Hope rose to international fame as the hometown of President William Jefferson Clinton. In addition to a visitors center, the depot also houses a museum focused on Clinton's life and career.
100 East Division Street Hope, AR 71801
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||City of Hope|
|Parking Lot Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|Platform Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|Track Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Waiting Room||Dedicated Parking|
|Enclosed Waiting Area|
- Texas Eagle
Local Community Links:
- City of Hope
- Amtrak Texas Eagle
- Hope Visitor Center and Museum
- President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home
Located on downtown’s northern edge, the Hope depot was built in 1912 by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of Missouri Pacific Railway, more commonly known as the “MoPac.” The one story building exhibits the MoPac’s signature Mediterranean Revival style architecture, especially in the gabled red tile roof. Deep eaves supported by sturdy wood brackets shelter passengers from inclement weather as they wait outside for the arrival of the train. On the walls, light grey stone is used to highlight the base, water table, lintels and sills, thereby providing a strong visual contrast to the rich red brick.
A combination depot, the building housed passenger and express services under one roof. This dual functionality is evident on the exterior by the placement of the windows and doors. The railway express areas are easily identified by the oversized doors that allowed carts laden with crates and luggage to be easily wheeled between the train and the depot, while small windows placed high on the wall permitted light to enter but deterred would-be thieves. Large windows denoted passenger areas, such as the light-filled and airy waiting room. From a projecting bay facing the tracks, the station master could monitor traffic on the rail line. This depot functioned as a union station from 1928 through 1961, serving passenger trains of both the Missouri Pacific and the Louisiana & Arkansas Railway. A Pullman sleeping car operating between St. Louis and Shreveport was transferred between the two railroads at Hope each night.
The depot remained in active passenger use until November 1968, two and one-half years prior to the creation of Amtrak. It subsequently fell into disrepair until the early 1990s when Hope native Bill Clinton was elected 42nd President of the United States. To celebrate his rise to the highest office in the nation, a group of citizens advocated for the conversion of the depot into a museum focused on his life. Clinton was born in Hope in 1946 and then went on to serve as attorney general and governor of Arkansas before his election to the presidency in 1992. With the museum concept in place, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, by then part of Union Pacific Railroad (UP), donated the depot to the city in 1994. Renovations were finished the next year, and the facility opened to the public. A plaque on the wall commemorates Clinton’s visit in March 1999.
Other exhibits showcase the city’s rich railroad heritage and the life of Mike Huckabee, another native son who went on to become Arkansas’ chief executive. The building also houses a visitor and information center with a conference room available for community meetings. To ensure visitor safety, a brick wall and fence were built between the depot and the still very active freight tracks. Public art in the form of a locomotive, oversized wheels and machinery was incorporated into the fence in another nod to the town’s railroad origins.
The tourism possibilities created by Clinton’s presidency prompted civic leaders to approach Amtrak in 1993 about making Hope a regularly scheduled stop for the Texas Eagle. During the depot renovation, part of the building was set aside with the idea that it could one day serve as a passenger waiting room. Hope Parks and Tourism Director Paul Henley and other officials began attending meetings of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization to learn about the route and the requirements for being added to the timetable. Their persistence and hard work paid off in October 2010 when Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman traveled to Hope to announce that the stop had been approved by Amtrak and the UP.
A 550 foot long, ADA compliant concrete platform was planned and additional funds were provided by entities including the city, Arkansas Highways and Transportation Department, Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District. A decision was also made to cast the platform in sections for quick and easy installation since frequent freight traffic created vibrations that would have prevented concrete from properly setting on site. Exhibiting pride of place, each concrete section is stamped with “Hope, a Slice of the Good Life”—the city’s catchphrase and a reference to its famous watermelons. With these revisions and new cost estimates, organizers pushed back the completion date.
To celebrate the start of service in Hope on April 4, 2013, more than 150 local citizens boarded the Texas Eagle to ride to Texarkana, then returned on school buses to enjoy a community breakfast in Hope. An even larger celebration took place on May 18th, when the city partnered with TEMPO and Amtrak for a formal dedication ceremony that also included live music, refreshments, kids' activities and tours of Amtrak's Exhibit Train. In November 2013, Amtrak recognized the work of the Hope Depot Platform Committee by honoring the group with its "Champion of the Rails" award. Given out annually as part of the President's Service and Safety Awards, it honors non-Amtrak employees who have worked to promote and improve intercity passenger rail service throughout the nation.
