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In the last several years, the town of Hope, Arkansas, has seen updates and new additions: a coffee shop, an outdoor community space, a visitors center campus and several places to eat. Both these new stops and the not-new-but-noteworthy staples make this town in southwest Arkansas a great destination for a return visit or a first-time day trip.
Start your day by grabbing a coffee from HeBrews 11:1, a family-owned coffee shop that opened in 2019. HeBrews is part of the Arkansas Coffee Trail and offers hot and iced coffees with staples as well as seasonal drinks such as Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Peppermint Patty, and Autumn Pistachio Latte. The HeBrews menu features teas as well, from Country-and-Cinnamon Apple to a Golden Turmeric Tea offering. HeBrews is located downtown on the first floor of the historic national building. Indoor seating next to large windows offers a great place to begin your day.
After a caffeine fix, spend time exploring other new additions to downtown. One of these is The Hub, an outdoor gathering space for community events such as the weekly farmers market, Hope Chamber of Commerce Community Coffees, yard sales, trade days, and Big Sounds Downtown concerts. The Hub has a pavilion along with restrooms and tables and benches, making it a great spot for reading, snacking and visiting.
Another new addition to the downtown area is a building in the Klipsch Heritage Museum Association system: the Klipsch Museum of Audio History and visitors center. The center opened in March in a historic home downtown next to the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home. A key feature of the center is its period rooms filled with music, decor and Klipsch speakers from different decades through history. It’s a unique spot to visit in that while other museums offer things to look at and touch, the Klipsch museum offers an audio experience: things for people to hear.
Paul W. Klipsch was an eccentric man. Known for his wit and determined ways, he changed the sound industry from Hope, Arkansas. Stationed in Hope at the Southwest Proving Grounds during World War II, Klipsch spent his time tinkering on the loudspeaker and phonograph systems of the day.
After the war was over, Klipsch followed the encouragement of fellow servicemen and founded Klipsch and Associates in 1946 after receiving a patent for his design in 1945. He made each instrument himself until he was able to add staff two years later. Today, Klipsch Audio Technologies is based in Indianapolis, Indiana and makes loudspeaker tools used in concert halls, movie theaters, churches, and large gathering spaces. The Klipschorn is the only known speaker that has remained relatively unchanged for over 70 years.
My first stop when exploring a new town is usually the Welcome Center. In Hope, that’s the Historic Train Depot. On the National Register of Historic Places, this restored 1912 Train Depot currently runs as a major Amtrak stop in the region but will keep you entertained longer than a layover.
Bathroom memorabilia – The bathrooms alone make it a reason to stop. Make sure your party knows everything is okay because you could spend upward of 30 minutes checking out all the pictures and historical items on display.
Take your picture with Bill – You have a couple of opportunities for this. You can pick “Cool Bill” playing his sax in the room that holds many items from his childhood and a video telling his story. Or, out in the main concourse is “Governor Bill” watching over the affairs of the state.
Replica watermelon – In 2005, Lloyd Bright brought in a large, award-winning watermelon. He and his brother grew them on the land their father Ivan owned east of Hope. The 2005 watermelon weighed in at 268.6 pounds and earned them a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. This induction beat their own record of 260 pounds from 1986 when Bright’s son entered the contest and won as a child.
Confederate Army Veteran and local hero – As promised earlier, the bathroom walls teem with incredible stories and memorabilia. I was the only one in the place that morning, so that I could look everywhere, including the men’s restroom. On the wall by the door is a photograph of Confederate War hero Captain Charles A. Bridewell. But, in Hope, Capt. Bridewell is a local hero in education. The first public school opened in Hope in 1880. Capt. Bridewell was the first teacher. Before that, he had his own private school.
When cruising around downtown and across the city, you can find random pieces of art hidden in public and down a few alleys.
Wilson’s Saloon – This painting hangs in the alley behind Antique Row off Elm St. in downtown Hope facing the railroad tracks and City Hall. It lends itself to a time in history when exposed brick and simple paint were a necessity instead of nostalgia.
Coca-Cola mural – Along 2nd street between Main and Walnut Streets is a painted Coca-Cola mural. Of specific note is the National Building across the street from the mural. A standing example of Classic Revival Style commercial building space, this now free-standing building is probably the tallest example in the state of a commercial building in this style and dates back to 1916. It first housed the Bank of Hope, founded in 1893.
Hope Watermelon – While not exactly a painting, this town landmark was recently updated. A caricature of Bill Clinton can be seen playing the saxophone, and the five spaces at the bottom are used to announce and promote upcoming community events, including concerts at Hempstead Hall.
Musical Artists – At 101 W 2nd Street stands the former Hempstead County Bank that was constructed in 1891. The outside catches your attention as you drive by. One notable mural is the Band of Hope painting depicting former President Bill Clinton playing his saxophone, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee jamming on his bass guitar, Ketty Lester, a singer and actress most known for her song “Love Letters,” and Patsy Montana, who is considered by many as the “Queen of Country Western Music.” Montana’s 1935 recording “I Want to be a Cowboy Sweetheart” was the first by a female country singer to sell more than 1 million records.
