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


A. Landscaping the Grounds, 1939-40

1. Positioning the Bronze Isis

The March 22, 1939, decision of the Society to landscape the Birthplace grounds was implemented. In the second week of August workmen began landscaping the area south of the Wapsinonoc, where the Isis statue was to be positioned. The bronze statue of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, was a gift from the children, refugees, and soldiers of Belgium to Herbert Hoover, in recognition of his work as head of the Belgium Relief Commission. It was the work of the Belgium sculptor Puttemans, had been cast in that nation, and shipped to the United States in 1922. As the Isis bronze was designed for the Hoover Birthplace, and the Scellers still owned the property, the veiled Isis was stored in California.

The selection of Isis was probably made by Puttemans because of the suggestion of plenty, but this interpretation shares also the eternal wonder at the mystery of life. On the base of the statue, in French, is the inscription, "I am that which was and is, and will ever be; and no mortal has yet lifted the veil which covers me."

The veiled Isis was seated in a throne-like chair, and over her head and shoulders was draped a veil concealing, yet suggesting the strength and beauty of her features. In her right hand she held the lamp of life, the three flames denoting the past, present, and future. Her left hand carried, half hidden, the key of life. [1]

By the time the statue had arrived from California, workmen had filled and graded the site, and the four-foot concrete base had been poured. On August 21 the statue was placed on its pedestal to face the cottage and draped. Next workers from McGuire Grading Co. moved in with their heavy equipment to fill and grade around Isis. To secure dirt for the fill, the Society purchased one-third acre of Miss Anna Kniese's pasture west of the Scellers lots. The hole from which the dirt was removed and provided a skating pond for West Branchers during the coming winter. [2]

After the grounds adjacent to the statue had been filled and graded, they were seeded. Plans were made to dedicate formally the veiled Isis in late September or early October, but the outbreak of World War II in Europe caused its cancellation. [3]

2. Beautifying the Grounds, 1939-40

During the autumn of 1939 and the spring of 1940, the grounds were beautified by the planting of trees, shrubs and flowers. Most of these plantings consisted of flora popular in the 1870s. Included were pines, maples, elms, and willows. Hedges provided a needed background. [4]

3. The Stone Retaining Wall

To control flooding and prevent the new fill about Isis from eroding, a stone retaining wall was built along the south bank of the Wapsinonoc. Stone for this structure was secured from the foundation of the old Cedar Valley blacksmith shop. Ivy was planted along the wall. [5]

4. The Wooden Bridge, Picnic Tables, and Dam

A wooden bridge of rustic design was erected across the Wapsinonoc. It was stained brown and gave access to flagstone walkways leading to the Cottage and the statue of Isis. Picnic tables were positioned in a triangle beneath the big willow tree south of the Wapsinonoc. [6]

In mid-June 1940 workmen cleaned out the stream bed and erected a low stone dam to pool water under the rustic bridge. Flagstones for the curving walkways leading from the Cottage to the bridge and giving access to the statue were laid. [7] A few additional plantings were made, and the landscaping program formulated by the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society in 1939 was completed.

B. The Iowa Legislature Makes an Appropriation

The Iowa legislature was apprised of the nation-wide interest in the Cottage. At the request of the Birthplace Society, Representative Gordon Smith of Cedar County on February 18, 1941, introduced a bill in the House, asking an appropriation of $1,200 annually for maintenance of "the birthplace of Herbert Hoover." [8] Smith's bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee which, on April 7, recommended its passage. The House passed the bill on Wednesday, the 9th, 68 to 7 and the Senate gave it a favorable vote of 45 to 0 on the 10th. It was signed into law by Governor George Wilson on April 21. [9]

As visitation and development increased, the General Assembly boosted its appropriation in support of the park. By the late 1950s the biennial appropriation was $24,000. In 1964, with General Services Administration assuming an important role in park development and maintenance, the General Assembly, at the request of the Foundation, reduced the biennial appropriation to $12,000. Four years later, in 1968 with the establishment of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and increased Federal involvement, the General Assembly, again at the request of the Foundation, cut its biennial appropriation in support of the Foundation to $6,000. [10]

C. Park Development, 1948-1954

1. Land Acquisition

The first major improvement to the park made after the end of World War II and the election of Bill Anderson to the presidency of the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society coincided. This was the acquisition of 25 acres to the south and west of the Cottage for $20,000. Included in the land purchased was the two-story Norman Rogers House on south Downey. To accomplish this task involved two years of negotiations by Anderson, and was consummated when the Society purchased the Floyd Thomas property, one mile east of town, and exchanged it for the Rogers house and lot. [11]

In addition to the Rogers house to be retained on-site, there were two other dwellings, one of brick, fronting on Downey Street in the newly acquired 25 acres. Soon thereafter, the purchase of a two-acre tract on the northwest side of the park further increased the acreage. [12]

2. The 1948 Master Plan

To provide for the development of the new acreage, the Society requested the Iowa Conservation Commission to prepare a Master Plan. The plan as presented to the Society called for a serpentine drive through the grounds with its only entrance from south Downey. Shrubbery and trees would be planted in profusion.

