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

In May 1879 Jesse Hoover moved his family into the two-story frame house at the northeast corner of Downey and Cedar streets. It was in this house that Jesse Hoover died on December 13, 1880. His widow and three children continued to live in this house. On February 24, 1884, death again visited the house and claimed the life of Huldah Hoover. The three children, now orphans, went to live with relatives.

It was this house and not the Cottage that the Hoover children recalled. The house is also symbolic of Jesse Hoover's success in improving his economic status. The purchase of the two-story house documents this change in the Hoovers' economic fortunes and way of life.

B. Legal Description of Property and Chain of Title

The Second Hoover House was located on a lot in the west one half of the northwest quarter of Section 8, Township 79 North, Range 4 West. On June 10, 1851, Samuel Mather had been issued a patent by the General Land Office for the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 5 and the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8 in Township 79 North, Range 4 West. To pay for the 160 acres, he surrendered the land warrant issued by the United States to William L. Eleman for service in the Mexican War. [1]

Mather retained possession of the property for 20 months. On March 17, 1853, Samuel and Lydia Mather sold to Joseph Straughn of Columbiana County, Ohio, for $140 the two 80-acre tracts. [2] Nine years later, on May 3, 1862, Joseph and Jane Straughn sold the 80 acres of the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8 to James Hirst for $500. [3]

Seven months later, on January 28, 1863, James and Anna Hirst of Cedar County, Iowa, sold the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8, less two acres in the southwest corner, to Joseph Cook of Belmont County, Ohio. Cook paid $1,600 for the 78 acres. [4] On May 19, 1866, Joseph and Elizabeth Cook sold to James Cook for $1,300 the 78 acres they owned in the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8. [5]

Three years later, on May 29, 1869, the village of West Branch was platted by Joseph Steer, as attorney for John M. Wetherell. [6] In November of that year, William W. Lamborn platted a village east and north of Main Street to be called Cameron. [7] The year before, James and Mary Ann Cook began to subdivide and sell lots in the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8. The subject property was known as Cook's Addition.

When he subdivided Cook on March 25, 1868, sold to David Hildebrand for $100 a tract in the west one-half of the northwest quarter of Section 8. The boundary of the tract conveyed to Hildebrand began 42 rods south of the northwest corner of the section, then east ten rods, then south 16 rods, then west ten rods, and then north 16 rods to the point of beginning. The subject tract contained one acre. [8]

Hildebrand retained possession of the real estate for 23 months before selling it to Charles Berryhill of Iowa City on February 28, 1870, for $750. [9] The rapid increase in value of the property indicates that Hildebrand built the house and made the improvements purchased by Jesse Hoover in 1879.

Berryhill died on May 29, 1874, and the administrator of the estate, Samuel Sharpless, exposed the deceased's real estate to public sale from the Johnson County Courthouse steps in Iowa City on March 20, 1879, to satisfy creditors. Jesse Hoover was high bidder and purchased the subject property for $140. [10]

Five years after the death of Jesse Hoover and two years after the death of his widow, Lawrie Tatum, guardian of the three minor Hoover children, sold the subject real estate on April 5, 1886, for $500 to David Witter. [11]

Witter died on July 24, 1888, and the other heirs quit-claimed their share of the subject real estate to the widow, Elizabeth Witter, on October 19, 1891. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Witter sold to Joseph Cook a tract off her acre beginning at a point 52.17 rods south of the northwest corner of Section 8, then east ten rods, then north 66 feet, then west ten rods, then south 66 feet to the place of beginning. [12]

Mrs. Witter died on October 20, 1911, and O. C. Pennock was named administrator of her estate. Four years later, on December 9, 1915, Pennock sold the lot and improvements to P. V. N. Myers. The lot's boundary commenced 58 rods south of the northwest corner of Section 8, then east along the north line of Cedar Street ten rods, then north 93 feet, then west ten rods, and then south 93 feet to the point of beginning. [13] Myers retained title to the subject property for four months before selling it to O. C. Pennock on April 15, 1916. [14] On March 3, 1919, the Pennocks sold the subject real estate to John Kelch. [15] Four and one-half years later, on September 13, 1923, Kelch and his wife conveyed the property to G. Dewey Linn. [16] Linn tore down the historic Second Hoover House and built a new dwelling.

