In 1975, inside a small brick house just down the hill from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a young couple dragged a mattress out of the bedroom and onto a screened-in porch to try and get some relief from the Arkansas summer heat.
The couple were both teaching law at the university, and the young man in the relationship had purchased the house on a whim to try and convince the young woman to marry him.
What: The Clinton House Museum will host an open house in celebration of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 41st wedding anniversary.
When: Thursday, Oct. 27 from 6-8:30 p.m.
Where: Clinton House Museum, 930 W. Clinton Dr.
More info: Facebook event
To hear him tell it, he had already asked her twice, and she had turned him down both times. Once, on the way to the airport, she noted the ‘For Sale’ sign in front of that same little home, and she commented on what a uniquely designed and beautiful house it was.
While she was away, he bought the house she liked so much for $17,200, and the gesture was enough to convince the young lady to say yes when he asked the third time.
They were married in that house in the fall of 1975. They lived there for about a year, working on home improvement projects together, and hosting guests from out of town.
They worked on lesson plans. They made dinners. And on summer nights, when it was just too hot for the attic fan to keep the house cool, they lay in the breeze on the back porch and discussed their future, the way newlyweds do.
Seventeen years later, one of those people became the 42nd president of the United States. He was also the Arkansas Attorney General before that, and the 40th and 42nd governor of the state.
The other person became the First Lady, and then a senator, and then Secretary of State. Earlier this year, she became the first woman to win a major party nomination to be president, and on Nov. 8, there’s a chance she will be elected as the 45th American to hold that office – the first woman ever to do so.
Those newlyweds, of course, were Bill and Hillary Clinton, considered by some to be the most powerful couple in politics.
And their story – which is now a significant part of American history – started in that house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with plans that may have been hatched on those summer evenings on that screened in porch.
The Clinton’s time on California Boulevard
The Clinton House, as it has come to be known, is located at 930 Clinton Dr. (formerly California Boulevard).
The Clintons lived in the home for a little over a year from August 1975 through December of 1976 while Bill and Hillary both taught at the University of Arkansas Law School, before Bill took office as Arkansas Attorney General.
Though their time at the home was relatively short, the Clintons were there long enough to make their mark. During a 2008 visit to the house, Hillary told the story of Bill doing some less-than-perfect tile work around the fireplace that still remains today, and his wallpaper project in the kitchenette that ended any delusions he may have had that he was going to be a serviceable handyman. Hillary also purportedly chose the orange color for the kitchen cabinets, and planted some of the flowers in the garden.
Much of the house, in fact, is as it was when the Clintons lived there 40 years ago.
The home provided the backdrop for some big moments in their young relationship. They were married in the living room on Oct. 11, 1975 in front of a small handful of friends and family members, and the dining room off the kitchen served as the campaign headquarters for Bill’s first election win when he became Attorney General in 1976.
Angie Albright, who recently took over as the museum’s director, said that during the month or so she’s worked at the museum, there has been a huge uptick in interest in the museum from folks all over the world. During that short amount of time, she’s entertained journalists from a host of other countries, and visitors have come from every habitable continent on the planet.
Albright said the stories of the young couple sleeping on the screened-in porch, Hillary’s department store wedding dress, and other relatable tidbits are what tend to resonate most with the visitors.
Many of them, she said, are surprised by the unassuming atmosphere of the home.
“Everyone pauses in this front room,” she said. “They notice how modest it is, how modest the wedding dress was. I think they see these pictures of these young people, and really get a sense of their innocence, and idealism, and optimism that a lot of people have when they get out of college and start their careers, and my sense is that the visitors really enjoy that.”
Becoming a museum
The house was acquired by the University of Arkansas in 2005, and the Fayetteville A&P Commission leased the property from the UA that year to form the museum. In 2007, the non-profit that runs the Clinton House was formed, and that organization has operated the museum (in association with the A&P commission) ever since.
The museum is a non-political organization that focuses on the historical significance of the house. The non-profit operates the museum in a partnership agreement the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, and the commission has a lease-to-buy agreement on the house with the university.
The museum is full of memorabilia from Bill’s early career in politics, including items from his campaigns for U.S. House of Representatives and Arkansas Attorney General. Guests can look through photos, stories, and transcripts of some of his early speeches, as well as a timeline that puts the Clinton’s years in Fayetteville in historical perspective.
Items from their wedding are also on display, including a replica of Hillary’s wedding dress that, as the story goes, she bought for $53 at Dillard’s at the insistence of her mother.
The screened-in porch has been closed in, and now serves as a gift shop with books and other mementos that visitors can take home to commemorate their experience.
A handful of other improvements have been made over the years. The rock wall in front of the home was rebuilt in 2009, the roof and gutters were replaced in 2009, and the First Ladies Garden was added in 2011.
The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and in that same year, the Fayetteville City Council voted to rename the street the house sits on from California Boulevard to Clinton Drive in honor of the former residents.
The museum is open to the public on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $1 for kids 12 and under and $5 for students. It is also available to rent for private events, group tours, weddings, and other gatherings.
Layers of history
Even before the Clintons moved in, the house had plenty of historical significance in Fayetteville.
The house was built in 1931 by H.H. “Scotty” Taylor, a businessman who made his fortune in the oil business, and who founded the Fayetteville Daily Leader newspaper in 1929. Taylor also later owned the New Midway Hotel on Dickson Street.
It was later owned by Gilbert C. Swanson, whose father founded C. A. Swanson & Sons, and who was also credited along with his brother for the invention of TV dinners. Swanson’s wife, Roberta Fulbright Swanson, was the sister of UA president and longtime senator, J. William Fulbright. Coincidently, Bill Clinton had worked for senator Fulbright in the 1960s early in his career.
Longtime UA Animal Science Department president Warren Gifford, who ran the department for 25 years, and his wife Rebecca Gifford, were also previous owners of the house.
New exhibits planned
Since the museum was initially established, many of the exhibits initially focused on Bill’s political career, but that is in the process of changing.
Should Hillary win the White House in November, the house will have been home to not one, but two U.S. presidents. It will have been home to the first husband and wife duo to serve as president, the first female president, and the first ever “first gentleman” to live in the White House.
According to former A&P Director Marilyn Heifner, the house is only one of four residences (including their current home in Chappaqua, New York) that the couple has ever owned.
To help commemorate the historic election, Albright said she and her staff are currently working to add exhibitions that focus on Hillary.
“We are excited to tell more about the story,” Albright said. “It’s entirely possible that our 42nd and 45th president will have lived in this house, and been married…here…to each other. That’s such a unique American thing to have happen, and something we probably won’t see again in our lifetimes.”
Albright said the exhibits, which she hopes to have complete in the coming weeks, will focus on Hillary’s life in Arkansas including her time at the law school, as well has her founding of the non-profit, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She is also working to collect memorabilia from her campaign for Senate, her time as Secretary of State, as well as her bids for president in 2008 and 2016.
“We want to beef up the history of her campaign and professional career as well,” she said.
Albright said she expects the increased traffic the museum has seen since Hillary’s current presidential campaign began to continue, and she will be staffing up for even more attention after Election Day.
“We’ve had to hire additional part-time staff, and folks to work on our guest services process,” she said. “We saw a big increase after the Democratic National Convention, and if she wins on Nov. 8, we’re going to need to be ready on Nov. 9.”
For more information about the Clinton House Museum, visit the website at clintonhousemuseum.org.