Since visiting the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston several years ago, my mom purchased a "passport" to the presidential libraries and has desired to see them all. The first one my kids and I went to with my mother was the LBJ library in Austin. It was so much more than I expected. Let's just say, I thought it was a place where presidential documents were kept. I wasn't quite sure what the appeal was until I went and realized that the presidential museums are packed with rich displays of the history during that president's term. I've been hooked ever since.
Last summer on our trip to visit family in California, we added two more Presidential Libraries to our itinerary: Reagan's and Nixon's. When we decided to head to Tennessee this spring to visit family, stopping by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum was a must.
According to the National Archives website:
Presidential Libraries are archives and museums, bringing together the documents and artifacts of a President and his administration and presenting them to the public for study and discussion without regard for political considerations or affiliations. Presidential Libraries and Museums, like their holdings, belong to the American people.
While Roosevelt was the first to see the value of preserving these important historical documents in 1939, it wasn't until 1955 when Truman encouraged congress to pass the Presidential Libraries Act, which established a system for these artifacts to be stored and maintained in privately erected libraries. Starting with Hoover, our 31st president, these presidential libraries and museums have been built and open to the public for all of the subsequent presidents. At this time, Obama's library is still under construction, but it will be a great exhibit to see when it's complete.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
We arrived early in the morning in Little Rock, AR to tour the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. As one of the less expensive visits in the presidential library system, we were excited to get in and explore!
Situated next to the Arkansas river, the beautiful steel and glass structure almost looks like a bridge across the river. This is to symbolize Clinton's presidential campaign promise of "building a bridge to the 21st century". Inside, the over 68,000 square foot library and museum is the second largest presidential museum, with Reagan's as the largest. Modeled after the Long Room of Trinity College in Dublin, the interior is an equally impressive design.
I always love starting with the orientation videos at the first. They are short, informative overviews of the president's rise to power, their term in office, and their great achievements while there.
Once you leave the theater, you're free to explore the presidential timeline. This is the main portion of the museum exhibit, and follows the eight years that make up Clinton's two presidential terms.
Across from the timeline, you'll see alcoves of informative artifacts and exhibits exploring Clinton's presidency.
While there was a lot of interesting information, the layout wasn't as engaging as some of the other presidential museums we've visited. My kids went through this portion of the exhibit pretty quickly.
One of our favorite spots in the museum was the replica of the cabinet room. There you can sit in the president's chair and explore documents relating to the Executive Office of the President.
Another favorite of all of the presidential libraries is the oval office. I always loving to see what books the president kept on his shelves, and my mother always loves to look at what art work they choose to display.
A unique feature of this exhibit is the binders of the president's schedule. You can look up any day in the life of Clinton's presidency and see what he was doing that day. My son looked up his birthday and found out that the president was golfing that day! Ha!
Our Thoughts About This Museum
While there were a lot of great artifacts to see at this museum, the layout was not as engaging as some of the other presidential libraries. Even though it was not our favorite, it was still really interesting to see the history of our 42nd President.
Encountering Hillary Clinton as Bill Clinton's wife fascinated my kids as they were more familiar with her as a presidential candidate herself.
If you ever find yourself passing through Little Rock, Arkansas, stop by and see this exhibit.