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


A. Visitation, 1938-39

The restoration of the Cottage and grounds was a source of deep gratification to Mrs. Hoover and her son Allan. West Branchers were also delighted, and the word spread rapidly. By late August 1938, even before the McKay workmen had finished, large numbers of people, mostly local, were gathering daily to see what the Cottage looked like in the 1870s, when it was the home of Jesse and Huldah Hoover. [1]

Interest in the Cottage continued during the winter of 1938-39. Even on the coldest days, tourists, as they motored across Cedar County, took time to turn south at the intersection of Main and Downey to view the shrine. With the approach of spring visitation climbed. On Sunday, March 19, 1939, 81 visitors toured the house. [2]

Taking cognizance of this situation, the Commercial Club had directional signs erected at the intersection. This improvement was hailed by Editor Corbin, who pointed out that heretofore many tourists had been uncertain as to the whereabouts of the Cottage. In the two months since mid-March, when a register had been placed in the Cottage by the Society, nearly 1000 had signed their names. [3]

Throughout the late spring and summer, the Strattons kept the Cottage open daily. In July more than 1600 visitors were registered, which boosted the number to more than 4200 since late March. [4]

Jack London's wife, Charmion, spent several hours at the Cottage on Friday, October 9. An author in her own right, she was en route to the Jack London Ranch, near Glen Ellen, California. [5] Within six weeks, the Cottage had another interesting visitor, Mrs. Mattie Pemberton, the only surviving child of Eli and Hannah Hoover. Her Monday, November 20, trip to West Branch was her first to Springdale Township since the restoration of the Cottage. She expressed herself to Mrs. Stratton as "delighted with the work already done on the little house and its surroundings." Mrs. Pemberton, who had spent many hours in the Cottage before she moved to Hardin County with her parents, recalled many of the furnishings. She approved of what had been done, and made several suggestions, which she believed would "more accurately picture the interior," as she recalled it. [6]

B. Lou Henry Hoover's June 1939 Visit to the Cottage

Mrs. Hoover and her son Allan and his wife saw the restored Cottage for the first time on Friday, June 2, 1939. They were driving east from California to meet Mr. Hoover, who had been on a speaking tour and had given the commencement address at Earlham College. Previous to their arrival in West Branch, Mrs. Hoover and her party had stopped at Le Grand to visit her husband's aunt, Mrs. Pemberton.

While in West Branch, the Hoover party, guided by Fred Albin and Mrs. Stratton, toured the Cottage and grounds. Because of their deep personal interest in the restoration, this was a very gratifying experience for Mrs. Hoover and her son. Both Mrs Hoover and her daughter-in-law took many feet of film with their cameras, and would "carry some of their West Branch visit to Mr. Hoover." [7]

C. Visitation 1940-46

1. The Shrine Becomes Increasingly Popular

Publicity regarding the restoration of the Cottage caused visitation to zoom in the late spring of 1940. On Sunday, June 16, more than 300 visitors signed the Strattons' guest book. The acquisition and positioning of picnic tables near the triangle, south of the Wapsinonoc, brought out picnickers, and groups from Davenport and Iowa City inaugurated them. Many of these people were deeply impressed with the beauty of the site. [8]

Even on cold winter days tourists stopped to see the Cottage. They were welcomed by the Strattons and cheered and warmed by the fire in the "old fashion heating stove." Mrs. Stratton reported, in mid-April 1941, that since New Year's Day visitation to the area had exceeded the corresponding period in the previous year. [9]

2. The Johnson Wedding

In the summer of 1940, after an 11-year hiatus, there was an other marriage at the Cottage. The couple was Miss Bonnie L. Barracks, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Barracks of Mason City, and William L. Johnson, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Johnson of Iowa City. The wedding took place in the parlor of the restored Cottage, with the Rev. James P. Gable of the Methodist Church officiating. [10]

3. Governor Wilson's Visit

Governor George Wilson of Iowa and United States Representative Thomas E. Martin, accompanied by State Senator Marian C. Hamiel and Cedar County Attorney Reid Hunt, spent a short time on the morning of September 3, 1941, in West Branch. Reaching the Cottage at 10:30 a.m., they were met by members of the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society and given a tour of the house and grounds by Mrs. Stratton. The Governor was delighted with what he saw: the acre of green lawn; the landscaping; the little white Cottage, with its surrounding white board fence; the brown-stained bridge; and the triangle park south of the Wapsinonoc. [11]

4. The War Years

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States was plunged into World War II. Travel restrictions and rationing reduced visitation to the Hoover Birthplace to a trickle. In the autumn of 1944, while the allied armies were stalemated before the Westwall and the battle for Leyte raged, Mr. and Mrs. Stratton notified the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society, that they were resigning as caretakers, effective January 1, 1945. The Strattons on the designated day moved out of the lodge, and Lawrence Heald was employed as temporary custodian.

