After its incorporation as a town in 1875, Hope grew by leaps and bounds in the late 1800s. The little prairie settlement grew rapidly into a thriving railroad town and, eventually, into the Hempstead County Seat. In fact, between 1880 and 1890, Hope’s population would grow by just over 700 people. So it was, in 1886, with the population approaching 2,000, that a local merchant named J.C. McKee would open what would become the Barlow Hotel.
Originally named the Lamar Hotel by McKee, the hotel and restaurant appealed to the town’s many new railroad passengers. In the days before the climate-controlled passenger cars of today, rail passengers contended with dust, locomotive smoke, and untold miles of rough travel between stops. McKee, seeing the need (and business opportunity) that such an establishment could serve, built his new hotel at 102 South Elm Street in Hope, right next to the east-west tracks of the Cairo-Fulton Railroad (which would become the Union Pacific in 1982).
It would, however, be one of the hotel’s investors who would make McKee’s vision become a landmark of Hope for almost 80 years. M.H. Barlow, who hailed from Pennsylvania, invested in the hotel and eventually took over ownership, changing the name to the Barlow Hotel shortly thereafter.
John Barlow, the eldest of M.H. Barlow’s four children, began managing the hotel in 1904. Almost three decades later, in 1930, John announced his intent to build a ten-story replacement for the original Barlow Hotel. However, worsening financial conditions during the Great Depression put an end to his plans.
The hotel’s popularity among travelers and Hope citizens alike meant that Barlow was able to make progressive upgrades to the structure. In fact, the Barlow was the first major establishment in Hope to have hot and cold running water in around 1910.
Throughout the 1920s and beyond, the Barlow became a hub of the community, holding town meetings and events in its banquet room. Like many hotels of the era, the Barlow rented out space to local businesses, including Singer Sewing Machines, Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company, and Middlebrooks’ Grocery.
The Barlow was eventually sold to the Lampkin estate in 1943. In 1960, the hotel was bought by a local entrepreneur named Ben Owen, who enlarged the banquet room and added a coffee shop. He had several other renovations in mind for the already historic hotel, but sadly those would never come to fruition.
In the early morning of September 14, 1964, an electrical fire broke out in the kitchen of the hotel. The fire quickly engulfed the Barlow, and spread to three other businesses on the block. Hazel’s Beauty Shop, The Smart Shop, and Spates Florists were also consumed in the blaze. Once the fire department was able to explore the still smoldering ruin, they quickly found the remains of a local poultry worker named Bill Foster, who had apparently died in his sleep during the fire.
As the fire department battled the smoldering ruin for the next two days, two more people were confirmed dead. Theo and Annie Clay, a construction worker and his wife, were listed as guests of the hotel and were confirmed by Fire Chief James Cobb to have died in the fire on September 16. About 20 other guests, including E.F. Price (in his 70’s at the time) who was a permanent resident of the hotel, managed to escape the inferno with only minor injuries. Price was hospitalized and kept for observation, but was later released in good health.
After almost 80 years in business, the Barlow Hotel was a total loss. The remains were removed and, eventually, new businesses moved into the vacant space at 102 South Elm Street. Now, some 57 years later, the block once dominated by the Barlow houses ROC Enterprises and the Melon Patch restaurant. Other dining and lodging options for travelers would slowly migrate through Hope as the city left its railroad roots behind. Third Street became a popular destination for travelers and diners for many years until traffic shifted to Interstate 30, taking the need for hotels to the northwest side of Hope.