By Rick Kennedy, managing editor: update Saturday, 11:00 p.m.
The Hempstead County Bicentennial Celebration concluded Saturday night with fireworks and dancing in the streets. Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse, donned in a time-appropriate costume, along with his wife Sharon, took center stage for the final chapter in what was the culmination of an 18-month planning and staging process.
Despite much cooler than expected temperatures in downtown Hope on Saturday afternoon, the celebration saw plenty of folks drifting in and out of the Second Street and Walnut area after a 1 p.m. parade had finished at the downtown Farmer’s Bank, which will be the new Hempstead County Courthouse some time in 2019.
Live music, vendors, and food were happening at the celebration through the afternoon, but the early evening as 6 p.m. approached, most vendors had departed, and an estimated crowd of 80, swelling later to over 100, waited patiently for the fireworks and the cake cutting.
Before Morse made the first slice, the crowd heard speeches from Richard Read and Josh Williams, both men primary principals in the organization and planning of the celebration for much of the last 18 months.
On behalf of the Bicentennial Commission, Read had presented a $1,600 check to the Welding T&I program to UAHT, where the construction on the Time Capsule had occurred. John Hollis accepted the check on behalf of UAHT. Hollis read a special Bicentennial poem by George Smith prior to the cake cutting and fireworks. Williams also lead a singing of “Happy Birthday” right before Morse got the go ahead to slice the cake.
Much earlier Saturday morning, Hempstead County’s Bicentennial celebration started at Hempstead Hall on the University of Arkansas-Hope campus, where an estimated crowd of 140 saw special video messages from current Congressman Bruce Westerman, former President Bill Clinton and former Governor Mike Huckabee.
The two-hour event Saturday morning also had a live panel discussion from four special guests that grew up in Hempstead County, including Mack McLarty, who served as Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton; Judge Lavenski R. Smith, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit; Little Rock attorney Joe Purvis; and Ellen Turner, a professor at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. The panel was moderated by local Judge Randy Wright.
Early Saturday afternoon saw a parade, which started at 1 p.m. from the current Hempstead County courthouse at S. Washington and routed through to downtown Hope at Farmer’s Bank, where the future courthouse will be. A live stream of the parade was carried by SWARK Today, and it is still available for viewing elsewhere on the website.