During the spring of 1945, the Society engaged Mr. and Mrs. William I. Thomas of Streator, Illinois, as custodians. The Thomases reached West Branch on June 12, where Mr. Thomas had lived as a boy, and took charge of the Hoover Park. [12]

The Thomases were Friends and quickly developed an empathy for the environment in which Herbert Hoover had lived as a boy. This was fortunate because 1945 saw the surrender of Germany in May and Japan in September. With the end of the war and a relaxation of rationing and other controls, there were again large numbers of motorists on the highways of the United States. Visitation to the Cottage climbed rapidly in 1946, when more than 6,000 persons registered at the Cottage. [13]

When the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society held its annual meeting on the Birthplace grounds on Tuesday, September 2, 1947, Mr. Thomas announced that more than 7,800 had registered at the Cottage in the past two years. As it was believed that about 60 per cent registered, this would boost total visits to the park for the subject period to about 13,000. [14]

D. Herbert Hoover's 1948 Visit to West Branch

Bill Anderson, who succeeded Fred Albin as president of the Society in 1947, was an energetic and dynamic individual. In late winter of 1948, Anderson, on behalf of the Society, wrote Herbert Hoover inviting him to return to West Branch on August 10, 1948, to celebrate his 74th birthday. He had written:

We have long cherished the hope that you may again find it convenient to visit the place of your birth and we would like if it is agreeable for you and your family on the occasion of your birthday on August 10, 1948. . . . It would please us immensely to observe this day, making it an occasion upon which all might unite in honoring Iowa's most distinguished citizen. [15]

A number of weeks passed before Anderson received a reply from Hoover, dated June 10, informing him, "I am happy to accept your most kind invitation to visit West Branch on August 10th," because he had a message to leave with the American people, and the Birthplace would be an appropriate setting. [16]

Herbert Hoover, his sons and their families, reached Cedar Rapids by train from California early on the morning of Tuesday, August 10. They were entertained at breakfast by Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Spangler, and then driven to West Branch. As the Hoover caravan entered the village, where the world statesman had been born 74 years before, thousands of enthusiastic people lined the streets to cheer as the motorcade passed.

The crowd at the Birthplace sang "Happy Birthday" and applauded as the Ex-President stepped from his car at the entrance to the restored Cottage. Bill Anderson and Fred Albin were among the first to greet and shake hands with Hoover. In the Cottage, accompanied by officials of the Society, he was shown "many articles of furniture and family portraits which had been donated by relatives and friends."

When asked if the Birthplace looked familiar, Hoover was candid. "I left this house when I was four years old," he replied, "and we moved across the street. I don't remember anything about this house."

Emerging from the back door, Hoover graciously posed for photographs at the old wooden pump. From there, the official party walked to the caretakers lodge, where they were welcomed by the Thomases. There trustees of the Society met with Hoover to discuss plans for development of the recently acquired 25 acres. [17]

The Hoover Homecoming and his much quoted, "Meaning of America," speech received nation-wide coverage. It was reported that Hoover came home to be honored by thousands on his 74th birthday. Once again, West Branch had taken advantage of an opportunity "to pay homage to Mr. Hoover," and according to the press it was acknowledged that not only the world statesman but the more than 25,000 in attendance thoroughly enjoyed the day. [18]

E. Park Visitation, 1948-1953

By 1948 annual registered visitation to the Cottage had passed 5,000. [19] In 1949 there was an increase of 40 per cent in visitors over the previous year, and Caretaker Thomas forecast that more than 10,000 people would tour the Cottage or picnic in the park before the end of the year. [20]

During the winter of 1948-49, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas took several months off to vacation in California. While they were absent, Mr. and Mrs. Austin Ellyson served as temporary caretakers. [21]

Early in 1951 the Thomases were replaced as caretakers by Mr. and Mrs. John Thompson. Once again, the Society was fortunate in its choice of custodians. They were interested in the area, and while Mrs. Thompson devoted her time to visitor services, her husband looked after the grounds. [22]

On August 10, 1951, the annual meeting of the Birthplace Society brought out 50 members. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson told those in attendance that between April 1 and August 1, 5,147 persons had registered at the Cottage. The only states not represented in the log were South Carolina and Mississippi. [23]

The development of a multi-use park proved popular. On June 12, 1952, Custodian Thompson reported visitation constantly increasing. Registrations for April and May had averaged more than 200 in excess of registrations for the corresponding months in 1951. Registrations for May 1952 were 787. [24] This trend continued throughout the year. Custodian Thompson reported in January 1953 that more than 10,000 persons had signed the register in the preceding year. This averaged 250 a month above the 1951 average monthly attendance. Since it was estimated that only 60 per cent of the visitors registered, total attendance for 1952 would be more than 16,000. In August, the high month, there had been 2,300 registered visitors, which was 739 more than the previous August. December, with less than 100 visitors, had been the slowest month. The only state from which no visitors had registered was Rhode Island. [25]