When French and Spanish explorers first came to what is now southwestern Arkansas, it was largely inhabited by the Caddo American Indians, who were known for building mounds and creating pottery with intricate geometric decoration. As European-American settlers moved westward in the 18th and 19th centuries, many Caddo were forcibly moved to Texas and Oklahoma.
The European-American presence was not strong until the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which gave the United States control over the immense territory drained by the Mississippi River. Early settlers arrived in southwestern Arkansas via the Red River or the overland Southwest Trail, a collection of pathways that ran approximately 300 miles from St. Louis to northeast Texas.
Near present-day Hope, the trail bolstered the growth of Washington, which became the government and academic center for the new Hempstead County. Hope would not come into being until the 1870s, when the railroads transformed transportation in Arkansas. Between 1880 and the start of the 20th century, railroad mileage in the state would rise from 822 to more than 2,700 miles.
One of the most influential railroads was the Cairo & Fulton (C&F), chartered in 1853 with a mandate to build a line from the border with Missouri to northeast Texas. No substantial work was undertaken until the company was reorganized following the Civil War. Construction accelerated in the 1870s; between 1872 and 1874, the main line was built across the state, largely paralleling the old Southwest Trail and terminating at Texarkana where a link was made with the Texas & Pacific Railway.
The C&F reached southwest Arkansas in mid-1873, and it established Hope as a stop where steam locomotives could refuel and obtain water. James M. Loughborough, the railroad’s land commissioner, named the settlement for his daughter. Land was platted, with streets running parallel and perpendicular to the tracks, a pattern repeated in railroad towns across the country. The first lots sold in 1873 and the town was incorporated in 1875.
Following this period of intense building, the C&F was absorbed into the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway (StLIM&S) in 1874. That year, the StLIM&S erected a wooden board and batten depot on the north side of the tracks. It featured a steep gabled roof supported by large, oversize brackets, while the windows were capped with substantial hoods. Later moved to the south side of the tracks to serve as a freight house, the building still stands at the corner of East Division and South Walnut Streets. Today, it is the home of the Southwest Arkansas Arts Commission and a museum for Paul Klipsch, a pioneering designer of loudspeakers who is also made his fortune from Hope.
Within a quarter century of its founding, Hope had 1,500 residents and was a major rail hub with additional connections west to Oklahoma and south to Louisiana. To promote economic growth, and therefore higher freight revenue, the StLIM&S encouraged settlement in new towns and agricultural areas along the railroad. In 1917, the StLIM&S was absorbed by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which a decade later controlled more than 35 percent of the state’s total rail mileage. It in turn became part of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1982.
Good rail connections bolstered agriculture and industry in Hempstead County, with cotton and timber as the primary products. Although most raw goods were shipped to industrial centers in the north, some products were made or finished in Hope. The rich clay soils south of town were found to be excellent for use in bricks, and one factory finished wood into various machine-made handles—for axes, hammers and other tools. In time, the town also boasted of factories producing furniture, baskets and crates. Hope’s influence as a business center eventually resulted in it being named the county seat to the detriment of Washington.
In the early 20th century, farmers discovered that the soils were also excellent for the cultivation of fruit, especially watermelons. By strictly controlling growing conditions, they were able to produce large specimens weighing upwards of 150 pounds that gained Hope a reputation as the “watermelon capital” of Arkansas. In 1935, Oscar D. Middlebrooks achieved a world record with a 195 pound watermelon. Another local resident, Lloyd Bright, currently holds the world record with a 268.8 pound watermelon grown in 2005.
Every August, tens of thousands of visitors come from all around to attend the multi-day Watermelon Festival, which has its origins in an event dating back to the 1920s when townspeople distributed ice-cold watermelon to passengers on trains passing through Hope. Revived in the 1970s, the celebration now includes arts and crafts displays, musical performances, dog show, “Watermelon Idol” talent competition, and the ever-popular seed-spitting and watermelon eating contests.
Today, Hope is probably best known as the birthplace of President Clinton. The city achieved worldwide fame in 1992, when during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton recalled his childhood and declared: “I still believe in a place called Hope.” As a young boy, he lived with his mother in the home of his maternal grandparents until the age of four, and remained in Hope until the age of seven, returning in later years to spend summers with the extended family. Opened as a museum in 1997, the family house on South Hervey Street has welcomed visitors from around the world and offers exhibits tracing Clinton’s childhood and personal ties in Hope. Located a few blocks from the Amtrak station, it is now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by two daily trains.