The Hoover Houses and Community Structures
Historic Structures Report
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A. Significance

The Friends Meeting House is a key structure in interpreting the importance of the West Branch environment in the development of Herbert Hoover. The Hoovers were Friends, and the Hoover children were raised in an atmosphere that championed hard work, education, democracy, the brotherhood of man, and frowned on ostentation. To understand Herbert Hoover— the President, humanitarian, and world-statesman—it is necessary to know and appreciate the environment in which he was born and spent his first ten years.

B. The History of the Meeting House, 1855-1879

1. The Friends Come to Iowa

Isaac Pidgeon and his wife were the first Friends to settle in what is today Iowa. In the summer of 1835 they and their children crossed the Mississippi from Illinois and settled on Little Cedar Creek. That autumn Aaron Street and Peter Boyer arrived and a town site, which they named Salem, was platted. Two years later a number of other Friends, nine families of whom were from Wayne County, Indiana, emigrated to Iowa Territory, settling in and around Salem. These Friends "held worship together on First Day in the home of Henry Joy for over a year." [1]

Requests were soon made to the Vermilion Monthly Meeting in Illinois to set up a Preparative Meeting. Shortly thereafter, there was a call for Monthly Meeting status in the Western Quarterly Meeting. Bloomfield, Indiana, granted the request and the "Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends" convened at Salem on October 8, 1838. The next year the Salem Monthly Meeting erected "a hewed-log meeting house with two rooms 22 feet square at the cost of $340." [2]

During the next several years additional Friends crossed the Mississippi into Iowa. Other Meetings were established, and in 1844 Salem and Pleasant Plain Meetings requested the Western Quarterly Meeting in Indiana for authority to establish their own Quarterly Meeting, and in 1847 the request was granted. The first Quarterly Meeting west of the Mississippi assembled on May 20, 1848, with Salem, Cedar Creek, Pleasant Plain, Richland, New Garden, East Grove, and Spring River in attendance. [3]

2. The Friends in Cedar County

The first Friends to settle in Cedar County were the Brinton Darlington, Lawrie Tatum, and John H. Painter families. They were in the area by 1845, and constituted a nucleus that attracted other Friends. When he invited neighbors to help him raise his cabin, Painter informed them no hard drink would be provided to those answering his call. This did not scare them off, and a good turn out showed Painter that his neighbors valued his friendship and respected his beliefs. [4]

By the early 1850s newcomers were entering on land that would become West Branch. The first settlements made in the immediate vicinity were by Joseph Quaintance, Isiah Morris, and David Tatum, and by the end of 1853 William Townsend, Samuel Abbott, Eli Hoover, James Townsend, Thomas Barrington, Joseph Steer, and Michael King had arrived. A Friends Meeting was started before 1853, probably in 1851. It was made a Preparative Meeting, and on January 1, 1851, the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting was established. It belonged to and was established by authority from the Salem Quarterly Meeting. [5]

So many Friends took up land in this area that the fertile divide between the Iowa and Cedar rivers to the northwest of Springdale became known as Quaker Ridge. The Red Cedar Monthly Meeting was soon composed of Meetings from West Branch, Springdale, Honey Grove, Bloomington, and Muscatine. The establishment of post offices at West Branch and Springdale proved confusing, because the Springdale Indulged Meeting was held at West Branch and the Red Cedar at Springdale. To solve this problem in nomenclature, the Springdale Indulged Meeting on April 9, 1862, was redesignated the Aberdeen Preparative Meeting. Fifteen months later, the Aberdeen Preparative Meeting received permission to change its name to the West Branch Preparative Meeting. Before the year was over the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting was redesignated the Springdale Monthly Meeting. Subsequently, the Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting changed its name to the Springdale Quarterly Meeting. [6]

The Red Cedar Monthly Meeting had been incorporated under the laws of Iowa in 1853. It received by certificate and request during its first year 302 persons. The second year 192 were received, and 176 in the third year.

3. The Schoolhouse as a Meeting House

Friends settling on the West Branch of the Wapsinonoc held their meetings in 1851 and 52 first in the home of William Townsend and then in the shop of Samuel King. On June 3, 1853, residents of the community purchased a one-acre lot at the northeast corner of Section 7, Township 79 North, Range 4 West, from James Steer. Next they launched a campaign to raise funds for the erection of a school building. Eight hundred dollars were pledged and a one-story frame school was built.

As much of the money for the project was contributed by Friends, the school was also used as a meeting house. For business meetings, "a canvas stack cover was hung in the center of the school room, dividing the men's and women's groups. On regular meeting days the men and women were seated separately, but no partition was used." [7]

4. The Construction of the Meeting House

An influx of Ohio Friends, principally from Belmont and Columbiana Counties, in the mid-1850s created pressure for construction of a regular Meeting House in the community. The first step in this direction was taken in March 1854, when the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting purchased for ten dollars a four-acre tract from Samuel and Rebekah Abbott. The boundary of the subject tract was to begin at the southeast corner of Section 6, Township 79 North, Range 4 West and run north 42 rods and 17 links, then west 15 rods, then south 42 rods and 17 links, and then east 15 rods to the beginning. If the Red Cedar Monthly Meeting should be discontinued, title to the subject tract was to be vested in "such person or persons as may thereafter be appointed by the Quarterly Meeting to which the said Monthly Meeting may belong." [8]

The land acquired, work was started on the frame Meeting House in 1855. Thomas Barrington was in charge of construction of the building, located north of today's Main Street and west of present day Downey Street. On the sloping hillside north of the construction site was the Friends Burying Grounds.