In the new addition south of the Wapsinonoc, within view of the Cottage, would be a museum to house for posterity momentos of the former president. It was to resemble a Friends Meeting House, and would be "the same kind of simple structure in which the former President with his parents attended meetings every 'first day.'" Also proposed was a reconstructed Jesse Hoover Blacksmith Shop. The shop was to be outfitted with tools and equipment either used by or similar to those used by Herbert Hoover's father.

In discussing the Master Plan, President Anderson explained to the press that there would be changes. For example, if Mr. Hoover wanted "a tree moved or the elevation of the land raised or lowered that's just what will be done." Moreover, Anderson continued, "those of us in charge, want to carry out the wishes of the one-time engineer." [13]

The former President was shown the Master Plan when he was in West Branch on August 10, 1948, for his 74th birthday celebration. He liked what he saw and the Society prepared to issue the first work orders.

3. Landscaping

Landscaping of the recently acquired acreage, in accordance with the approved Master Plan, commenced in the autumn of 1948, when a row of evergreens were set out south of the park entrance. More work was undertaken in April 1949, when Baumhoefener Nursery of Cedar Rapids on Thursday the 21st, trucked down a load of trees. Sixteen were planted during the week, while a number of evergreens and shrubs were set out near the park entrance, and four native elms planted for shade. [14] Jesse Kohl in mid-September was employed to enlarge the picnic facilities. The pasture fence near the east entrance was set back about ten rods, and the ground shaded by a small orchard in the southeast corner of the park graded and sodded. New benches and tables were positioned. [15]

On March 9, 1950, Bill Anderson, Dr. William J. Petersen, L. C. Rummells, and Bert Leech of the Birthplace Society drove to Coe College. There in the office of Dr. Byron S. Hollinshead, they met with Dr. P. H. Elwood of the Iowa State College Landscape Architecture Department, and Wayne Ferris of Ferris-Kinsel Nurseries. Members of the Society then reviewed with Drs. Hollinshead and Elwood and Mr. Ferris the park Master Plan prepared the previous year by the Iowa Conservation Commission. This plan approved by the Hoover family called for 1,800 individual plantings. These plantings, which had been started in the autumn of 1948, were programmed to take place over several years. Plans called for the extensive use of "native Iowa trees and plants . . . [to] eventually include specimens from all 48 states, if species" of sufficient hardiness could be found. [16]

In response to a request from the Society, Dr. Elwood spent March 23 in the park. He studied the plantings already made and made suggestions as to future landscaping. [17]

Acting on Dr. Elwood's recommendations, the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society in late April expanded its efforts to implement the approved Master Plan. Earl Stayler of the Iowa Conservation Commission spent two days in West Branch staking the area to be landscaped. He was assisted by Bert Leech, Irvin S. Harvey, and a group of Future Farmers of America.

Bill Anderson, who was very active in the Boy Scouts, secured the assistance of scout troops and Future Farmers of America Chapters from West Liberty, Springdale, Tipton, and West Branch. The boys under the supervision of Mr. Stayler were turned to on Thursday, April 27, setting out trees indigenous to Iowa. Future plantings, Anderson told the press, might include some exotics. To protect the trees they were immediately heeled in.

The plantings were arranged to screen or shade the playgrounds and the picnic and parking areas. Trees were also set out to border the roadway projected to wind through the park. [18]

4. Construction of the Serpentine Drive

In June 1951 work was commenced on the park drive and auto mobile entrance. Jesse Kohl had contracted with the Society to undertake this project. When the West Branch Times went to press on June 21, Kohl's crew was in the southwest section of Hoover Park and was "running the grade to the north. The low hills which once formed a natural amphitheater to the south of the old race track" had been cut back. Dirt from these cuts was used as fill in the lower places. [19]

It was the spring of 1952 before Kohl's people completed construction of the serpentine driveway, giving access to the park from south Downey Street. This improvement cost the Society more than $5,300.

5. The Stone Entrance-Way

The Society Trustees at their September 12, 1951, meeting approved drawings and specifications prepared by Professor Raoul Delmare for a stone entrance gateway to the park, the grading of the park drive, and conversion of the Scellers barn into a garage and storage building. [20]

By mid-June 1952 work on the entrance was nearly finished. The West Branch Times reported that the handsome new gateway to the park drive had been completed and the serpentine roadway surfaced. The gateway consisted of pillars and walls graduated in height from three and one-half feet next to the fence to five feet at the driveway. There were four square piers incorporated in the wall south of the drive, while the wall to the north, which had a wider angle, was broken by six posts. Inset in the principal pier of the north wall was a granite tablet 18" x 4', with the inscription, "Herbert Hoover Park, West Branch, Iowa, 1952." [21]

6. The Gateway to Cottage Yard and the Park Dedication

At the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on August 30, 1951, Herbert Hoover, before a crowd of 20,000, was presented the first Iowa Award Plaque. Prior to returning to New York City with the 30-pound plaque, Hoover announced his intention to return it to West Branch. "In that way," he jested, "the people can see that the fellow who was born there came to a good end."

