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Traveling Around - West Branch, Iowa - Hoover Museum
The Museum's Location and Creation
West Branch, Iowa, is a small town located in central Iowa. It is on I-80 about 10 miles east of Iowa City and about 45 miles west of Davenport. Located in a grassy, green section of the central area of town is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum complex. The complex contains many buildings that are directly associated with President Hoover’s birth and childhood.
In 1954, a group of Hoover's friends incorporated the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Foundation to raise money for the preservation of his birthplace and the area around it, and to plan for improvements to the site. One of their ideas was to build a small museum, and with Hoover's approval work began in the late 1950s. The original building housing the museum was a modest structure of just over 4,000 square feet. While it was still being constructed, Hoover decided to expand it and to make it his Presidential Library.
The Library-Museum was officially dedicated and opened to the public on August 10, 1962, Hoover's 88th birthday. The dedication was presided over by President Hoover and by former President Harry Truman, a good friend. The original Library-Museum building was expanded several times, with major additions being completed in 1964, 1971, 1974 and 1992.
On August 8, 1992, former President Reagan rededicated what is now the Library-Museum. The rededication was the result of a renovation project that expanded the library to 47,169 square feet.
Some Personal Info About President Hoover
President Hoover was born near the museum in West Branch. At 6 his father died and he was orphaned at 10. He continued to live in West Branch with relatives for another year before moving to the west coast to live with an aunt and uncle. He attended school on the west coast and became a geologist and a mining engineer. While a senior at college, he married his fellow student, Lou Henry, and after graduation they went on a honeymoon cruise to China where he had accepted a position as mining consultant to the emperor. In addition, his career in engineering took him to Australia. He and his wife traveled the world in the following years. According to the write-ups at the museum, at one time he was the highest paid salaried employee in the United States making just over $30,000 a year.
While President Hoover was secretary of commerce, his wife helped build the Girl Scouts of America and she presided over the Women's Division of the National Amateur Athletic Foundation. The civic minded and intelligent Mrs. Hoover spoke five languages, authored books and articles and received eight honorary degrees in her lifetime. She died in 1944.
President Hoover was asked to assist the relief efforts in Europe during World War 1 and was instrumental in feeding thousands of children who were on the verge of starving. Video at the museum show survivors years later exclaiming about the aromatic “Hoover Rolls” that they had for lunch. His humanitarian efforts led him to international prominence and he was elected President of the United States in 1928. He served one term and retired to California until the Truman administration asked him to again become active in public service. He did so and remained active until his death in 1964.
The National Historic Site
The area has been identified as the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and contains the Presidential Library/Museum, Hoover's birthplace, a reconstruction of Hoover's father's blacksmith shop, a one-room schoolhouse, a Quaker meeting house, and in the lee of a nearby hill, the graves of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover. Scattered throughout the town and in the National Site, there are at least 16 or so historically significant buildings.
Upon entering the museum one finds themselves in a lobby area that opens through a rotunda into the museum. To the right is a gift shop and to the left are temporary exhibits that are at times not related to the presidency. The museum proper is a self directed series of exhibits that traces this magnificent career through each step with dioramas and textual displays. When we toured the museum, we were startled at the similarities there were between the problems President Hoover had in his administration and problems that exist in many presidencies where the political parties are at odds. There is a film that highlights President Hoover’s life and career.
A curving drive from the museum leads to the grave sites of both President and Mrs. Hoover. They are marked by simple stones of Vermont marble and overlook the cottage where he was born.
By driving further into West Branch, the visitor can see a complex of historically significant homes and businesses. There is visitor center located in this area. Exhibits, publications, and a video are available at the center about the town and the man and the museum. At the visitor's center there is an audio tour of the National Historic Site available at no charge. The tour will broadcast to a cell phone or listening devices are provided if needed.
We spent several hours at the museum and displays that we saw there caused many discussions after we left the museum. A very thought provoking experience.
There is an admission charge for the museum. Hours and fees are discussed on line at their website. Although there are no eating facilities at the museum, there are restaurants nearby in West Branch that include 2 McDonalds, a Quiznos, and several more local eateries.