By Suzi Parker
HOPE, Arkansas (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton returned to his childhood home on Saturday to celebrate its dedication as a national historical site.
Clinton was born in Hope's Julia Chester Hospital in 1946 and lived the first four years of his life in the two-story wood frame house with his grandparents, who owned the house, and his mother, the late Virginia Kelley. His father, William Blythe, died before Clinton was born.
During his 1992 campaign, Clinton used the name of his home town as a campaign slogan, saying he grew up in a "place called Hope." He was often called "The Man From Hope" and used the word 10 times in his 1992 Democratic Party acceptance speech.
The house sits near the quaint downtown and on the edge of a train track. A train whistle interrupted Clinton's speech on Saturday. He said he listened to them as a child and it was a welcoming sound.
"I wondered where those trains were going and if I would ever get to go there," he said.
The Clinton Birthplace Foundation bought the house in 1992 and began raising money to restore it. The home opened to the public in 1997.
The house became part of the National Park System on March 30, 2009, when President Barack Obama signed the measure into law. Arkansas' congressional delegation spent more than ten years trying to get legislation passed for the designation.
In December 2010, the property deed, which had been held by a private foundation, was transferred to the federal government for management by the National Park Service.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis attended the event. The dedication kicked off National Park Week, which President Obama declared for next week.
The house becomes the 394th national park unit, Jarvis said. Salazar said that the house would benefit Hope, a town of 10,000 sits located 112 miles from Little Rock.
"With of all of the things we do, it's about job creation and tourism," Salazar told a crowd of 400 at the dedication. "They will come here and see this great house and help the economy of Hope, Arkansas."
During his speech Clinton told stories about growing up in Hope and addressed problems facing the country with his boyhood home as a backdrop.
"We have gotten away from being a people-centered society," Clinton said. "Everyone is looking for their 15 minutes of fame."
He said people had forgotten how to listen to each other.
"One thing I learned in this home was arithmetic, evidence and aspirations of ordinary people are more important than anyone's ideology," Clinton said.
Many of Clinton's childhood friends attended Saturday's event along with tourists and school children.
(Editing by Peter Bohan)