Continuing, he added, "there is no point in having a memorial telling how a fellow started out without knowing how he finished." [22]

To display properly the plaque, it was decided to construct a gateway giving access to the Cottage yard. Plans and specifications were prepared by Dr. Delmare and reviewed and approved by the trustees in mid-November. The entrance would be about 15 feet south of the present gate, so as not to obstruct a view of the Cottage from Downey Street, and it would be recessed in the fence line. A graceful curving flagstone walk, similar to those providing access to the rustic bridge, would lead from the sidewalk to the front door of the Cottage.

The entrance would be built of white brick, and consist of four pillars supporting a canopy. Lattice-work would fill the south side of the enclosure and on the brick north wall would be positioned the Iowa Award Plaque. [23]

On Monday, June 30, 1952, the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Park was dedicated and the Iowa Award Plaque hung. Superintendent Bill Petersen of the Iowa Historical Society acted as master of ceremonies. After brief speeches at the brick entrance-way by John Henry of the Iowa Centennial Commission; Robert Evans of the Iowa Conservation Commission, representing Governor William S. Beardsley; and Bill Anderson; Iowa Attorney General Robert Larson officially opened the park, when he snipped a yellow ribbon stretched between the gateway pillars at the entrance to the park drive. [24]

7. The Park Gets a Utility Building

In calendar year 1952 the old barn west of the caretakers' lodge was razed. The materials were salvaged, and at a cost of $714 a utility building and garage built. [25]

8. The Shuffleboard Courts

Tom Davis, who lived in the Hayhurst House, and a number of fellow West Branch senior citizens had become shuffleboard enthusiasts, while vacationing in Florida and California during the winters. As a representative of this group, Davis contacted the Society and secured permission to construct two shuffleboard courts and a horseshoe court in the park, west of the maintenance area. Davis and his friends, in the fourth week of July 1952, undertook a successful drive to raise necessary funds. [26]

Money and labor were pledged and construction commenced. Two shuffleboard and two horseshoe courts were completed and opened by August 20. Four light poles were erected, enabling West Branchers to enjoy these games in the evenings. These courts were popular with both local residents and tourists. [27]

It was apparent by late spring 1953 that more shuffleboard courts were needed. Construction was started on two more courts that autumn. These were finished in time to be ready for "the late season players." [28]

9. Landscaping and Maintenance, 1952

In the late summer and fall of 1952 several landscaping projects were accomplished. Drain tile was laid, ground leveled, and 30 trees, a gift of the Mechanicsville community, set out. The banks of the Wapsinonoc in the formal area of the park were "shaped and cleaned." [29]

With the entire 30 acres landscaped and seeded in grass, mowing became a serious maintenance problem. The cost of keeping up the buildings and grounds by 1953 had climbed to $2,000 per year, and necessitated the employment of a part-time maintenance man to assist Custodian Thompson. [30]

10. Capital Improvements, 1953

Improvements programmed by the Society for 1953 included: (a) completion of the entrance landscaping; (b) upgrading the parking facilities; (c) construction of a shelter house to be funded in part by money pledged by the Negus Family Association; (d) construction of several stone picnic fireplaces, one to be in the Walnut Grove, and one drinking fountain; and (e) the acquisition of additional picnic tables. [31]

During the late spring and early summer these projects were undertaken and completed. When the Society held its annual meeting for 1953, it was in the new shelter, and the members were delighted with this structure, as well as the three fireplaces and the drinking fountain. Besides listening to reports by President Anderson and Secretary-Treasurer Rummells, the group learned that the trustees had purchased the Methodist Parsonage Property for $8,600. [32]

11. The Boy Scout Shelter

A proposal to erect a Boy Scout Shelter in the park had been first discussed in 1950. [33] It had been held in abeyance until March 1953, when the Board of Trustees, President H. H. Brooks of Coe College, and Dr. W. J. Petersen of the Iowa Historical Society, met with officials of the Buffalo Bill Council of the Boy Scouts. [34] By late August plans for the Boy Scout Shelter had developed to the point where construction was scheduled to begin on the 29th, provided sufficient volunteer labor was available. On the 23d a number of scout leaders had spent the afternoon in West Branch, staking out the site north of the Wapsinonoc previously selected by an engineer sent out by the National Council of Scouts in New York City. The shelter would be 40 x 24 feet, with a stove inside. Fronting the structure would be a council fireplace with encircling seats, where ceremonies could be held. [35]