Barrington hauled the lumber used in building the Meeting House 12 miles from Big Grove (Newport), where Joseph Steer had a sawmill. The task of cutting, sawing, and hauling the lumber was time consuming, and it was 1857 before the structure was completed. As finished the Meeting House faced south, with two entrance doors—one for men and the other for women—in the south elevation. Behind the Meeting House were erected hitching posts and sheds for sheltering teams. Subsequently, shutters were positioned at the windows. [9]

The first marriage to take place in the Friends Meeting House occurred on January 14, 1858. On December 9 Benjamin Miles and Elizabeth Bean had notified the Monthly Meeting of the Red Cedar Preparative that they "intend marriage with each other," their surviving parents have "consented thereto." No objections were raised, and on January 14 Benjamin Miles and Elizabeth Bean, before a large crowd, recited the Friends ceremony. The following month the Red Cedar Preparative was advised that "those appointed to attend the marriage of Benjamin Miles and Elizabeth Bean report they attended the marriage, saw it conducted orderly, and that the certificate has been placed in the hands of the recorder." [10]

C. Construction and Maintenance History of the Meeting House, 1879-1883

1. Construction of South Porch & Other Improvements, 1879

In April 1879 it was proposed at the Monthly Meeting of the West Branch Friends that a porch be built onto the south elevation of the Meeting House. The subject was referred to the committee having charge of the house and grounds who were authorized to "immediately proceed in erecting the said porch." To fund the project, the committee was to draw on the fund accruing from the sale, three years before, of lots at the corner of Main and Downey to the West Branch Bank for $500.

Two months later, the House and Grounds Committee, headed by Tristram Coggleshall, was given additional projects by the Preparative Meeting. Coggleshall and his people were to have the interior of the Meeting House painted, a front fence built, and sheds for teams erected. [11]

A crew of workmen were turned out in June, and on the 19th the editor of the West Branch Local Record informed his readers, "the Society of Friends are making great and useful improvements to their meeting house in erecting a fine porch along the south side of the building." [12] Before the end of the month, the porch had been completed and a neat picket fence erected on the south side of the meeting house. Painters had treated the building's interior to a new coat of "dove colored paint." [13] In July the sheds were built.

These improvements, Coggleshall informed the October Meeting, had cost $304.21 for materials and paint, and $140.90 for labor. He also notified those in attendance that his committee had contracted with William Miles for janitorial services for 1880, with a remuneration of $80. [14]

2. Construction of Boardwalk & Fencing of Burial Grounds

In May 1880 the Monthly Meeting was advised of the ordinance passed by the Town Council, requiring the construction of a boardwalk on the east side of the Meeting House grounds. This problem was referred to the Committee on House and Grounds, and it was given authority to build the subject boardwalk at the expence of the Meeting. The walk was constructed in May at a cost of $106.27. [15]

Maintenance costs were held at a minimum in the period 1880-83. Contracts were signed with William Miles in each of these years to take care of the house and grounds. Except in 1882, when he was paid $100 for his services, Miles' price for this work was $80 per annum. In October 1881 the Committee on House and Grounds paid $25.40 to have the burying grounds and east side of the lot fenced. [16]

3. Crosbie's 1881 Description of the Meeting House

Archibald Crosbie emigrated from the British Isles with his family in 1881 He reached West Branch in the late spring of that year, and as a good Friend attended the June Monthly Meeting. He found that there were about 200 in attendance, all sitting "in light clothing many of them with fans in their hands and all the doors and windows open." The grounds, he observed, were fenced, and nearly all the members, even those living within one-half mile, came in "some trap or other." [17]

D. Cleavages in the West Branch Meeting

1. The Gurneys and Wilburites—Progressives and Conservatives

By 1880 there were two meetings of Friends in West Branch—the Gurneys and the Wilburs. Archibald Crosbie on June 16, 1881, reported that there were more than 800 Gurneys in the Monthly Meeting, and this figure did not include "the Wilburite Friends, perhaps the best and certainly the strictest sect of our profession." [18]