C. A Structural History of the House

1. The First Owners

The Second Hoover House was built by David Hildebrand between 1868 and February 1870. Charles Berryhill, its second owner, was a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and an Iowa pioneer. He had crossed the "Indian line" in 1838 to trade in Poweshiek's village. The Sac and Fox bartered their furs and pelts to Berryhill for trade goods. When settlers began to emigrate to Iowa, they found Berryhill "speaking the Indian language and . . . laying the broad foundation of that fortune which in the various enterprises of his later career contributed to the business prosperity" of Iowa City. [17]

Berryhill, who lived in Iowa City, owned a large number of lots there, many with improvements, and farms in Iowa, Carroll, and Louisa counties, in addition to the Second Hoover House. Early in 1874 Berryhill went insane and was taken to the state asylum at Mt. Pleasant, where he died on May 29, leaving a widow and several children. When the will was probated, it was found that claims against the estate totaled $22,260.87. To settle these, it was necessary for the administrator to sell much of the deceased's real estate.

During the period—February 12-March 5, 1879—Administrator Samuel Sharpless advertised in the Iowa City Republican that on March 19, at 2 p.m., "at the front door of the Court House, in Iowa City," he would sell for cash "the following described real estate, the property of the estate of Chas. H. Berryhill, deceased, or so much as will be necessary to satisfy the unpaid claims against said estate." Among the 47 properties advertised for sale was a one acre tract (including a frame house) in the north part of the northwest quarter of Section 8, Township 79 North, Range 4 West. [18]

2. The Hoovers and the House

Jesse Hoover attended the public auction, and as the highest and last bidder purchased the frame house and lot for $140. Ten weeks later, on Tuesday, May 27, 1879, Jesse Hoover moved his family out of the Cottage and into their new two-story home, causing the editor of the Local Record to write, they are "now as snug as a bug in a rug." [19]

Nineteen months after he moved into the house, Jesse Hoover at 5 a.m., on December 13, 1880, died of rheumatism of the heart, complicated by gastritis. [20] Tragedy struck again on February 24, 1884. About midnight Huldah Hoover, a minister, was strickened with typhoid, complicated by pneumonia, and died at 10 a.m. [21] The three Hoover children—Theodore, Herbert, and Mary—went to live with relatives.

While they were alive, Jesse and Huldah Hoover insured their property with Springdale Mutual Fire Insurance Co. The first policy, written on June 2, 1879, insured the dwelling for $250 and its contents for $150. When this policy lapsed on December 13, 1883, it was renewed, with the dwelling again being insured for $250 and the value of the contents boosted to $200. [22]

3. The Witters and the House

Lawrie Tatum, as guardian of the Hoover children, sold the property on April 5, 1886, to David Witter. Immediately after acquiring title, Witter made some unspecified improvements. [23] Eighteen months later, in the autumn of 1887, he added a "monster new kitchen" to the east elevation of his house. The carpenters were Joe Branson and Hamilton Barnes. [24]

David Witter in the spring of 1888 rented his property and moved to Logan, Phillips County, Kansas. There in mid-July he suffered a heart attack from which he died on Sunday, July 29. [25]

The widow, known to West Branchers as Aunt Lib, continued to live in Kansas until the mid-1890s, renting her property at the northeast corner of Downey and Cedar streets. Like the Hoovers, she insured her real estate with Springdale Mutual. The first policy, written on December 18, 1889, insured the dwelling for $400, its contents for $100, and the barn for $50. [26]

Upon her return to West Branch, Mrs. Witter lived in two rooms of the house and rented the remaining space. Among her renters were the parents of L. C. and C. A. Rummells. They lived at Aunt Lib's from about 1907 to 1910. [27]

