooden walkway leading to the home and a drawing of a face with X's for eyes and a tongue sticking out was painted on a door on the north side of the house.

Tarona Armstrong, superintendent of the site, said the cost of repairs was more than $50,000 but that she didn't have a final total.

While some furniture was damaged by water and soot, Armstrong said, nothing was lost in the fire.

"We were able to save everything," she said.

The siding was replaced and repainted outside and drywall and wallpaper were replaced inside, Armstrong said. Furniture damaged with water and soot was cleaned and kept in a climate-controlled storage unit from January through this week. None of the furniture had to be reupholstered, she said, but one chair was damaged with enough water that it may need to be reupholstered in the future.

Armstrong has worked at the house since it became property of the National Park Service in 2011.

"It saddened everyone that someone would actually do that," she said.

The home will reopen for its usual hours from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday. A previously planned Aug. 25 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service will be something of a grand reopening for house, Armstrong said.

In the summer, the height of tourist season, 60-70 people a day visit the home, the National Park Service has said.

Clinton was born at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope in 1946 and lived in the home with his widowed mother and her parents, Eldridge and Edith Grisham Cassidy, for four years after his birth. The home was built in 1917, and Clinton's mother, Virginia Blythe, moved into it with her parents in 1938, according to a National Park Service website that features the home.

The nonprofit Clinton Birthplace Foundation acquired the house in 1994, restored it and opened it to the public in 1997 as President Bill Clinton's 1st Home Museum & Exhibition Center, according to the National Park Service website. In 2011, the home was designated as a National Historic Site and handed over to the National Park Service.

The home is special both to Clinton and to the state, Rutherford said.

"It's a very special part of our heritage and our future," Rutherford said.

Metro on 07/29/2016

Print Headline: Clinton site will reopen for tours


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