The Gurneys and Wilburites were both plagued with doctrinal disputes, which caused Archibald Crosbie to complain "there is . . . a dividing spirit at work felt . . . among the Friends giving much trouble to many." Gurney progressives were championing changes in the meetings that were anathema to conservatives. Until 1865 the Gurneys had held "old fashioned, quiet meetings, with no introduction of new-fangled ideas or paid oratory." Then in 1865 Elizabeth Ann Harris, a minister, sang a hymn in the Monthly Meeting. "This was a great trial to some, but not all. Jeremiah Gruwell, Joel Bean, John Y. Hoover, Lawrie Tatum and some others thought it was of the Lord and had no condemnation for it." After all, George Fox and other Friends of the seventeenth century had "placed preaching, prayer and singing on the same basis, but singing was so completely dropped out of use that it was even startling to some to hear it at a Friends meeting." [19]

Crosbie found this situation

seriously trying and hurtful to the progress of truth. My prayer is that the great head of the church will open up some way by which so many decidedly good people might see more eye to eye. In the meantime there seems nothing for it but to bear and forebear. [20]

Before many months, the schism had reached a point where the Conservatives withdrew from the Meeting and established one of their own. Soon thereafter, they built a meeting house on Second Street. [21]

2. Removal of the Partition & Remodeling of the Meeting House

Following the withdrawal of the Conservatives, the question of continuing to divide the meeting, with the male and female members separated by a partition, was raised by the Downey Street Friends. On March 13, 1884, a three-member committee—James Townsend, Joseph Steer, and C. H. Mathews—was named to "consider the advisability of holding our meeting jointingly." [22]

The committee referred the subject of holding joint meetings to the Monthly Meeting, which determined to permit "each preparative . . . to use its own judgment." After a thorough and frank discussion, on June 12, 1884, it was decided by the members "to hold meetings in the future jointly." The decision made, it was determined on December 2, 1884, "to proceed at once in making such changes" to the building "as seem necessary, the expense to be born by voluntary contributions." A committee was named to arrange for and oversee the work. [23]

By mid-March 1885 the committee had made the necessary arrangements. Plans had been drawn, building materials collected, and funds raised. Approval had also been received from the meeting to expend funds for re-roofing and painting the structure. Work on altering the building's interior was commenced. "The whole inside work" was removed, and the Meeting House "rebuilt on the modern plan, dispensing with the partitions and galleries and instituting pens and pulpit." [24]

The south porch was removed, and the doorways in the south elevation of the structure converted into windows. Double doorways were cut into the east elevation and double doors hung. Hereafter, the Meeting House would be entered through its east rather than south elevation. Carpenters by mid-April had re-roofed the building. Lumber from the porch, along with the partitions and other surplus interior fixtures, was sold at public auction by the Friends on April 9. [25]

The renovation of the Downey Street Meeting House had been completed by April 30, 1885, and the editor of the Local Record reported, "The changes made in the Friends Church building have added greatly to the general appearance in that part of town." [26]

3. New Lamps and Fencing

Sixteen months before the remodeling of the Meeting House, James Pinkham, in December 1883, had been authorized to purchase "four hanging lamps suitable for lighting the house better." This was done, but we have no description of either the new lamps or those which they replaced. [27]

Additional improvements were made to the property in the autumn and winter of 1885-86. Janitor Miles, in his spare time, fenced the grounds. To the south, the fence was "a tight board fence, seven feet high, while to the east it was a neat picket fence." [28] This fence stood until the autumn of 1888, when it was replaced with another, which enclosed the Meeting House grounds and old cemetery. According to the editor of the Local Record, this was "an improvement worth noting." [29]

4. Janitorial Duties

Throughout the 1880s, the Building and Grounds committee continued to contract with William Miles for janitorial services. By 1888 it had become necessary to reduce the agreement to writing. For sums varying from $80 to $110 per year, the janitor would see that: (a) the Meeting House was "opened in warm weather a full half hour before meeting time; (b) the Meeting House was opened one and one-half hours before meeting time in cold weather, "leaving the windows open until the fires are made then closed until the house is warm"; (c) the lamps were clean and in "good condition to give a clean bright light"; (d) the house was "well warmed for prayer meetings and the lamps at the porch lighted when needed"; (e) the cobwebs were removed from the walls; and (f) the house was swept, dusted, and scrubbed at least once a year. In addition, he would serve as an usher at the meetings. [30]

5. The Interior is Repainted & New Lamps Acquired

In March 1889 a committee was named to see that the inside of the Meeting House was repainted. The committee moved promptly, and on the 21st the editor of the Local Record informed his subscribers that "the interior of the Friends Downey Street Church is undergoing a thorough overhauling with new paint and mahogany finish." [31]

The next improvement undertaken by the meeting was in the late spring of 1890. To improve the interior lighting, the trustees purchased a set of "new and better lamps," with funds raised for this purpose by private subscription. The old lamps were sold. [32]

E. Construction of the Parsonage

In 1889 the Progressive Friends determined to hire a minister—Susie Sisson. It became apparent that if this practice were to be continued, they would have to provide their pastor with a parsonage. Consequently, on March 13, 1890, it was proposed in the meeting that "a house be built on our grounds for the residence of the pastor and that money which is now in the treasury from the sale of lots be used and the residue barrowed." It was agreed that the cost of the parsonage was not to exceed $800, and that it was to be located on the vacant lot south of the Meeting House. [33]