Aunt Lib Witter died in her home on October 29, 1911, and her funeral services were held in the Friends Church on the 30th, with burial in the West Branch Cemetery. Out-of-town people in attendance at the funeral were her brother John J. Pickering and his wife of Vinton, a nephew Charles Christie and his wife of Iowa City, and nephews Frank Bell and Orval Pickering of Pekin. [28]

4. Dewey Linn & Glenn Brown Raze the House

The property, following Lib Witter's death, passed through a succession of owners before it was acquired by John Kelch, a retired farmer, in March 1919. Kelch erected a garage on the southeast corner of the lot and made plans to build a new house. Before these could be consummated, the man who had purchased his farm was unable to make the payments, and Kelch replevined the farm. This dashed his retirement plans, and he offered to sell the Second Hoover House and lot to Glenn Brown. But before any consideration changed hands, Kelch sold the property to Dewey Linn. [29]

In September 1923 it was reported in the local newspaper that Linn had purchased the Second Hoover House at the northeast corner of Downey and Cedar. Assisted by Glenn Brown, Linn was razing the house. In its place, he would build a bungalow. [30] Much of the lumber (window casings, studding, framing, rafters, etc.) was salvaged by Linn and Brown and used in construction of the new house. [31]

Construction of the new house was well along by mid-November, and readers of the West Branch Times learned that there would "soon be another attractive addition" on south Downey. [32] The house was closed in, but it was not ready for occupancy until early spring. It was the first week of May 1924 before Linn sold his new bungalow to Mrs. Alice Gongwer, with the new owner to have possession in the near future. [33]

Subsequent to the establishment of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, the house built by Linn and Brown and now owned by Mrs. Kofoed, was moved. It is now owned by Kenny Larimer and located at 244 South Maple Street.

D. Reminiscences of the Second Hoover House

1. Tad Hoover's Recollections

The Second Hoover House, Tad recalled, had "five large red maples in front and a wild crab apple tree behind, where lived a 'katydid' who made the hot summer nights uncomfortably vibrunt."

The house was near the foot of Cook's Hill. It was a splendid hill for coasting, Tad recalled

and, as I remember it now, unbelievably long. Starting from the top near the entrance to the Chambers' place, one glided past Joseph Cook's orchard on the east side of the road, and then his house; then with a heart raising swoop along by . . . [P.T.] Smith's lot with the cottonwood trees; then on the west side past the Coombs' place, where lived George and Mamie Coombs; then on the east side again past . . . [P.T.] Smith's house where lived Addie and Eddie and Willie Smith; then past the entrance to the lane [Cedar Street], from which teams might suddenly emerge. . . ., then past our home, and out upon the flat embankment leading to the bridge by the little brown house [the Cottage]. [34]

2. Mattie Pemberton's Recollections

Aunt Mattie Pemberton recalled that the Second Hoover House had two rooms downstairs and a like number upstairs. The front door gave access to the kitchen-dining room, "the north room (parlor), and the stairway up stairs." There was a lounge in the southwest corner of the kitchen, with a picture of fruit above it. There was an oil cookstove, and Huldah frequently invited Mattie over on Saturdays to bake a cake. It was here that her brother Jesse "smoked mullen leaves on advise of [an] Iowa City dr. for throat trouble." Whenever Huldah had "neuralgia of the stomach," Aunt Mattie would stay with the children.

In the north room (the parlor) was a "ingrain carpet, a new lounge, lace curtains and a whatnot and so forth." At Christmas, the Hoovers placed their Christmas tree in the room's northwest corner.

Jesse Hoover died in the upstairs north bedroom. Mrs. Pemberton recalled her brother telling their father that "he would like to go [to heaven] if he could take his wife and children with him." Little May was crying in her mother's arms.