Ground was broken at the site at 8 a.m. on Monday, August 31. Dr. L. A. Royal of West Liberty, president of the Buffalo Bill Council, presided at the ceremonies and turned the first spadeful of earth. Carl Wilhelm and Alfred Anderson then took over with their tractors. [36] Work progressed rapidly, and by mid-September the shelter was nearing completion. [37]

The editor of the West Branch Times, taking cognizance of the construction of the Boy Scout Shelter, informed his readers, "The other shelter house built earlier this season has seen much use this season and the new one will be equally popular." With the addition of the two fireplaces at the Scout shelter to the three previously built, it was forecast that the "open air eaters will be saving weiners and marshmellows for chilly day diets at the park." [38]

On Wednesday evening, September 30, local scouts formally opened the new shelter at a Round-up for the Buffalo Bill Council. By this time, the bronze tablet on the west wall of the shelter, describing the purpose of the structure as a testimonial from the Boy Scouts to Herbert Hoover for his services to youth all over the world, had been positioned. [39]

D. The Reconstruction of the Blacksmith Shop

1. As Part of the Park Master Plan

The reconstruction of Jesse Hoover's Blacksmith Shop had been proposed in the 1948 Master Plan prepared for the Society by the Iowa Conservation Commission. In response to a request by the Society, Tad Hoover prepared a sketch of his father's shop. He vividly recalled the forge, and the "comfortable seat against the wall of the forge and in front of the fire" built by his father. Here he sat and watched his father, and there was "no clearer memory than that of the forge, the fire, the bellows, the anvil, and the shower of flying sparks, as father and his helper would make a weld." The shoeing of "large draught-horses was also an interesting operation." [40]

Mrs. Maud Stratton, having studied Theodore Hoover's sketch of the Blacksmith Shop, wrote him on June 14, 1949. She wanted to know: (a) if the shop had a false front, and, if so, if it faced east; (b) if it were whitewashed both outside and inside; (c) on what kind of block was the anvil mounted; (d) did Jesse Hoover bore out wooden pumps in the shop, or did he assemble the chain type of cistern pumps; and (e) was there a dirt floor. [41]

2. The Family Withdraws its Opposition to a Reconstruction

Either Tad Hoover failed to reply to Mrs. Stratton's letter or his answer has not been preserved. This is unfortunate because his recollections of the shop are generally accurate. With the Society's attention focused momentarily on higher priority items in the Park Master Plan, no funds were budgeted for the proposed reconstruction at this time.

While in West Branch for his father's 80th Birthday celebration, Allan Hoover discussed at length with members of the Society the proposed reconstruction of Jesse Hoover's Blacksmith Shop, which heretofore had been assigned a low priority in the park's development plan. On returning to New York City and reviewing the subject with his father, Allan wrote Bill Anderson. He reported the family was in agreement that: (a) the Methodist Parsonage and the King House could be disposed of in any manner the Society saw fit; (b) Penn Street should be relocated north of Lot 41; and (c) Lots 31-35 and 41 should be landscaped. [42] The family, however, did not believe the Blacksmith Shop should be reconstructed, because there was "no authentic and accurate print or plan in existence." [43]

After reviewing the subject correspondence, Anderson reported that the Society would dispose of the Parsonage and King house, but months might pass before they could be sold and removed. Referring to the projected reconstruction, Anderson admitted that logic was on the side of the family. [44]

In February 1955 Herbert Hoover withdrew his opposition to the proposal to reconstruct the Blacksmith Shop. He was agreeable, provided there was no "attempt at an original restoration since everyone seems to have forgotten it, but merely a sample of what a typical one of that vintage used to be." As for the projected location, it was Mr. Hoover's opinion that it should be in the general vicinity of his father's shop, and a "little farther from the cottage so as not to be crowded." The family was interested in receiving suggestions from Anderson as to the form the reconstruction should take. [45]

3. Bill Wagner Plans a Reconstruction

It was the autumn of 1955 before the structures were removed from Lots 35 and 41, and the following spring before they were landscaped and Penn Street relocated. Meanwhile, Bill Anderson had contacted President Virgil Hancher of Iowa State University to secure names of qualified architects, experienced in historic architecture. He was referred to Wetherell & Harrison of Des Moines. [46] The architectural firm placed Anderson in contact with William J. Wagner, A.I.A, one of its three junior partners, and chairman of American Architects' Association for preservation of historic buildings. Wagner, a dynamic and talented historical architect, had recently finished remodeling the Salisbury House. [47]

Anderson was delighted to find a man of Wagner's experience interested in the project. When advised of Wagner's credentials, Allan Hoover wrote that the family was "in entire agreement . . . that Wetherell and Harrison should be started on the job of the blacksmith shop." [48]

Bill Wagner spent several hours on April 2, 1956, at West Branch, reconnoitering the Birthplace grounds. When questioned, he told local residents that he was preparing plans for a 1875 Blacksmith Shop, to be erected to complete "the setting of the Birthplace as it was during the time Herbert Hoover lived" there. [49]

In planning the reconstruction, Wagner relied heavily on the Tad Hoover sketch. As Tad recalled, the main shop, exclusive of the wagon shop, was "20 x 30 ft. or 25 by 35 ft." Wagner and Anderson determined to use the larger dimensions, because they would "allow plenty of walking room back of the horses." [50] By the second week of April, the drawings had been completed and two sets forwarded to the Hoovers. The sketches were Wagner's interpretation of how Jesse Hoover's shop may have looked in the 1870s.

