The Hoover Houses and Community Structures
Historic Structures Report
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HOOVER COTTAGE (continued)


A. The Hoovers, 1871-79

1. Jesse and Eli Hoover Build a Cottage

Within 13 months of his March 12, 1870, marriage to Huldah Minthorn, Jesse Hoover had purchased Lots 42 and 43 in Joseph Steer's Plat of West Branch. To provide a home for his wife and their first son, Theodore, born in the last week of January 1871, the young blacksmith assisted by his father, Eli, built a three-room board and batten cottage on Lot 42.

The foundation stones were boulders hauled in a wagon from the open prairie to the west. Auger holes, still visible in the rafters, indicate that the "timbers from which the frame work of the cottage were hewn had been lashed together" and rafted down the Mississippi from Wisconsin or Minnesota to Muscatine sawmills. After being turned into lumber, they were hauled overland to West Branch.

The Cottage was 14 x 20 feet. Its front door of vertical boards with a thumb latch faced Downey Street. The little room, 13-1/2 x 7 feet, in which Herbert was born on August 10, 1874, looked out upon the yard. The house's north room served the family as parlor, kitchen, and dining room.

At the rear of the Cottage was a back porch with its north end enclosed as a shed room for use as a summer kitchen or spare sleeping quarters. It is recalled that on the night the future President was born E. D. King, who had been hired to assist Jesse in his blacksmith shop, was occupying the shed room. He was awakened and sent to summon assistance. [1]

2. Contemporary Descriptions and Photographs of the Cottage

There are no contemporary descriptions of the Hoover Cottage during the years 1871-79 and only one contemporary photograph. The subject photograph, taken in the autumn of 1878, from Cook's Hill, looking north toward West Branch, shows the south elevation of the Cottage. Details identifiable are the south window, the south gable, a chimney, and a white bargeboard. The Cottage, itself, is brown. A copy of this photograph is in this report. [2]

B. The G. M. D. Hills, McCalebs, and Victoria Hill and the Cottage

1. The Cottage as a Domestic Battleground

Before selling the Cottage to G. M. D. Hill and moving to the northeast corner of Downey and Cedar streets, Jesse Hoover in April 1879 made "some needed improvements" to the structure. [3] G. M. D. Hill and his wife, Martha, had been married 16 months, when they and their infant daughter moved into the Hoover Cottage in May 1879. The North Carolina-born Hill had become owner-operator of the blacksmith shop.

While they called the Cottage their home, the Hills became parents of a second child, Maggie Dell, born in 1881. The Cottage, however, no longer sheltered a happy family. Domestic troubles between the Hills culminated in divorce on July 31, 1896.

When Mrs. Hill filed for divorce, she charged that within two years of their wedding her husband was abusing and mistreating her. [4]

After listening to the testimony, the court granted Mrs. Hill a divorce, and a generous property settlement. She was awarded the family home, lot, cow, and all the furniture, dishes, bed clothing, except the defendent's clothing and family Bible. Hill would be allowed to select "one bedstead, a straw bed and sufficient blankets and linen for the same, a rocker, and two common chairs." In addition, he was to pay his ex-wife $200 for child support, plus court costs. [5]

Hill, plagued by domestic difficulties, had announced as early as September 1881 that he wished to sell the Cottage, and his combination blacksmith and wagon shop. [6] There were no buyers for either the shop or his home, and Hill continued in business. In May 1883, Hill again advertised his property for sale In addition to his house, lots, and shops, he proposed to sell his blacksmith tools. These would be sold cheap, as he was desirous of quitting the trade because of ill-health. [7] Once again, there were no buyers.

2. The McCalebs and the Cottage

Hill in October 1885 finally found a buyer, Z. Taylor McCaleb, of Oasis. McCaleb, a blacksmith, took immediate possession of the shop, but he and his family permitted the Hills to occupy the Cottage until the following spring. [8] The McCalebs moved from Oasis to West Branch on November 10, 1885, and rented rooms in Benjah Miles' building. [9] In the spring of 1886, the Hills having vacated the Cottage, the McCalebs took possession.

3. Victoria Hill and the Cottage

The McCalebs continued to live in the Cottage and operate the blacksmith shop until March 1888. The previous September they had sold the Cottage and Lots 42 and 43 to Victoria Hill, a widow with three young children. The widow and her children lived on the property for about 20 months. Having married Oliver C. Pennock, a wealthy Springdale Township farmer, Victoria sold the Cottage and lots to R. P. Scellers in December 1889, and moved in with her new husband. [10]

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006