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A place called Hope


The Harry Thomason film that introduced nominee Bill Clinton to the Democratic National Convention in 1992 made Hope famous.

For those of us who grew up in Arkansas, Bill Clinton was from Hot Springs. After all, that’s where he came of age and graduated from high school. But he was born at Hope and lived there through kindergarten.

And “I still believe in a place called Hope” has a better ring to it than “I hail from the loose buckle on the Bible Belt.”

What’s now Hope was part of a blackland prairie known as the Prairie De Roan.

“The town developed as the Cairo & Fulton tracks were being laid from Argenta (now North Little Rock) to Fulton,” writes southwest Arkansas historian Mary Nell Turner. “The first passenger train pulled into what was known as Hope Station on Feb. 1, 1872. By the time the railway offered lots for sale, the wood-frame depot was almost complete. James Loughborough, the railroad company’s land commissioner, named the workmen’s camp in honor of his daughter, Hope. The company drew a plat of the town and sold the first lots on Aug. 28, 1873. The state had given the land to the company to defray building expenses.

“Walter Shiver built the first house near the depot in 1873. The town was incorporated April 8, 1875, and the first officials were elected May 14 of that year. The Barlow Hotel opened in 1886, seeking to fill the need for lodging and dining. Three more railways arrived in Hope by 1902, and passenger service continued until 1971. By 1900, the town had begun to produce electricity, an idea promoted by retired steamboat captain Judson T. West, who had moved to Hope in 1875. An artesian well supplied water for the city.”

The Barlow Hotel operated until 1964 and became well known throughout the region.

“The Barlow was built as the Lamar Hotel by local merchant J.C. McKee,” writes former Hope resident and Arkansas historian Revis Edmonds. “It initially sought to attract a clientele dominated by railroad passengers, as Hope was built around what would become two major railroad lines — the north-south Louisiana & Arkansas line (now Kansas City Southern) and the east-west Cairo & Fulton (now Union Pacific). In 1886, M.H. Barlow, a hardware merchant who hailed from Cory, Pa., was persuaded that the hotel in a growing railroad town was a good investment and began almost eight decades of family ownership.

“Barlow had four children, three of whom went into the hotel business. John D. Barlow took over the operation of the Hope hotel in 1904. R.P. ‘Dick’ Barlow took over a Malvern hotel in 1928. Henry Barlow operated the Barlow Hotel in De Queen from 1931 until poor health forced his retirement 10 years later. M.S. Barlow’s daughter, Dr. Alice Barlow Brown, served many years as a medical missionary in China.”

John Barlow announced plans in 1930 for a 10-story replacement for the hotel, but those plans never came to fruition due to the Great Depression.

“Barlow, however, continually upgraded the popular establishment,” Edmonds writes. “It was the first facility in the city to have hot and cold running water and was said to be the first customer of Hope Water & Light in about 1910. For years, the hotel’s strawberry shortcake was popular with both local and traveling diners. William Jennings Bryan visited the Barlow in the early 1920s. The hotel became the hub of community meetings and banquets in the community. In time, the hotel accommodated retail businesses such as Middlebrooks Grocery, Singer Sewing Machines, Ladies’ Specialty Shop and Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co.

“Arkla president Witt Stephens was close friends with Barlow, and Barlow was an initial investor in Arkla when Stephens purchased the firm from Cities Service Oil Co. Witt Stephens’ younger brother Jack worked several summers at the Barlow Hotel as a busboy. Barlow sold the hotel in 1943 to the Lampkin estate while still remaining a leader in hotel trade associations. Ben Owen, a Hope businessman with department stores in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, purchased the hotel in 1960 and made long-awaited upgrades such as a standalone coffee shop and an enlarged 250-seat banquet room.”

On Sept. 14, 1964, an electrical fire began in the kitchen and destroyed the hotel. Three guests were killed in the fire.

An 1888 article had stated that the growing railroad town of Hope included lumber mills, a wagon factory, a cotton compress, two banks, a newspaper, a public school and an opera house in addition to the hotel. U.S. 67 was sometimes known as the Broadway of America, and its route through Hope later brought additional businesses.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court declared Hope the county seat on May 11, 1939, after five bitterly fought elections to move the courthouse from Washington to Hope,” Turner writes. “An act of Congress in May 1824 had named Washington the county seat, but Hope citizens believed their town had become the commercial center of the county. The federal Public Works Administration built Hope’s courthouse in 1939. On July 1, 1941, the government announced a land condemnation order and work began on the Southwestern Proving Ground. The government built the Army ordnance plant on 50,000 acres of farmland just north of Hope.