It having been decided not to locate the reconstructed shop on the site of Jesse Hoover's shop, Wagner suggested that it be "moved further to the west and that it should face south rather than east." If this were done, the Cottage, the caretakers' lodge, and the Blacksmith Shop "would make more of a park or campus area, and . . . the rear of the blacksmith shop would be close to the north lot line" and abut on relocated Penn Street. In accordance with recommendations made by Bill Anderson and John Henry, the wagon shop had been reversed and would join the west elevation rather than the east elevation of the smithy.

Wagner suggested that the grounds be landscaped with structures associated with late nineteenth century blacksmith shops—watering troughs, hitching posts, a pump, and an outdoor area where fires for heating iron could be built. The front elevation of the shop could be built of siding and the rest of the exterior walls of boards and battens. [51]

By mid-June the lots had been graded and sodded, and Bill Anderson contacted Wagner, asking him to restudy the proposed location of the reconstruction to make certain that they were not getting too close to the Cottage. So far no one seeing the plans had desired any changes. Before planning proceeded any further, Anderson wanted more information. He wanted to know: (a) the estimated cost of the reconstruction; and (b) the type of flooring desired. In addition, he would like Wagner to list the type of materials needed, "such as the insulation, whether the boards should be rough or smooth on the outside, the shingles," etc. [52]

Wagner replied on June 20, pointing out that he believed "a concrete sub-floor with brick for a finish floor would be nice." He suggested that

studding, rafters and joists be native cut wood and be left in the rough for the exterior wall. Wall construction [to be] rough sheeting laid horizontally, then 1" of fibre board insulation, a building paper and then board and battens run vertically, as an exterior finish. With this type of building you would have the boards in side which would give the feeling of an unfinished building inside, yet provide insulation which . . . is important for your blacksmith museum. For the roof [there would be] a rough sheeting and 1" of insulation and the roofing whatever type is decided upon.

Until such time as the type of wall construction was decided, it would be impossible for Wagner to estimate the cost of construction. [53]

The Board of Trustees of the Society in July reviewed Wagner's plans and made necessary decisions on building materials. This enabled Wagner to estimate the cost of the reconstruction as between $8,000 and $9,000. Bill Anderson, who had championed the project, headed the campaign to rise money to underwrite the work. By late August about $4,000 had been pledged. [54]

Wagner in July saw former President Hoover at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. Hoover reviewed the plans with the architect and gave his approval. [55]

In the autumn of 1956, Wagner revised his plans. The wagon shop lean-to was changed from the west to the east elevation. This positioned it in the same relation to the smithy as in the historic shop. The forge was also relocated. Copies of the revised prints were forwarded to and approved by the trustees and members of the family. [56]

4. The Reconstruction

To secure old framing and lumber for the reconstruction, Bill Anderson in the winter of 1956-57 traveled the back roads of Cedar and Johnson counties. He and Bill Wagner were understandably delighted to find a barn dating to the 1870s, on Lloyd Henderson's place, two miles north of West Branch. Henderson was agreeable to razing the barn, built by Jesse Negus (a contemporary of Jesse Hoover), and selling the material to the Foundation. Brick for the forge was secured from an old building in Downey, owned by Anton Sorensen and reportedly used as a blacksmith shop many years before. [57]

After inspecting the Henderson Barn, Wagner finalized his plans for the reconstruction. (a) Boards were to be reversed to show the exterior as the inside of the building. (b) Stone was to be cut in widths of "approximately 5" so that the wall can be laid up true both inside and out and [have] a total width of 11" or 12"." (c) Insulating board was to be 3/4" celotex or its equal. (d) Boards on the side walls were to be vertical and on the roof horizontal, with tight joints. (e) Roof construction was to be 3/4" celotex on top of the sheeting; then layers of 15- and 30-pound asphalt felt; and then cut shakes. Before being set down the shakes were to be dipped. Nails were to be galvanized, and long enough "to just go through all the construction." (f) Any "new joining of structural members should be . . . as near the same as [in] the original barn." (g) All new sills and any posts coming in contact with the foundation were to be treated to prevent dry rot and termites. Termite barriers were recommended for installation between the foundation and sills. (h) Wagner would order from Venetian Ornamental, iron hardware for the doors. (i) Wooden latchs or sliding bars would be fabricated for the blacksmith shop doors. (j) Efforts would be made to secure sufficient "human-living blown cylinder glass" for the shop windows. (k) Coated nails were to be used to secure the wall boards to the structural timbers, and cut nails wherever they might be exposed. [58]