Construction was started immediately on the simple, frame, two story parsonage, "on the shady and otherwise pleasant location south of the meeting house." [34] The carpenters moved slowly, and when the Building Committee made its report to the meeting on November 12, 1890, it was stated that the parsonage had been completed, except for the outside painting. [35]

F. The 1891-94 Remodeling of the Meeting House

1. The Organ

The parsonage was painted before the end of 1890. Ezra Pearson replaced Susie Sisson as pastor in 1891, and during his pastorate an organ was moved into the Meeting House. It, however, was not used regularly for services for several years. [36]

2. The Removal of the Sheds & Construction of a Barn

In 1891 a committee was named to see to the moving of the sheds and to solicit "such funds as needed for the purchase of timber for the construction of a small barn." These improvements were necessary to keep the horses away from the immediate vicinity of the parsonage. The cost of relocating the sheds and erecting the barn was $37.88—$25.51 for lumber, $7.37 for hardware, and $5 for labor. [37]

3. The Proposal to Modernize is Approved

While Henry C. Pemberton was serving as pastor in 1893, the trustees determined to modernize the Meeting House. At the April 15 meeting, a committee was named to assist the trustees in drafting necessary plans, and empowered to proceed with the improvements. The committee, in funding the improvements, was authorized to draw on the Monthly Meeting Treasury for funds not to exceed $505. [38]

4. The Work

Six months passed before plans and specifications were prepared and approved. In mid-October Jesse Miles and his gang of carpenters and laborers were turned to making extensive alterations to the building. The changes called for were radical, and consisted of: (a) raising the walls and ceiling four feet; (b) adding a vestibule; (c) installing new windows and frames; (d) constructing a belfry at the northeast corner; (e) excavating a basement; (f) installing a furnace in the basement; and (g) hanging a bell in the belfry.

A cold winter delayed the contractor, and by mid-March 1894 the carpenters were still working on the belfry. When the West Branch Times went to press on March 22, the editor reported, "the belfry . . . has gone up another story and we hope to soon be able to hear the third church bell chiming in . . . union with the others." [39]

By April 5 the belfry tower had grown to a spire, and it had been painted. Before another week passed, the bell had been hung, and the meeting was notified by the committee that the contractor had completed the project. The cost of remodeling was found to be $1196.59. [40]

While the Meeting House was being remodeled, the congregation met in the new store opened by Gruwell & Crew opposite the post office. Soon after the meetings were resumed in the structure, five large and ten small hymn books with music were acquired. Music now became a regular part of the services in the Friends Church, as it was now called to differentiate it from the meeting house of the Conservatives. [41]

5. The May 1894 Hail Storm

Within a month after Contractor Miles had finished remodeling the church, a terrible hail storm hammered Springdale Township on Saturday afternoon, May 5. The storm began at 5 o'clock and lasted for 90 minutes. Hail stones, some as big as oranges, caused considerable damage. Striking the roof of the parsonage, they glanced into the south elevation of the Friends Church, shattering every window. These windows were new and the lights were of heavy ground glass. To replace the glass cost the meeting $18.06. [42]

G. The Church is Wired for Electricity

The next improvement made to the church was in May 1896, when the Friends put down carpeting. [43] In the spring of 1898 work was commenced on a powerhouse for a municipal electric light plant. The dynamos and the 33-horsepower engine were positioned in the first week of May, by which time the building had been completed. Next a crew began to set poles and string wire for the incandescent street lights that were to carry electricity to light businesses, homes, and institutions on Main and Downey streets. The company was also contracting with homeowners desiring street lights in front of their houses. [44]

On Thursday evening, May 26, the electric light system was put into operation in West Branch and "performed well." There were about 150 lights burning, and by the night of the 28th additional lights, including one of 50-candlepower at a street crossing, were burning. [45]

The lamps "gave splendid satisfaction along Main Street," and they would be extended throughout the town "as fast as people petition for them." This would be rapid, as they were "a great improvement over the old dingy lamps." Ibid., Feb. 23, and March 9 & 16, 1899.

The Progressive Friends moved promptly to take advantage of this civic improvement. Arrangements for wiring the Meeting House were made and eight lights ordered. Simultaneously, in the last week of May 1898, MacKey & Ross were employed to repaper the interior of the church. Taking cognizance of these developments, the editor of the West Branch Times wrote, "With the new paper and electric lights, the church's interior will be greatly lightened and improved." [46]

H. The Friends Church, 1903-15

1. John S. Stribbling as Pastor

Elwood Tatum and his wife on Saturday evening, October 31, 1903, honored the new pastor of their church, the Rev. John W. Stribbling, and his family with a "welcome" reception. There were about 60 guests in attendance, and Henry Vore "in his usual happy manner extended the greetings of the church to her new pastor." The Reverend Stribbling responded with a few well chosen words, and the guests united in singing, "Blest be the Tie."