“Four dozen Army officers directed the activities and were assisted by an Army Air Corps detachment of about 150 men. Civilian employees — more than 750 daily — were transported by bus from Hope and surrounding counties. The plant was completed and the first ammunition was tested Jan. 1, 1942. Work continued until the end of the war in 1945. Some of the employees, both civilian and Army, remained in Hope.”

One of those employees was Paul W. Klipsch, who had been born in March 1904 in Elkhart, Ind.

“As a boy, he enjoyed music and was fascinated with sound,” Nancy Hendricks writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “At age 15, he built a radio receiver a year before the first scheduled commercial U.S. radio broadcast in 1920 at station KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh. Klipsch attended college at New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State University), graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1926. He joined the radio division of General Electric. In 1928, his passion for trains led him to Chile, where he was a locomotive maintenance supervisor for three years. Returning to the United States in 1931, he entered Stanford University and received an engineering degree.

“For the next seven years, he worked in oil exploration in Texas, researching the design of audio speakers in his spare time and submitting his first patent application for speaker horn design. With the coming of World War II in 1941, Klipsch was stationed at the Southwestern Proving Ground at Hope. After the war, he remained in Hope and devoted his career to designing and building superior loudspeakers. He rented a tin shack behind a dry cleaner in Hope and manufactured components for his first Klipschorn.”

Klipsch registered the name Klipsch & Associates in 1946 and hired his first employee in 1948. He was granted 12 patents in acoustics, eight in geophysics and three in ballistics.

“The high-frequency section was granted a patent in 1951,” Hendricks writes. “The Klipschorn as a complete system never received a patent for acoustical or electrical properties but was granted a patent for ornamental design in 1951. It’s considered one of the finest loudspeakers ever made and is the world’s only speaker to be in continuous production for more than 70 years. The sound moves from the speaker, using the walls of the corner of the room as part of the speaker to create a rich audio quality similar to an orchestral setting.

“Klipsch’s many awards and recognition include being chosen 1985 Citizen of the Year in Hope, which named its municipal auditorium in his honor in 1995. In 2001, the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission recognized Klipsch with its Award of Distinction. … His national honors include the Silver Medal from the Audio Engineering Society, induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1984 and his 1997 induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, where he was recognized along with fellow members Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk and the Wright Brothers.”

Klipsch sold the company to a distant cousin named Fred Klipsch in 1989. Audiovox purchased the company in 2011. Paul Klipsch died at age 98 in May 2002.

The Klipsch Museum of Audio History was later established. Work began last year to restore a 1921 house that had been empty since 2008 into a vistors’ center for the company. The house is adjacent to the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, which is operated by the National Park Service.

“The Southwestern Proving Ground Airport was deeded to the city and dedicated as the Hope Municipal Airport on April 27, 1947, with an air show,” Turner writes. “In June of that year, the government deeded 750 acres near the airport to be leased in support of the airport. The War Assets Administration turned over to the city the deeds for 2,500 acres of the Southwestern Proving Ground land for an industrial area. … The federal government sold much of the original 50,000 acres of proving ground land to former owners.”

The final section of Interstate 30 in the area was officially opened in November 1972. That led to a shift of businesses from downtown Hope to the interstate exits.

An extensive effort to bring life back to downtown Hope has been taking place in recent years. Hope became part of the Arkansas Downtown Network in 2018. Since that time, downtown has:

— Welcomed nine new businesses with a couple of more expansions

— Seen four building rehabilitations

— Seen the placement of a large “Welcome to Historic Downtown Hope” sign

— Seen all streetlight poles painted and LED lighting installed

— Seen the formation of a beautification committee that has transformed flower beds along the perimeter of the historic district

— Celebrated the opening of Pavilion Park

— Seen the relocation of the Hope Chamber of Commerce offices

— Seen the placement of three statues, red trash receptacles and black benches along with the purchase of new Christmas decorations

— Seen an increased interest in upper-level living in downtown buildings along with an increased number of events downtown

The Hempstead County Courthouse is being relocated to a former bank building downtown.

The Cairo & Fulton depot, built in 1912, served as a freight depot for 53 years and then spent more than three decades as the offices of the Stephens Grocer Co. In 1999, the Harold Stephens family donated the building to the city. It now serves as a visitors’ center.

As noted, President Clinton was born at Hope. Gov. Mike Huckabee was born and raised at Hope. So was Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, Clinton’s first White House chief of staff and now an internationally known business leader and consultant.

In addition to those raised at Hope, some interesting people such as Klipsch moved there through the years. One of the most interesting was Alex Washburn, the editor and publisher of the Hope Star for 54 years.