Work on the reconstruction began in mid-February. Within a week, the foundation had been completed by Crew Construction Company and the Henderson Barn dismantled. The shakes and rough boards were also on-site. [59]

Bill Anderson, besides raising funds for the project, took an active interest in day-to-day construction details. The formula for the dried clay and Portland Cement floor in the shop was found by Anderson in Better Homes and Gardens. Gardeners had been told of its wonders for laying out pathways in formal gardens. Much of the equipment and fixtures came from a New Liberty Blacksmith Shop which had closed. Anderson bought the contents (anvils, tools, horse shoes, etc.) for the Foundation for $50 and had them trucked to West Branch. The bellows were given to the Foundation by a Washington, Iowa, man. [60]

Throughout the late winter and into the spring work on the reconstruction continued under Bill Wagner's close supervision. By late April, Anderson reported that a forge, typical of those found in late nineteenth century Iowa blacksmith shops, had been built; part of the metal roof on; and the boys ready to begin shingling as soon as the weather was favorable. [61]

When the West Branch Times went to press on May 9, the south and west doors still had to be hung. The exterior of the building had been stained with materials purchased from Stillwell Paint Store. In accordance with Bill Anderson's suggestion, the area in front of the shop, around the hitching posts and watering trough, had been cindered. [62]

5. The Dedication

Bill Anderson on May 23, 1957, announced that the dedication of the Hoover Blacksmith Shop was scheduled for June 20. Two days before he had received a telephone call from Admiral Lewis Strauss, Retired, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, confirming that he would be the dedicatory speaker.

This was welcome news, because Bill Wagner's crew had completed the building during the week by hanging the doors. A few interior arrangements remained to be taken care of, but Wagner forecast they would be attended to before the end of the month. [63]

On the day of the dedication, June 20, the West Branch Times featured a photograph of the reconstructed Blacksmith Shop. Since the photograph had been made, Bill Wagner and his people had added a sign above the door: the symbol of the blacksmith trade, a large horseshoe, and the name Jesse Hoover. A wooden pump and trough had been positioned.

Dedication guests saw the Blacksmith Shop equipped as it might have been in the late 1870s. Timbers salvaged from the Henderson Barn showed the mortice and tennon joints and pegged construction characteristic of that period in eastern Iowa. [64]

E. Landscaping Goals

Bill Anderson's goal, as President of the Society, was to landscape the park in such a manner that Herbert Hoover would want to be buried in West Branch. As an initial step in that direction, the trustees in late 1952 began discussing the "advisability of having a bronze statue" of Herbert Hoover, as "The Elder Statesman," cast for the birthplace grounds. If the family were agreeable, the statue would be unveiled on August 10, 1954, on Hoover's 80th birthday. [65]

The family was cool to this suggestion and it was dropped. But by 1954 a vista had been opened from the overlook at the southwest corner of the park to the Cottage. Plans had called for positioning the statue at the overlook. When Allan Hoover was in West Branch to help his father celebrate his 80th birthday, Anderson took him up to the overlook. While they stood there admiring the beauty of the grounds, Anderson broached the subject of death, its inevitability, and the need for planning.

Allan told Anderson that the family had never been able to bring themselves to discuss the subject. As they sat down, Anderson pointed to the Cottage and discussed the historic significance of the area, and suggested that, here within several hundred yards of where he had been born, would be a beautiful place for Hoover's final resting place. Allan said the family would have to think about the matter.

After returning to New York and discussing the subject with his father, Allan Hoover called Anderson and said, "Dad wants arrangements carried out as you explained." [66]

F. Maintenance and Repairs to the Cottage, 1961-62

1. Yokum's Inspection

From 1938 until 1961 maintenance to the Cottage had been minimal. But by the latter year, with construction of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and General Services Administration now responsible for the area, it was apparent that some of the Cottage's fabric had deteriorated.

At Bill Anderson's request, E. L. Yokum, General Engineer for General Services Administration, made an inspection of the Cottage on May 8, 1961. He summarized what he found and his recommendations under ten headings:

(a) Foundation—There was "a rubble stone exterior wall with a battered brick wall on the inside, topped out approximately 4'-0" above the basement floor," forming a rough shaft around the basement perimeter. The original foundation walls had been reinforced in places with poured concrete.

As the basement would not be open to the public, repairs and improvements could be undertaken with impunity.

(b) Floor Joists—The original joists were 2 x 6s and spaced 24 inches on center. These joists bore about 8" on the rubble stone wall and a number had been "partially destroyed by termites."