A good time was had by all. For entertainment, a booth had been positioned in the corner of the dining room. It was decorated with autumn leaves and berries, and lighted by jack-o-lanterns. Two young ladies occupied the booth and served refreshments. After "an evening most pleasantly spent, the guests went home feeling that it was good to have been there." [47]

Six days later, on Friday, November 6, the Quarterly Meeting convened in the Friends Church. It continued until Sunday, with Jasper Hadley and several other "able ministers in attendance." Reverend Stribbling issued a cordial invitation for "all to come and worship" with his meeting. [48] The following week found a revival in progress at the church. It was open to the public and sponsored by the Bachelor Girls. [49]

One Sunday before Christmas, the 13th, there was a missionary meeting at the church. Although the weather was bitterly cold and there were snow flurries, there was good attendance, with a liberal collection for missionary work in Jamaica. The evening program was given by the Endeavorers to an interested audience. Then on Christmas Eve there was a program at the church, with "an old fashioned Christmas Tree." Gifts were exchanged and everyone had a wonderful time. [50]

The Endeavorers in 1904 continued to present evening programs at the Friends Church at monthly intervals. At their quarterly meeting on February 6, the service was conducted by Henry Vore, while singers from Springdale entertained. [51] On September 5 a number of the members of the church traveled to Oskaloosa for the Iowa Yearly Meeting. [52] The following month, ten or 12 West Branch Friends left for Earlham to participate in the Indiana Yearly Meeting. They, along with other Iowa Friends, were encouraged to attend by the favorable round trip excursion fares made available by the Rock Island Railroad. [53]

Sada Stanley, a missionary from Jamaica, was in town on Sunday, October 23, 1904. She addressed a children's meeting in the afternoon and the missionary society that evening. The church was crowded for both meetings, with West Branchers eager to hear about life on the Caribbean Island. [54]

The Reverend Stribbling served as pastor of the Friends Church for 23 months. Having accepted a position at Earlham, he and his family moved out of the parsonage and shipped their household effects to Richmond, Indiana. As they had made many friends during their stay in West Branch, the townspeople hated to see them go, but extended their best wishes to them in their new home. [55]

Reverend Stribbling's departure was most inopportune, because in mid-October 1905, a Yearly Meeting was held at West Branch. It was well attended by the local people, and "many eminent ministers from abroad were present." There were night meetings on Friday and Monday. Everybody was so well satisfied that it was determined to return to West Branch for next year's meeting. [56]

2. Clarke Brown as Pastor

The Rev. Clarke Brown followed Stribbling as pastor, and during his tenure the Friends Church joined with other West Branch churches in observance of a week of prayer, beginning January 6, 1907. On Sunday and Monday evenings, the 6th and 7th, the meetings were held in the Presbyterian Church, with the topics, "God's call to His People" and "The Church of the Living God." On Tuesday and Wednesday, they were at the Methodist Church, and the lessons were, "The Gospel of God's Son" and "The Christian Ministry." The Friends Church was host on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday evenings, with the topics respectively, "Missions Home and Foreign," "The Coming of the Kingdom," and "The Power of Christ Crucified." The choirs of the three churches had been practicing for weeks, and the way they sang the stirring old hymns and classic selections earned the respect of those in attendance. The meetings were well attended, as West Branchers began the new year with a "Week with God." [57]

Normally in the first decade of the twentieth century, there were two regular Sunday services in the Friends Church—the first at 11 a.m. and the second at 7:30 p.m. Bible school was from 10 to 11 o'clock; the Junior Endeavor at 2:30 p.m.; and the YPSCE from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m. On Wednesday evenings, Prayer Meeting began at 7:30. [58]

3. Laura Townsend's First Pastorate

In August 1907 the Reverend Brown resigned as pastor and moved to Linnville, Iowa, where he would take the pastorate. He was succeeded on August 26 by the Rev. Laura Townsend. Mrs. Townsend was no stranger to West Branch, as she and her late husband had formerly lived in the town. [59] On Saturday, the 24th, there had been a farewell reception at the S. C. Gruwells for Reverend Brown and his wife. While members of the congregation in attendance watched, Henry Vore presented the Browns with a handsome postal card holder as a token of esteem. Reverend Brown responded with a few well chosen remarks. [60]

The Yearly Meeting which convened in West Branch on Wednesday, October 14, 1908, drew a large crowd. There was an "unusual number of members and their families from a distance" present. Several ministers of note were there, and the public meetings were well at tended. To feed the crowd, a dining hail was opened in the recently vacated furniture store. This enabled many local women to attend the meetings. [61] Reverend Townsend was absent, as she had been called to the bedside of her father in Puyallup, Washington. Her father soon died, and, after attending his funeral, Mrs. Townsend returned to West Branch on October 23. [62]

During Laura Townsend's pastorate, the Progressive Friends began to sponsor picnics. On Tuesday, August 10, 1909, the Sunday School held an outing in the Iowa City River Park, to which all members of the congregation were invited. [63] Long remembered was the picnic at the same Iowa City Park held on Monday, August 15, 1910. The morning was "beautifully light and clear," and "all went happily until in the midst of the dinner" a driving rain commenced. The picnickers sought shelter in nearby summer houses, leaving their food on the tables. Good humor, however, prevailed, as the drenched and hungry Friends drove back to West Branch. [64]