Soon after Jesse's death, Aunt Mattie chanced to sleep one night in his bed. She could recall the heartache, as her brother had "always been so good to her." [35]

3. Mrs. Lou Henry Hoover Writes of the House

Mrs. Hoover, after discussing the Second House with her husband and Theodore and checking their recollections with Aunt Mattie Pemberton and Harriette Odell, wrote:

Its dining-room-and-kitchen was much the same as that in the little house, but now there was a "parlor" also. "Here . . . other pieces of furniture were added with pride, an ingrain carpet, a new lounge, lace curtains and a whatnot and so forth. The same wood stove [was] moved over, but now there was also a useful modern, little oil stove to help out." Later they got one of the new anthracite baseburners which had to be filled with coal only twice a day, so one could awaken in the morning with a warm fire still glowing behind its isingglass windows. There were two stories to this house, two bedrooms upstairs. [36]

4. L. C. Rummells' Recollections

L. C. Rummells lived in the Second Hoover House in the period 1907-10. His parents rented the north part of the house from "Aunt" Lib Witter, who was no relation. Mrs. Rummells was paid $3.50 per week for taking care of Mrs. Witter, while the Rummells were charged six dollars rent on their one-half of the house.

Mr. Rummells, after checking with his Mother, reported that there were four downstairs rooms. The front door provided access to the downstairs of the "duplex" and to a steep stairway leading to the second floor. The downstairs apartments consisted of two rooms, with similar floor plans. Living rooms occupied the original section of the house, and kitchens the addition built for David Witter in 1888. The south kitchen (Mrs. Witter's) may have been larger than the Rummells', and had a door opening from its south elevation onto the back porch. There were brick chimneys at opposite ends of the house. Upstairs there was a north and south bedroom, entered by doors opening off a landing. There were no closets in the house.

South of Mrs. Witter's kitchen behind her living room, was a back porch. Between the back porch, and the south property line was a well and pump, from which was obtained the best "tasting and coldest water" in West Branch.

Under the north living room was a cellar, with a dirt floor and plastered walls. Access to the cellar was gained by a stairway opening directly below the stairs leading to the cellar. [37]

5. Glenn Brown's Recollections

Glenn Brown helped Dewey Linn raze the house in 1923. His recollections of the floor plans coincide, in general, with L. C. Rummells. The only difference pertains to the kitchens. In 1923, Brown stated, there was only one kitchen, and it was located in the addition at the rear of the house. Perhaps, after Mrs. Witter's death, a partition had been removed and the two small kitchens converted into one large one.

Brown, who has been a contractor and carpenter, estimated the length of the house at 28 feet and its width at 14 feet. The kitchen addition was about 12 x 14 feet, and the adjoining porch 8 x 10 feet. He located the well and cellar in the same positions as Mr. Rummells. He reported that Linn had covered the well with a block of concrete.

When Linn and Brown razed the building, they found that the house had double walls. To a height of about three feet above the flooring, the space between the walls was filled with soft brick, laid in mortar, to combat rats. There were laths on the inside of the 2 x 4 studs, with weatherboarding nailed to the outside of the studs. There was no sheathing above the sills. [38]

E. Photographs of the Second Hoover House

1. Photograph, Circa 1882

The subject photograph details the west and south elevations of the structure. The house is weatherboarded and the roof shingled. There is no front stoop, and there are two windows in the west elevation and a similar number in the south elevation. There are two brick chimneys—one at either end of the house. The lady in the yard is Huldah Hoover.

2. Photograph, Circa 1910

This photograph details the west elevation of the Second Hoover House. Except for the storm door, which has replaced the screen door, no changes have been made to this elevation in almost 30 years. The boys in the yard are the Rummells Brothers, L. C. and "Stub."

3. Photograph, Circa 1907

The subject photograph details the south elevation of the subject structure, and provides indistinct details of the east elevation and the kitchen built by David Witter in 1888. Aaron Eaton's trees and outbuildings obstruct the view and prevent the viewer from ascertaining much detail. The kitchen chimney and shed roof may be seen.

4. Photograph, Circa 1920

This photograph details the west and south elevations of the house. In the background can be seen the south elevation of the back porch, which with the kitchen, was built by David Witter. No changes have been made to the west and south elevations of the house in the years since it had been the Hoover's home. Copies of this photograph, as well as the other three, are in this report.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006