To correct this situation and combat termites, it was recommended that "new 2 x 6 wolmanized joist be installed between the existing joist and then all existing and new exposed wood joist, flooring, etc.," be treated for termites. The cost of this work was placed at $300.

(c) First Floor—The first floor was constructed of 1 x 12 boards nailed to 2 x 6 floor joists and running at right angles to the joists. The boards were sound.

(d) Superstructure—It consisted of "a 2 x 4 stud wall with vertical 1 x 12 boards on the inside as finish material."

Yokum recommended that the Cottage, except the shake roof, be repainted and the windows reputtied.

(e) Roof—It was constructed of 2 x 6 lumber "forming a closed triangle, with the exposed 2 x 6 ceiling joists forming the base of the triangle." Rough 1 x 12 boards had been nailed over the top of the exposed ceiling joists to form the ceiling of the rooms. The shake roof installed in 1938 seemed satisfactory. There were several leaks around the chimney, resulting from poor flashing.

To replace the flashings would cost $75. [67]

(f) Exterior Board Siding—This was pronounced satisfactory, except near the ground, where the bottom 6 to 8 inches of several boards showed signs of rot and termite damage.

(g) Heating Unit—Yokum did not believe the building should be exposed to excessive temperatures in the winter. To maintain the character of the structure, he recommended that if a heating unit were installed, it and its fuel supply be concealed. He suggested that an oil-fired or propane gravity unit with insulated ducts to horizontal floor grilles be located in the basement. The fuel tank could be buried. Cost of the unit and its installation would be about $1,500.

(h) Fire Alarm System—Because of the structure's historical significance and its all-wood construction, a fire alarm system utilizing "the conization chamber principle" should be installed. Such a system would detect the presence of "combustibles," and did not "require the presence of fire or smoke for activation." Cost of such a system, wired to the local telephone company, was placed at $2,000.

(i) Fire Extinguishers—Two carbon dioxide fire extinguishers should be purchased and placed in the Cottage. [68]

(j) Long-Term Preservation of the Cottage—Yokum recommended that to preserve the structure for posterity, "it would be necessary to install the birthplace within an enveloping structure which would provide protection from the weather and where the environment could be controlled." [69]

2. Bill Wagner's Inspection

After reviewing Yokum's report, Bill Anderson contacted Bill Wagner, who had planned and supervised the Blacksmith Shop reconstruction. Wagner was given the task of overseeing the necessary maintenance projects. On visiting West Branch and inspecting the Cottage, Wagner found:

(a) Flooring—He agreed with Yokum that the flooring should be reinforced. To do this, he recommended "insertion" of two 4 x 6 treated beams between the existing joists. If these 4 x 6s were no longer than seven feet, they would present no difficulty in inserting. About six months after they were positioned, it would be necessary to add wedges, because the floors might squeak. The wood posts would be cut off about 4" above the basement floor and placed on concrete pedestals. The sills and joists would be treated for termites. Wagner would not remove the old joists, "even though they were shot because of the past termite action," as it added authenticity "to look at the old joist shells." [70]

(b) Chimney—Wagner saw that at least six bricks needed to be replaced. Rather than rebuild the chimney, he would "cut out the bad brick and replace [them] with other old brick to match, rake out all old mortar to a depth of an inch and repoint." A cement washer would be built on top of the corbel and a cap added. The cap, of sheet lead, would prevent "moisture from getting down inside the chimney and leaking out lower down." [71]

(c) Exterior Boards—Exterior boards, showing evidence of rot of the lower end, would be handled as follows: A "good board" would be removed from the structure south of the east door, and replaced with a "new rough cut board." As this area was screened by a vine, it would not be noticeable. The removed board would be used to replace the rotted portions of the other boards. To enable the splice to weather, it was to be cut on a slope. [72]

(d) Porches—Wagner had observed that the ground under the east and west porches was lower than that adjoining. As the east porch need ed to be replaced, Wagner would add a foundation wall, building it about two inches smaller than the finished wood line. This would give an illusion of no foundation. In working on the west porch, his crew would dig down around it to a depth of 3' 6" to provide work space. Next an eight-inch concrete block wall would be raised to within a few inches of the finished grade and topped with Stone City stone. The west porch flooring would be removed, the sills replaced, and the planking relaid.