John Y. Hoover, a pillar of the church and Herbert C. Hoover's great uncle, died on October 5, 1909. Born in Ohio in 1834, he had moved to Springdale Township in 1854, and in October of the following year he married Mary Jay. Hoover had been very active in affairs of his church. He had spent two years as a missionary in North Carolina and had served his church as a minister, in the years before the pastors were paid. One of those attending Hoover's funeral was the Reverend Stribbling. [65]

Besides conducting services for deceased members of the meeting, like John Y. Hoover, Reverend Townsend was called on to preach before other groups. On Sunday evening, May 29, 1910, she gave the baccalaureate address before the graduating class of West Branch High School. Those in attendance agreed that Mrs. Townsend's sermon was up to her usual high standards, and "it was listened to by a crowded house with rapt attention." [66]

Mrs. Townsend, having served the church as its pastor for three years, was compelled by failing health in 1910 to resign. Her doctor had suggested that she move to a warmer and dryer climate. On October 8, 1910, she sold her household effects at public auction, and in the following week left for southern California. She traveled west with T. T. Barrington and his family. [67]

4. Walter Miles' Pastorate

Mrs. Townsend was succeeded as pastor of the Friends Church in late November by the Reverend Walter Miles, a graduate student at the State University of Iowa. Miles and his family moved into the parsonage, a few days before Thanksgiving. [68] Several days later, Mrs. Huldah Enlow gave a reception for the Mileses in her home. There were about 50 in attendance, and the conversation was lively. [69]

The Reverend Miles, like Mrs. Townsend, was very popular. Having secured his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Iowa, Miles in February 1913 left West Branch on a three-week trip to the Atlantic Seaboard. He would represent the university at a meeting of a national education society being held in Philadelphia. On his way east, he spent a day in Chicago, visited Niagara Falls, and stopped off at Ithaca, New York, and Middletown, Connecticut, before proceeding to Washington, D.C., where he watched the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. En route back to West Branch, where he arrived on March 8, he stopped off in Richmond, Indiana, for 48 hours.

While on his trip, Miles had made contacts which resulted in his being appointed professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University to replace Dr. Raymond Dodge. [70] On April 9, 1913, he submitted his resignation as pastor of the Friends Church, to take effect about July 10. A committee was named by the Board of Oversight "to look after supplying the church with a pastor." [71]

5. Fred L. Ryon as Pastor

On the evening of July 6, a Union Meeting was held at the church at which the Reverend Miles delivered his farewell sermon before a large audience. [72] It was mid-September before the Rev. Fred L. Ryon, the minister employed by the committee, arrived in West Branch from South Glen Falls, New York. The new pastor had been several years in the ministry, and had been in charge of the Friends Church at Indianola, Iowa, before going to New York State. Ryon was accompanied to West Branch by his wife, who was also a minister. [73]

The Reverend Ryon conducted his first services in the West Branch Friends Church on Sunday, September 21. Since the July departure of Dr. Miles, Louis Jones had conducted the Sunday services.

Ryon was active in the National Anti-Saloon League. Two months after his arrival in West Branch, he attended the national convention of that organization in Columbus, Ohio. During his absence his place in the pulpit was filled by his wife. He returned on Saturday, November 15, and told his congregation that resolutions had been adopted favoring national prohibition of traffic in liquor. What he had seen and heard, while at the convention, bouyed up his hopes that the forces of temperance would be successful in their fight against liquor. [74]

6. Charles W. Mesner as Pastor

The Ryons remained in West Branch one year. In mid-September 1914, having accepted a call from the Muscatine and Bloomington churches, they prepared to move. On the 15th members of the meeting gave the Ryons a farewell reception at the church. There was a short program of songs and speeches, after which light refreshments were served. The Ryons having vacated the parsonage, it was occupied by the new pastor, the Rev. Charles W. Mesner, and his sister. Mesner, before accepting the call of the West Branch Friends, had been pastor of a church in Central City, Nebraska. [75]

7. The 1910 & 12 Yearly Meetings

The annual meeting of the Friends of the West Branch Preparative had convened on October 12, 1910, with many in attendance. For two days before the meeting was called to order, delegations from points as far away as Springville, Marshalltown, Le Grand, and Earlham were detraining at the depot. From the east came several well-known ministers, and it was forecast that this would be "the largest meeting in history in this section." Arrangements had been made to quarter a number of visitors in the "old furniture building."