F. The Eightieth Birthday Celebration

1. The Invitation

Early in 1953 Bill Anderson, President of the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society, was having dinner in Iowa City with Herbert Hoover, Jr. Anderson told Hoover, "We would like to do something pleasing for your father." Hoover replied that he would have to give some thought to the subject. While en route to the airport, Hoover told Anderson, "You people in Iowa don't realize how much that Cottage means to dad." This conversation was the origin of the 1954 celebration. [26]

Anderson moved promptly, contacting members of the Iowa General Assembly, then in session. A joint resolution was introduced and passed, inviting Hoover to participate in a celebration of his 80th birthday at West Branch on August 10, 1954. In the first week of February, 1954, Hoover responded favorably, writing State Representative A. L. Mensing, "I have not forgotten the resolution of . . . April 14, 1953," and "I shall be glad to accept this invitation. I consider it a great honor from my native state." [27]

2. Planning the Celebration

When it was learned that Hoover had accepted the invitation to return to West Branch for his 80th birthday, it was determined by the Society to invite as guests men who had worked closely with him. But if this were to be done, money was needed to pay the travel expenses of invited guests. For assistance in meeting this problem, Bill Anderson drove to Des Moines to see his friend Bob Goodman of the Central National Bank and Trust Company. He told Goodman of the Society's plans, and asked him to head a committee to raise the necessary money.

Goodman was agreeable, and called Howard Hall of Cedar Rapids. A 14-man fundraising committee was organized by Goodman and Hall. To secure the cooperation of the influential Des Moines Register, John Henry, its public relations officer, was contacted. The Committee of Fourteen worked hard and raised more than $16,000 to defray the cost of the celebration. [28]

3. The Celebration

Plans and preparations proceeded accordingly, and the day for the celebration was soon at hand. Herbert Hoover, as was becoming his custom, traveled from California to Iowa by train, arriving in Cedar Rapids late on August 9. He was accompanied by his two sons and their families. After having breakfast in the home of Howard Hall, the Ex-President and his party were driven to West Branch. [29]

The motorcade entered West Branch at 10 a.m. As the cars drove slowly through the grounds of the park and north on Downey Street to the site of the new Herbert Hoover Elementary School, the world stateman was given an enthusiastic greeting by an estimated 20,000 people. At the school Hoover made a short dedicatory speech, the title of which was "Protection of Freedom," and helped plant a tree. This was one of the four schools named in his honor at which he was to make dedicatory speeches during his brief visit to his native state. [30]

From the school, the official party drove to the cemetery, where Hoover visited the graves of his parents. Next they called at the Cottage and then proceeded to the Boy Scout Pavilion. After the pavilion had been dedicated in ceremonies at which Fred Maytag of Newton presided, Hoover and 200 invited guests sat down to a birthday dinner. True to Iowa's rural traditions, the dinner, prepared by the W.S.C.S. of the Methodist Church, featured fried chicken, corn, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, apple sauce, pickled beets, Amana bread, coffee, ice tea, and a six-layer cake surrounded by 80 candles.

After the dinner and before the parade featuring 15 military and school bands, Hoover was presented the first copy of J. N. "Ding" Darling's new book of political cartoons, As Ding Saw Hoover, published by Iowa State College. After saying goodbye to his thousands of friends, Hoover left West Branch for Iowa City and the dedication of the Herbert Hoover High School. [31]

G. Hoover and Truman and the Dedication of the Library

1. The Beginning of a Life-Long Friendship

With the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library under construction in West Branch, the Birthplace Foundation became increasingly active. In 1961 Bill Anderson attended a meeting in Kansas City at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. While there he was notified that Former President Truman wished to see him at the reception to be held at the Kansas City Club. After Anderson was introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Truman, they chatted at length. Truman told Anderson of his association with Hoover, who had been "nicer to him than a lot of other people."

It was no secret, Truman observed, that he was not a confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When he was sworn into office on the death of Roosevelt, Truman knew that he needed help. One of the first men he called upon was Former President Hoover. When he got Hoover on the telephone, Hoover asked what he could do to assist his President. Truman invited him to come to Washington on May 28, 1945, his first visit to the White House since March 4, 1933.

Hoover, on reaching Washington, met with the President and was told that starvation was threatening to engulf much of the world. Department of Agriculture experts had estimated that Europe, not including the British Isles, would need 12,000,000 tons of food in 1946 to prevent large-scale starvation. Production for 1946, they estimated, would be five to ten per cent below 1945, the lowest since 1939. Farm yields in the United States were less promising than they had been since 1941, and surpluses were insufficient to meet the emergency.

