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


A. A Structural History

1. Port Scellers Relocates and Remodels the Cottage

The son of Abraham and Susan Scellers, R. Portland ("Port") Scellers, was born on November 26, 1856, in Louisa County, Iowa. He married Jennie Marshall of Rochester on December 26, 1882, and by 1885 the Scellerses were living in West Branch, where Port operated a dray service. [1]

In mid-July 1885 Scellers purchased the two-story frame house behind the post office and, employing his equipment, moved it onto his Penn Street lots, west of G. M. D. Hill's blacksmith shop and cottage. Scellers had contracted to purchase the lots and barn thereon from Samuel and Anna Gruwell. Reporting these developments, the editor of the Local Record observed, "Port is fixed up to stay." [2]

Having purchased the Hoover Cottage and Lots 42 and 43 from Victoria Hill Pennock, Scellers in May 1890 relocated the Cottage. Employing his heavy equipment, Scellers moved the structure nearer the rear of Lot 42 and turned it 90 degrees, so that the east elevation faced south. Next, he moved his two-story frame Penn Street House onto Lot 42, faced it to front Downey Street, and connected its west elevation to the new east elevation of the Cottage. [3]

2. Improvements to the Cottage, 1890-1912

It is probable that Scellers at this time made several major improvements and alterations to the Cottage. The two-story house was covered with siding and the Cottage with boards and battens, so in the interest of homogeneity siding was added to the Cottage. The shed room was removed and the back porch partially enclosed and screened.

Sixteen years later, in April 1906, Scellers had his residence re-roofed. [4]

3. Life in the Cottage, 1890-1916

a. The House and the Family

The Scellerses had five children (four boys and one girl), one, Ira C., dying in infancy. With four growing children, they found space at a premium. In the front of the house, on the first floor, were the parents' bedroom and a living room. The front door opened off a porch into the living room, which was on the north side of the house. Between the downstairs bedroom and the kitchen were the stairs to the upper floor, where there were two bedrooms and a hall. Port Scellers had removed the wall separating the Hoovers' bedroom from the combination parlor, dining room, and kitchen, thus providing his family with a commodius kitchen-dining room. A window had been enlarged into a doorway to provide access from the kitchen to the Scellerses' living room. [5]

Port Scellers had the interior of his kitchen-dining room refinished. Wainscoting was installed to a height of about three feet from the floor. Above the wainscoting, the walls and ceiling were plastered. The wood box was in the southwest corner of the room and the dining table in the opposite corner. Mrs. Scellers' cooking range was in the middle of the kitchen. In the northwest corner was Port Scellers easy chair.

When not working, during the winter months, Port liked to sit in the chair and visit. Glenn Brown, who stabled his horse at the Scellerses in the second decade of the twentieth century and subsequently wired the house for electricity, fondly recalls Port Scellers and the way he murdered the English language. For example, one day Port in describing someone as suffering from "nervous prostration" used the words "nervous prostitute." [6]

b. Thirteen Tears with the Scellerses

The Scellerses were a close-knit family, and their home was a scene of frequent family gatherings, even after the boys had come of age. Lewis, who in 1903-04 was living and working in Cedar Rapids, visited his folks wherever there was an opportunity. In the summer of 1904, Port Scellers' mother, Mrs. York of Muscatine, spent several weeks in June with her son and his family. Mrs. Scellers' mother, Mrs. Marshall, was in West Branch for several days in August. [7]

Lew Scellers, Henry Davis, and Bye Wright spent the summer of 1904 at St. Louis, working at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. [8] In mid-December 1904 Earl Scellers traveled to Kanaranzie, Minnesota, for a three-week visit with relatives. While in the North Country he shot a large jack rabbit, which on his return to West Branch he had mounted by a taxidermist. [9]

Earl Scellers by 1907 was no longer living with his parents on south Downey. He had gone to Iowa City to work as a mail weigher in the post office. [10] By late summer he had quit the government and was clerking in Shrader's grocery store. Like his brother Lew, who was now married, Earl was a frequent visitor in the home of his parents. [11] The Scellerses' daughter, Della, liked to travel with her mother. On October 5, 1907, she accompanied her mother to Iowa City to visit Mrs. Scellers' hospitalized sister. [12]

On July 4, 1908, Port Scellers' brother, William, and his wife of Fruitland arrived in West Branch and spent the weekend with their kinfolk. [13] That autumn Port and Jennie Scellers became grandparents, when their daughter-in-law Mrs. Lew Scellers gave birth to a son. Mrs. Scellers accordingly spent Sunday, November 7, in Cedar Rapids making the acquaintance of her grandson. [14] Mother and baby spent several days in West Branch at the end of March 1909 visiting the proud grandmother and grandfather. [15]

Mrs. Jennie Scellers was seriously ill in mid-February 1909. Among her many visitors was her son Lew over from Cedar Rapids on the 23d. [16] She soon recovered, and was elected to membership in the West Branch Cemetery Association. On September 30, 1910, she hosted a meeting of the Association in her Downey Street home. [17]

In 1910 Elmer, the Scellerses' youngest son, got a job selling Baker Patent Medicine in Johnson County. This necessitated him being away from home during the week. [18]