Wagner's arguments for concrete slab porches was that no longer would "the flooring have to be structural." The flooring could be allowed to weather and even deteriorate, without structural "worry or creating a safety hazard." In addition, it could easily be replaced. [73]

(e) Sash and Lights—The sash was to be cleaned of old paint and reglazed, and lights of modern glass replaced "with old hand blown green glass to match as near as possible the existing old glass in some of the east windows." [74]

3. The Improvements

a. The Underground Electrical System, Recapping of the Chimney, & Installation of a Sprinkler System

In October 1961 a crew of maintenance men from the Presidential Library was turned out by Bill Anderson. Working under the supervision of Superintendent Gilbert Lindberg, they repaired and capped the chimney. It had been decided to replace the overhead electrical wiring, so a trenching machine was used to lay more than 1,000 feet of wire for the underground electrical system. Four hundred and ten feet of high-voltage wire was positioned leading from the transformer to the Cottage. Additional wiring led to the Blacksmith Shop, Caretakers' Lodge, and Maintenance Area. Wire for three additional lanterns to light the flagstone walkway from the Cottage to the Library was laid, along with an underground wire from the Cottage to the Library, and from the Caretakers' Lodge to the Library's central fire alarm system. A concrete junction box was positioned near the Cottage for a fuse panel. A sprinkler system was installed in the Cottage, and the attic insulated and sprayed with a fire resistant paint. [75]

b. The Cottage Gets a Heating System

In late January 1962 Bill Wagner forwarded to Superintendent Lindberg the drawing he had prepared "showing the heating layout and location of the new joist to reinforce" the Cottage floor. To conserve space in the basement, the joist had been varied to permit location of supply air ducts between. The new joist would be of treated wood, and be spiked to the old with galvanized iron nails. The heating system was to consist of Lima floor registers; a Chromalxo Type FTD Heating Coil, controlled by a Honeywell T42M thermostat; and a Lennox #812 Blower with filters. The housing for the heating coil fan and filters was to be fabricated of 22 gauge galvanized iron; the main duct of 24 gauge; and other ducts of 26 gauge. The main duct and heating unit were to be attached to the underside of the joist, while the other ducts were to be fitted between the joist. [76]

Personnel of the General Services Administration reviewed Wagner's plans and specifications for the Cottage heating system, and recommended that the heating coil be a

10KW, single phase, 2 stage in 2 circuits with thermostat having a sub-base with fan heat switch. Thermostat should have a neat appearance . . . . Coil must have high temperature cutout for each of the two contractors. Revise the electric service size to provide proper power with adequate excess for future additions. [77]

c. The Stabilization of the Porches & Replacement of Rotted Exterior Boards

When the new heating system was installed by Lindberg's crew, the wood was treated for termites and dry rot. The exterior of the Cottage was inspected and "bad wood replaced," while Wagner's recommendations for stabilizing the porches were implemented. [78]

d. Repairs to the Sash

Mid-February found Lindberg's crew working on the sash. They found that the north and south sash, installed by McKay in 1938, had started to rot. It was replaced. The west sash, which could be original, was left in place and retouched. The east sash, both originals, had suffered because of exposure to the elements. These were removed and replaced with new sash with hand blown glass. The old sash was stored for future use. [79]

e. Other Projects—Rebuilding the Rustic Bridge & Repairs to the Isis Statue

In conjunction with the work on the Cottage, the maintenance people repaired the base of the Isis Statue and rebuilt the rustic bridge spanning the Wapsinonoc. [80]

4. Hoover Vetoes the Proposal to Enclose the Cottage

United States Archivist Grover, while on one of his periodic visits to the Presidential Library, discussed with Bill Wagner, E. L. Yokum's proposal to place the Cottage in an enclosure. Grover's argument was that such a significant structure must be protected from the elements.

This proposal was shelved, when it was learned that Herbert Hoover had voiced strong opposition. Hoover wanted the Cottage to be open and free to public access. He wanted the Cottage to look lived in, and hoped to see the immediate environment restored to its late nineteenth century appearance. [81]

G. Cottage Maintenance, 1963-70

General Services Administration was responsible for maintenance of the Cottage during the years the Estalls were custodians. Following the departure of Dr. Lassner, who exhibited considerable interest in historic structures, the Library staff paid little attention to the upkeep of the Cottage and related structures. Prior to his departure, Dr. Lassner had had the Cottage painted, but after that no major maintenance projects were undertaken. Minor ones recalled by the Estalls were the replacement of the rubberized floor matting and the straw tick mattresses. The mattresses had fallen victim to the periodic autumn mice invasions, and the new ones were made by Mrs. Estall. A good example of the lack of day-to-day maintenance are the Cottage curtains. By the summer of 1971 these curtains were in shreds, and could not be washed for fear they would disintigrate. [82]

H. Problems Caused by Flooding

The core-area of the park is subject to flooding. In the six and one-half years the Estalls were custodians, water on two occasions flooded the basement of the Cottage to a depth of eight to ten inches. The first time was in 1967, when flood waters cascading down Poplar Street, poured into and filled the basement of the Caretakers' Lodge, and the second was in the summer of 1969, when the Wapsinonoc spilled over its banks.

The absence of a sump pump in the basement of the Cottage compounds the difficulty. To rid that area of water, the West Branch Volunteer Fire Department has to be called on for pumping service. [83]

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006