Through his contacts abroad, Hoover knew that there had been bumper crops of wheat and corn in Argentina. But with diplomatic relations between the two nations strained, there was nothing offiical Washington could do to alleviate the situation. Hoover volunteered to negotiate personally with President Juan Peron. President Truman promised to honor any agreements made by Hoover with the Argentine dictator.

President Peron was approached by Hoover through President Manuel Avila Camacho of Mexico. Informed that Peron would see him, Hoover traveled to Buenos Aires. When he met with Peron, Hoover said that the United States was willing to purchase his country's agricultural surplus. Peron inquired about the possibility of securing the release of Argentinan assets frozen in the United States by executive order. A quid pro quo was worked out, whereby Hoover promised to secure the release of the impounded assets, provided President Peron consented to the sale of his country's agricultural surpluses for famine relief.

On his return to Washington, Hoover told President Truman of his agreement. Picking up the telephone, the President called Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius and told him to release the impounded funds. [32]

2. The Dedication of the Library

It came as no surprise when Former President Truman accepted an invitation to attend the dedication of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, scheduled for August 10, 1962, Hoover's 88th birth day. To accommodate the hundreds of special guests and thousands of citizens expected to attend, elaborate planning and preparations were required. The speakers' stand was erected northeast of the entrance to the Library. East of this stand was a platform for TV cameras to provide nation-wide coverage by the three networks of this historic event.

On the afternoon of August 9, Herbert Hoover arrived in Cedar Rapids and proceeded to Howard Hall's, where he would spend the night. Former President Truman, who was to have a major role in the dedication, reached Cedar Rapids by air to be welcomed by the 9540th Air Reserve Group. He was driven to the Roosevelt Hotel. That evening Hoover, Truman, the two Hoover sons and their families, Admiral Strauss, Fred Maytag, and Bill Anderson, were dinner guests of Hall at the Brucemore.

Next morning, the 10th, the hundreds of special guests assembled at 8:20 a. m. at the Roosevelt and Sheraton-Montrose to board air-conditioned buses for the ride to West Branch, via Highways 218 and 1. On their arrival in West Branch at 9 o'clock, the special guests were given a tour of the Library Museum.

Mr. Hoover picked up Mr. Truman at the Roosevelt Hotel. The car in which the two Ex-Presidents rode proceeded to West Branch, via Highways 218, 6, and 1. At the speakers' stand near the Library, they were greeted by Mayor L. C. Rummells, Bill Anderson, and Admiral Strauss.

By this time it was 10:30, and the special guests had taken their seats. While more than 25,000 looked and listened, bands played a massed concert. Governor Norman A. Erbe of Iowa called the assembly to order, and Admiral Strauss took over as master of ceremonies. There were brief speeches by Mr. Truman, United States Archivist Wayne Grover, and President Virgil M. Hancher of the State University, and a dedicatory address by Mr. Hoover.

Following the dedication, Mr. Hoover and his party were given a tour of the Library Museum, which housed "memorabilia of his administration, and his service to the world and nation." While the tour was in progress, Mr. Truman was introduced to Caretaker Wilhelm. Wilhelm asked Truman for an autographed photograph. Truman was agreeable, and a treasured possession of the Wilhelms is this item.

Hoover and his party left West Branch to return to Cedar Rapids at 12:20. About 1,000 guests sat down to honor Hoover and Truman at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel. This closed the day's activities. [33]

H. The Eisenhower, Nixon & Johnson Visits

Al Estall and his wife took over from the Carl Wilhelms as custodians of the Cottage on January 1, 1965, and remained in charge of the historic structure until June 30, 1971, when the National Park Service assumed responsibility for interpreting, maintaining, and protecting the structure. [34]

The highlights of the Estalls' stewardship were on August 10, 1965, and on February 20, 1969. On the 91st anniversary of the birth of Herbert Hoover and ten months after his death, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon were in West Branch. Accompanied by Dr. Franz Lassner, Director of the Presidential Library, they toured the Cottage and visited the restored Blacksmith Shop. Of the great and near great whom the Estalls met during their years as custodians, they were the most impressed with General Eisenhower. He radiated great warmth. When he and Nixon were returning to the Library from the Blacksmith Shop, Ike waved to the crowd that had assembled.

August 10, 1965, was a day the Estalls will always remember. In addition to a former President and a future Chief Executive, they were hosts to 4,000 other visitors who passed through the Cottage during the day. [35]

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird were in West Branch on a cold February day in 1969. It was late in the afternoon, when the Johnsons, accompanied by Acting Library Director Dick Jacobs, visited the cottage. The President and First Lady were given a tour of the Cottage by the Estalls. [36]

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006