On Monday evening, the 17th, the annual meeting, which had transacted much business, closed. The public meetings on Saturday evening and Sunday had been crowded with both Friends and members of other denominations, attracted by a desire to hear outstanding sermons. By Tuesday most of the visiting Friends had departed, and West Branch returned to normal. [76]

Christmas 1911 was a joyous season at West Branch. The holiday was observed at the Friends and Methodist churches on Saturday evening, December 23, with Christmas trees and treats for the children. The Presbyterian Church had treats for the little ones on the 24th, while the Danish Church had appropriate ceremonies on the morning of the 26th. [77]

In the summer of 1912, the Methodists made extensive alterations to their church. While construction was in progress, that congregation, having secured permission from the Board of Oversight, held services in the Friends Church. [78]

The Annual Yearly Meeting in 1912 sparked a lively interest in the Friends, and on October 13 the church took in 34 new members, 17 of whom were adults. [79]

8. Improvements to the Building & Grounds

An improvement was made to the grounds in late summer of 1904. A ditch was dug and a sewer pipe buried in front of the church. This eliminated the "unsightly open ditch" about which there had been many complaints through the years. [80] Seventeen months later, new seats were ordered and installed in the church. All concurred that this was "a much needed improvement and will make the appointment of the church more comfortable and convenient." [81]

In April 1913 Chris Anderson and Harley Smith, bricklayers, took down and rebuilt the church's chimney. [82]

Additional improvements were made to the building in the autumn of 1914. In accordance with instructions from the Monthly Meeting, the trustees made needed repairs to the Sunday School Room. A new stove was purchased and installed in the primary department. This would make those in attendance more comfortable during the approaching winter, but it would not alleviate the overcrowding. [83]

I. The Meeting House Becomes a Theater

1. The Decision to Build a New Church

At the July 1915 Monthly Meeting, the Building Committee was instructed to secure plans and specifications for a new church. Bids would then be invited. The new structure was to be adjacent to the site of the frame Meeting House, but was to be farther back from Downey Street to conform with the buildings to the north and south. [84]

Plans and specifications had been approved by late August and distributed to interested contractors. Seven bids were received, opened, examined, and abstracted by the Building Committee on September 6. After careful consideration, the committee voted to award the contract to Wood & Paulson, local builders.

Work on clearing the grounds was to begin immediately, as the contract called for completion of the new structure by January 1, 1916. While the new church was under construction, the Downey Street Friends would hold their services in the Presbyterian Church, at the usual hours. [85]

2. The Meeting House is Relocated

Wood & Paulson, confronted as they were by a tight deadline, had a force at work by September 16. Their first task was to get the frame Meeting House off the lot. The structure was sold to J. C. Crew, who proposed to move it onto his lot across Downey Street, next to the Opera Block. Before the building could be moved the belfry tower was razed.

In the third week of September, the men who had contracted to move the building were ready. The foundation was demolished and rollers positioned under the historic old Meeting House. As the new site was downgrade from the old, it would he necessary to control the movement once the inertia had been overcome. To do so, a capstan was positioned with lines attached to the structure.

School had just been dismissed for the day, and as Glenn Brown and several of his friends walked down the hill, the Meeting House was being skidded toward the street. The lines paying out slack from the capstan slipped, and the building gathered speed. A Friend (W. C. Mott) in a tall hat drove the team used to ease the building into motion. He was startled to see the structure rushing toward him. Glenn and his friends cheered as the frightened driver lashed his team out of the way. After shooting across Downey Street, the Meeting House, having overrun the rollers, came to an abrupt stop. The excitement over, it was eased onto its new site. [86]

3. The New Church

With the old Meeting House out of the way, Wood & Paulson workmen began excavating the basement for the new church on September 22. [87] Construction was slowed by a hard winter, and it was March 12, 1916, before the new church was formally dedicated. The weather on the 12th was perfect and a large crowd was in attendance. Members of the congregation recalled that it had been about a year ago that they had begun "to consider seriously the erection of a new church home."

The new building was simple colonial in style, and built of "hand face brick" backed by hollow tile blocks. Its dimensions were 58 x 46 feet; the plan "simple and plain throughout, yet with good taste . . . to make a very attractive and pleasing effect." The basement was finished in yellow pine, with a floor of the same material. Its ceiling was ten feet in the clear. In the basement, which was well arranged for comfort and utility, there was a kitchen; a furnace room, with a coal room built outside; an assembly room; a kindergarten room; a boy scout room; two toilets; and a storage room built under the front entrance.

On the main floor there was a 41 x 43-foot auditorium, with a choir loft and pulpit platform. To the right of the pulpit, there was a 8 x 10-foot room, outfitted as the pastor's study. It was equipped with folding doors and rolling partition, so that it could be incorporated into the auditorium. The Christian Endeavor Room could be divided by a rolling partition into two rooms, and was separated from the partition by another rolling partition. All rooms on this floor were finished in oak, with light golden oak finish.