Washburn was born in Toronto in 1899 to parents from Pennsylvania and Illinois. The family later relocated to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Washburn graduated from a Pennsylvania Methodist prep school known as Wyoming Seminary in 1917. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years, spent a year in the journalism school at Columbia University and then graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri in 1923.

“The day after graduation, Washburn began his carer in a university-arranged job at the El Dorado Daily News,” Edmonds writes. “Three years later, he was promoted to editor, the youngest in Arkansas at that time. A year after Washburn’s promotion, Clyde Palmer of Texarkana purchased the Daily News, and Washburn began seeking an opportunity to strike out on his own. In 1929, after obtaining a loan from his father, Washburn purchased the evening Star of Hope and the morning Hope Daily Press and consolidated them into the Hope Star.

“At the last moment, Palmer and Washburn entered into a half-interest in the paper, which lasted until Palmer’s death in 1958. Palmer’s capital was reportedly critical to updating the newspaper’s technology, but Washburn long remained displeased at the necessity of the partnership.”

In 1948, Washburn formed the Hope Broadcasting Co. and put KXAR-AM on the air. Federal regulations forced the sale of the station in 1976.

“The Star under Washburn was noted for its crusading conservative editorial stance in both local and state affairs, and a limited-government philosophy at the national level, all consistent with Washburn’s well-known frugality and insistence on efficiency,” Edmonds writes. “His one-man editorial page — ‘Our Daily Bread: Sliced Thin by the Editor, Alex H. Washburn’ — was a smorgasbord of opinions on topics such as government waste, reform, liquor prohibition and the misdeeds of local politicos. In the Saturday edition, editorial contributions from other papers were shared in a section titled ‘With Other Editors.’

“Washburn was vehemently opposed to urban renewal and revenue sharing, and he continually blasted federal planning. However, he considered one of his chief victories to be the extension of a municipal water supply from Millwood Lake to Hope, an action for which he had lobbied in the lake’s initial planning process in the 1950s. The Hope water facility was dedicated two weeks before his death.”

Washburn died May 16, 1983. He had never married or had children. The paper was sold a year after his death and no longer exists.

“Hope’s economy long depended on farming,” Turner writes. “Cotton was the chief crop until the 1920s. More than 30,000 bales a year were produced in the mid-1930s. So many buyers had offices on Second Street that it was known as Cotton Row. The United Cotton Seed Oil mill was a successful industry as long as cotton was grown. More diversified farming began to be encouraged when the University of Arkansas established an experiment station near Hope. The poultry industry in the area began when Freda R. Greenan moved her business from Illinois in 1951, helping to revive the economy by encouraging farmers to raise chickens. She sold Corn Belt Hatcheries of Arkansas in 1964.

“Hempstead County’s hardwood forests provided timber for lumber companies and manufacturers. The Ivory handle factory, incorporated in 1901, produced hardwood handles that were shipped worldwide. It became Bruner Ivory handle factory in 1933, was sold to a Tennessee company in 1980 and closed in 2004. The clay soil of land south of Hope was used to make pottery and bricks for many years. Norris P. O’Neal came to town in May 1901 to establish Hope Brick Works. The last bricks were made there in November 2000.”

Hope’s population soared from 1,644 in 1900 to 7,475 in 1940. The city continued to grow, hitting 10,290 residents in the 1980 census.

Like most towns in south Arkansas, it has struggled to prevent population losses during the past 40 years. The population is now estimated at 9,700.

“Hope had a dual educational system until desegregation was accomplished in 1969,” Turner writes. “Hope’s first public school for white children began in a small former Presbyterian church in 1880. The first teacher, Charles Bridewell, had operated a private school the previous four years. The school board’s first building venture was a two-story red frame building in 1888. Its ad for a design was answered by 15-year-old Willis Jefferson Polk, an Illinois architect’s apprentice. The building was used for 20 years for the entire school. When increased enrollment demanded a new facility, what was described as a dream school was built in 1908. It was named Garland Grammar School and became Garland High School in 1922. It was condemned in 1930 because of poor construction.

“With the sale of its property to the county and revenue from consolidation of several rural schools, a modern three-story brick building was constructed at the south end of Main Street in 1931. It has been used as a high school since then. The first school for black children was in a one-room building on South Hazel Street that opened Oct. 1, 1886, with Henry Clay Yerger the only teacher. A few years later, Yerger built Shover Street School. Later, Yerger was instrumental in securing funding for his educational projects from the General Education Board, the Rosenwald Foundation and the Smith-Hughes and Slater Funds.”

Yerger built a dormitory in 1918 to accommodate girls who wanted to attend high school. He also established a teacher training summer school for black teachers that operated from 1895 until 1935. Yerger was honored in October 1935 when the high school for black students was named Henry Clay Yerger High School.

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