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.
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.
The kitchen at the Clinton House
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 small living room where Bill and Hillary were married
The house was acquired by the University of Arkansas in 2005, the non-profit that runs the Clinton House was formed, and the museum was established that year as well.
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.
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.