The electric lighting was "semi-indirect in all parts of the building." Plain or chipped glass was used in all windows, and fitted with Whitney casement windows. The building was heated by steam, while there was "a good system of sanitary plumbing." Wood & Paulson had subcontracted the plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. [88]

4. Remodeling the Meeting House into a Theater

During the winter of 1915-16, carpenters remodeled the historic old Meeting House into a theater. The east window was framed in, and a new window cut between the door and the framed-in window. An ell-addition to be used as a box office was built on the west elevation of the structure, while the two windows in the subject elevation were framed in. The interior of the building was "fitted" out to seat 250 in comfortable opera chairs. The screen, near the east wall, was located so it could be comfortably viewed from any seat in the house. The projection booth was fireproofed, and equipped with one of the most up-to-date projectors in the state. There was a furnace in the basement, and the building was said to be well ventilated.

5. The Pastime Theater Opens

The altered Meeting House would be the new home of the Pastime Theater. Nate Crook and P. V. N. Meyers had leased the building from J. C. Crew, and on Saturday afternoon, January 27, 1916, the Pastime opened in its new location. Admission was five and ten cents, unless otherwise stated. The feature attraction was Nat C. Goodman, America's "favorite actor," in the gripping French drama, "Business is Business," in six great acts. There was also a comedy. The afternoon show began at 2:30, while there were two evening showings, one at 7 and the other at 9 o'clock. Before the curtain went up and during intermissions, the audience was entertained by Miss Pearl Fitzsimmons at the piano. L. C. Rummells operated the projector. Although it was cold with snow flurries, there was a large crowd in attendance. [89]

In mid-June the owners of the Pastime introduced their patrons to the serial, "The Iron Claw," featuring Pearl White, Creighton Hale, and Sheldon Lewis. West Branchers were urged not to "miss the first number of this thrilling and enthralling serial." [90]

Crook and Meyers on September 6, 1916, sold the Pastime Theater to Delbert Fairall. The new owner took possession on the 11th, and proudly announced that the theater would open on the 14th with Charlie Chaplin in "Charlie's Stormy Romance." [91]

J. The Pastime Theater Becomes a Garage

By the 1930s the Pastime Theater had closed. The building was acquired by Frosty Krouth and converted into a garage by the removal of the seats, stage, and projection booth. Double doors were cut and framed in the west elevation. Krouth in the 1940s sold his business to Lee and Bessie Oostendorp Lee operated a garage in the main building, and his wife turned the ell, which had served the theater as its box office, into a gift shop. [92]

Bessie's Gift Shop was broken into on the weekend of September 5 and 6, 1953, and a small amount of jewelry and pens stolen. Entry to the shop was gained by forcing the back door to the connecting garage. The thieves then removed the door providing access from the garage into the shop. Most of the stolen merchandise was soon recovered. [93]

K. The Purchase, Relocation, and Restoration of the Meeting House

The 1948 Master Plan proposed the construction of a typical Friends Meeting House, to be located south of the Wapsinonoc, to serve as a Hoover Museum. This proposal was dropped in 1955, when Herbert Hoover told his son, Allan, that he felt a reconstructed Meeting House "would be a little out of place since nothing of that kind . . . used to be on the immediate grounds." [94]

This situation changed in the early 1960s, when Lee and Bessie Oostendrop secured a divorce. The settlement left Mrs. Oostendrop in possession of the historic building housing her gift shop and her ex-husband's garage, which she decided to sell. Floyd Fawcett, a successful local farmer and member of the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Foundation, heard that Mrs. Oostendrop was interested in disposing of her historic property. Fawcett moved with alacrity, contacting Historical Architect Bill Wagner and several others interested in historic preservation. Wagner examined the building and found that its structural timbers were sound, and that it would be possible to restore the Meeting House to its appearance during the Hoover West Branch years.

Fawcett then contacted Mrs. Oostendrop, and learned that her price for the building was $4,000. Fawcett and L. C. Rummells proceeded to organize a campaign to raise money locally. The drive was successful and title to the building secured.

Meanwhile, the Foundation had been in touch with Herbert Hoover, and had learned that the acquisition, relocation, and restoration of the Meeting House was a project "very close to his heart." The Foundation accordingly agreed to fund the relocation and restoration of the structure. Fortunately, a site was already available, as the Foundation had recently bought three lots east of Downey Street and south of the Wapsinonoc. The structures located on these lots (the Ketchum, Endsley, and Kramer houses) were scheduled for demolishion.

While hundreds watched, the houses were burned by the West Branch Volunteer Fire Department and the debris bulldozed. Next, the Foundation, having secured title to the Meeting House, had it moved from the site it had occupied since 1915 to its new location. By mid-August 1964 the Meeting House was on-site, and Historical Architect Bill Wagner was ready to begin work.

In restoring the building's exterior, Wagner was guided by a study of the fabric and the drawing of the Meeting House found in the "Hoover Sketch Book" compiled by Levi Bowles. The seats and interior fixtures for the restoration were salvaged from the Hickory Grove Meeting House, a contemporary structure. The Cardinal Council of Girl Scouts provided funds for landscaping the grounds. [95]

The Meeting House was opened to the public in 1965. Since then it has been a popular stop for the visitor. Its popularity and value as an interpretive tool have vindicated the foresight of Fawcett, Wagner, and their associates in championing its preservation and restoration.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006