Mrs. Scellers now that her children were grown had more time for outside activities. Besides the Cemetery Association, she was an active member of the Rebekah Lodge. As an officer of the lodge in January 1911, she attended the installation of officers at the Mechanicsville and Tipton lodges. [19] Mrs. Scellers on October 4, 1911, left West Branch by train for a three-week visit with her mother, Mrs. Amanda Edwards, at Magnolia, Minnesota. She returned on the 25th. [20] Two months later, on Christmas, she traveled to Cedar Rapids to spend the day with son Lew and his family. [21]

Earl Scellers, having married, moved across Downey Street into the old Forney House in the first week of March 1912. [22] On Sunday, June 9, Mr. and Mrs. Lew Scellers and their son Robert drove over to West Branch to see Port and Jennie. As automobiles were not numerous in the community, Lew's vehicle was popular with the neighbors. [23] Earl and his wife did not live in the Forney House many months. In August they moved to Solon, a more convenient base from which to operate his patent medicine route. [24]

On Sunday, October 5, 1913, Port and Jennie Scellers entertained their four children at a family reunion. Motoring over from Cedar Rapids were Lew, his wife and son, and Elmer. From Honey Grove came Earl and his family. [25] Earl and his family were again residing in West Branch in October 1914, when the senior Scellerses held another family reunion. [26]

c. Port Scellers—Thresher

Port Scellers in the first decade of the twentieth century broadened his horizons and entered the threshing business. There was sufficient work in the area to keep both Scellers and John Randall busy, and in July 1906 Scellers bought a new Port Huron engine. "It was a beauty," the editor of the local newspaper reported, and "is guaranteed to be as good as it looks." [27] Four years later, in July 1910, Scellers unloaded a "fine new" Avery separator. With this, he would be better "equipped than ever for taking care" of the bumper crop of grain being threshed. [28]

In October 1913 Scellers traded his Port Huron engine for the 20-horsepower Reeves traction engine John Randall had turned into Emerson Brantingham Company of Rockford. [29]

d. Port Scellers Passes On

Death from pernicious anemia claimed Port Scellers on July 24, 1916, at his home in West Branch. He had been seriously ill only a few days Port had lived in West Branch for more than 30 years, and would be missed by his many friends. Unlike his wife, he had remained aloof from clubs. The only group of which he was a member was the West Branch I.O.O.F. Lodge. Funeral services were held in the home on south Downey at 3 p.m., Wednesday, the 26th, with burial in the West Branch Cemetery. [30]

Scellers had drawn his will on July 7, leaving his real estate and personal property to his "beloved wife." When his will was probated and his personal property inventoried, it was found that the deceased possessed one horse valued at $15; one set of harness at $20; one Reeves traction engine at $600; one Avery separator at $250; one corn sheller at $10; one hay loader at $15; one 16-inch walking plow at $1; one single stove plow at 50¢; one bobsled at $10; one iron-wheeled truck wagon at $25; one steel water tank at $5; five acres of corn at $75; a lot of hard timber at $2; one hay fork, carries & rope at $2.50; one shovelling board at 50¢ one lot of forks, shovels, tools, collars, etc., used, about the barn at $10; and one old brick board at 50¢.

To satisfy claims against the deceased's estate these items were sold at an administrators' sale, on December 2. A large crowd was in attendance, and the Scellers' property "sold well." J. T. Butler purchased the new barn and lot; an association of 13 farmers living southwest of West Branch purchased the threshing outfit; and the corn brought 85 cents per bushel. [31]

e. The Last of the Children Leave Home

In April 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. Mrs. Scellers and her daughter had continued to live in the family home. Her son Lew had moved to Mason City, and on June 6 mother and daughter caught the morning train to that point to visit Lew and his family. [32]

Elmer Scellers, like many local boys, soon found himself in the United States Army, He was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in December 1917. Granted a ten-day furlough, Scellers arrived by train in West Branch on December 21 to spend the holidays with his mother and sister. The other Scellers boys and their families likewise came home on Christmas to exchange gifts and eat a family dinner. [33] Elmer, having spent a delightful week and a half at home, returned to Fort Benjamin Harrison on New Year's Day. [34] He was discharged from the army in 1919 and returned to West Branch.

Carl Wilhelm, who had moved to Springdale Township from Virginia in 1918, worked as a delivery boy for the East Side Store. As Mrs. Scellers bought her groceries from the store, Wilhelm made deliveries to her home. He recalled that Mrs. Scellers used the Cottage as a kitchen and storeroom. In 1919 two of the Scellers children, Della and Elmer, were at home. [35]

In 1920 Elmer was still living at home and Della was clerking at the West Branch Post Office. In July she resigned her position, [36] but she continued to live with her mother until May 1923, when she married John C. Enlow. The "quiet wedding" took place on Tuesday evening, the 8th, in the parlor of her mother's house on south Downey. Miss Dorothy Enlow played the wedding march as the couple entered the room and took their positions before the Rev. W. Glenn Rowley. After the ceremony, the newlyweds left on a honeymoon, and after June 1 their address was 3848 Fagan Drive in Des Moines. [37]

With her children married, Mrs. Scellers kept busy with her club and other outside activities. To supplement her income, she rented the coal shed to one of her neighbors as a garage. [38] Since 1914, when Herbert Hoover had been named to head the American Relief Committee, Mrs. Scellers found that as each year passed and Hoover's fame spread more and more people were becoming interested in the Birthplace Cottage. She came to enjoy meeting people and showing them through her house. [39]

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006