Martin’s – Spend some time shopping at Martin’s, a department store with deep roots in Hope. The current store at 914 N Hervey Street offers men’s, women’s and junior’s clothing, as well as cosmetic, home, shoe and accessories departments. Martin’s recently celebrated its 63-year anniversary. The store opened in 1959 selling shoes. After many moves and renovations, it is now a community and regional department store staple while also shipping worldwide from their website.
LaGrone Williams Hardware Store – This family-owned hardware store opened in 1961. However, they were not always in this location. The building’s walls have stories to tell. At one point, Model T cars were assembled on the second floor. Later, the building was home to Hope Hardware where you could buy just about anything from caskets to furniture. The Williams family bought the place from the Graves family and changed it to LaGrone Williams Hardware. Today you will find friendly and knowledgeable staff and shelves with many hidden treasures!
Antique Row – One of the notable stops of visiting Hope, Arkansas is an area in downtown I call Antique Row. Bob’s Antiques draws a crowd from across the state and his neighbor stores make for a unique antique destination on Elm Street downtown. Bob’s specifically is a great place to stop for some local history and to see items related to some of the stories we’ve explored in this post.
Sightseeing and shopping can only lead up to one thing: food. Try one of these unique offerings in Hope for lunch or snacks:
It’s home to the Hope Watermelon Festival, held the second week of August each year. This year, the 42nd Annual Hope Watermelon Festival was the biggest, brightest, and sweetest one yet. The park was purchased in 1908 for $1,600 and included 40 acres. Over time, the park added 146+ acres, and today it includes almost 190 acres of public recreational space.
Girl Scout House – This house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 and is currently undergoing renovations through an Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and Department of Heritage grant. The house is a learning environment and represents the home of a family with a modest income during the 1930s and 40s. It is a single-story house and was built from logs in 1938 with funding from a Works Progress Administration grant that constructed public places like parks, roadways, and public buildings in an attempt to end the lasting effects of The Great Depression. For 25-plus years, the structure also served as the gathering place for the local Girl Scout troop.
Mike and Janet Huckabee Lake – part of an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission 11-acre project, but most people visit the 1-acre fishing pond and walking trail. The small pond is part of a Family Fishing program open to those ages 16 years or younger or 65 or older. The ponds teem with bream, largemouth bass, and catfish. The bass are part of a catch-and-release structure. Somewhat hidden, the lake is down an unmarked road just past the basketball courts and RV park.
Rusty Wheels – Near a shaded section of the RV park sits large rusted pieces of train equipment. Rusty Wheels is a fun area for children to get up close to a train engine car and some large pieces of locomotive equipment. Parents will want to stay close if you have a climber, but it’s a perfect spot for a party for the little conductor.
In the older part of Hope sits a modest two-story white house that was the first home to America’s 42nd President. Bill Clinton was born just a few months after his father was tragically killed. He and his mother, Virginia Blythe, came here to live with his grandparents for the first few years of his life. This home and the surrounding land are now a National Historic Site owned by the National Park Service.
Family photos – In 1957, Clinton’s grandfather passed away, and his grandmother sold everything. So, the furnishings in the home did not belong to the Blythes or Cassidys. But Virginia helped the Park Service refurbish it as she remembered it when they lived there.
Frigidaire – Clinton’s grandfather was an ice man. He delivered ice for 15 years before he got sick. Later, he owned a grocery store. This store was on the predominantly African-American side of town, but anyone could shop there. It was here that Clinton learned about people. He learned from his grandfather that it’s what’s on the inside that matters most.
Counting cards – Clinton’s grandmother taught him numbers and how to count by playing cards. They are great reminders of a simpler period when you used what you had to teach what you knew.
Hopalong Cassidy was Clinton’s favorite character growing up. You can see a room set up much like it would have been when he was growing up in the home.
This area of town was the Southwest Proving Grounds during World War II. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “ In 1941, the Department of War acquired more than 50,000 acres in Hempstead County and spent approximately $15 million to build a testing ground for ordinance.” This time in history changed the trajectory of many of the towns, moving them from purely agricultural to industrial.
Hangar and runway – The facilities you see today date to the summer of 1941. Established as the Southwest Proving Grounds, the airport was the third largest airport. It included a 5-mile long, heated runway that led technology at the time. Barracks were built on-site for the 616th Army Air Corp Detachment, which tested the air bombs developed for combat. Today, the airstrip is a privately-used space. If you land here, make sure to watch out for the hay bales and chicken houses.
Red brick building – In 1999, the Airport Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A group of local citizens is currently working on a museum in the Old Generator Building. “A Sentimental Journey to Southwest Proving Ground” will focus on the testing done here and on Senator George Lloyd Spencer, who was instrumental in opening Hope as the home site for this national contribution.
The Oakhaven neighborhood was established in 1946 down Highway 32, just north of the airport. The homes were officer’s quarters during the Southwest Proving Grounds days, but when the war was over, a small community formed out of the homes on this street.
Famous people may put a city on the map, but it’s the everyday stories that keep a community flourishing.
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