Due to the COVID-19 pandemic my travels in 2020 were nearly non-existent until August when I would launch a road trip to New Mexico for a socially-distanced elk hunt with my father. I drove nearly straight through but did find time for a few distractions along the way to break up the monotonous 1,700 mile drive in each direction. First stop is at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.
Predictably the park’s facilities are closed due to the pandemic, however most of the park is outdoors and available for a self-guided walking tour along a combination of boardwalks, gravel, sidewalks, and accessible paths.
There are several historic buildings in the small walking mall. Some of them are original, some were moved from original locations to this site for preservation. But overall it has the vibe of a small early century town and feels like time travel.
Hoover was the 31st U.S. President and started his term in 1929 at the onset of the Great Depression. He has the distinction of being the first President born west of the Mississippi River and the only one born in Iowa. Here in a small two-room cottage where his family of five resided. Hoover restored his birthplace home after his term and said it was “physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life.” By today’s standards this is indeed a miniature-sized home of humble origins.
Herbert’s father Jesse was a blacksmith & businessman and operated his shop located just next door to their family’s home. I arrived too late in the day to go inside but was able to peek into the window and observe the preserved tools that were used in that era.
The village was a Quaker settlement and according to the tour signs they believed heavily in education. This small building was constructed in 1853 as a one-room schoolhouse and Quaker meetinghouse. Coincidentally, Hoover was a member of the first class at Stanford University in 1891 – seems that school worked out for him, eh?
Several years later in 1857 it seems they built a larger Quaker meetinghouse to accommodate the growing population. According to the signage these Quaker principles heavily influenced Hoover’s character. Fun fact: years later, Hoover would be a proponent of Prohibition. As history would have it, this was widely considered a bad move. On the other hand he did tax the rich so it seems his values weren’t all bad.
A short walk down the path and outside of the historic village there is a large statue labeled as “ISIS…THE GODDESS OF LIFE.” The plaque and other reading materials describe that after Hoover’s presidential term he organized post-WWI relief efforts across Europe. Apparently he was already a wealthy mining engineer and he gave up his career to pursue these humanitarian efforts (and would do so for the rest of his life). In return, Belgians gifted him with this large bronze statue to thank him for helping stave off famine.
Next up is a large building labeled as the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum. Again, closed due to the pandemic and time of day. This is a much more modern-style building and was dedicated in 1962 by then-president and Hoover’s personal friend Harry Truman. Hoover would die only a few years later in 1964 and be buried nearby.
Walking up the road from the library/museum is the gravesite of Hoover and his wife. It’s hard to convey this spot via camera lens but it is a very large area with a wall of arborvitaes and smaller bushes trimmed to ornamental spheres. The graves themselves are two large marble slabs and a flagpole stands in the center of the courtyard.
Interestingly there is a 2-mile hiking trail near the gravesite labeled as the Prairie Trail. I arrived very late in the day and was running low on daylight so I had to pass. The prairie is covered densely in wild grasses and flowers that once covered 85 percent of Iowa before farming took over in the 1800’s.
And one final interesting observation on the way out: On the opposite side of the library/museum there are large open greenspaces and some day-use shelters. I briefly observed a Boy Scout troop having some type of ceremony or gathering. Not surprisingly the scout troop were all wearing masks while the parents/family seated on the opposite side had zero masks. As we now know from the future in 2021 this non-compliance by rural areas leads to excess preventable deaths of fellow Americans. Iowa is still lagging behind and as of today is less than 50% vaccinated placing it middle of the pack of the US states. I applaud these scouts for setting a better example than their parents did.
On to the next stop! What will I see next? Stay tuned!
Lat = 41.6678276 , Long = -91.3524475 -- Show at Google Maps
Author’s Note: Due to my lazy nature and/or busy schedule, I’m posting this from the future in July 2021. Original visit date August 31, 2020 which is during the time that the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. I was travelling solo and always masked up when not outdoors and socially distanced. Sadly my trip got derailed due to close contact with infected parties and I had to bail out early (luckily I tested negative upon return). Needless to say this wasn’t my favorite trip and I’ve been putting off posting it. Anyways, enjoy it now, travel safely, and get vaccinated.