Friday, June 01, 2007

Hooverville: West Branch, IA

By the generations that survived the Great Depression, President Herbert Clark Hoover is often viewed unfavorably. Many hold him responsible for the events that led to (or that didn't prevent) the stock market crash, and he's disliked even more for the fact that his programs didn't offer economic relief to the country in the early 30's. The dislike even went as far as calling the poorest shanty towns "Hoovervilles" and throwing rotten food at the president during his 1932 re-election campaign.

However, another Hooverville exists in West Branch, Iowa - a town that accepts the term as extremely complimentary. The citizens of West Branch see President Hoover as a fine native son of their community and are proud of his policies based in volunteerism and local community action. That town is the location of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

On our trip back home, we were able to make a quick stop in West Branch to visit the grounds of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. While there, one may learn about the lives of President Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.

Also situated on the grounds is President Hoover's birthplace: a small two room cottage. Born on August 10, 1874, Hoover was orphaned by age 9 after the early death of his father in 1880 and his mother in 1883. At that time, he moved to Oregon to live with his uncle.

Behind the library, in a pretty park, I ran up the path to the gravesite of Mr. and Mrs. Hoover. 31 years after leaving office, President Hoover passed away in New York City on October 20, 1964 at the age of 90, and he was given a full state funeral. (It was the third state funeral in one year's time as it was directly after the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Douglas MacArthur.)

Born into a Quaker family, Hoover's beliefs directed his social, economic, and political efforts in directions that were quite contrary to those of his contemporaries. Here is a picture of the historical Quaker (or Friends) Meeting House that is located on the site. A distinguishable feature of the older structures used by Quakers is the presence of two doors: one for use by the men and one for use by the women. In fact, many of the older meeting houses include a partition which is pulled down from the ceiling or pulled across from one side so that the men and women may hold separate business meetings.

I've now been to the presidential libraries for Abraham Lincoln and Herbert Hoover (probably the two closest to us), and I hope to see many more. Have you been to any presidential libraries? Do you remember your favorite part or the most fascinating piece of information that you learned while there?


Chris said...

How cool - I had no idea where Hoover's library was, or if he even had one. If I remember correctly, FDR was the first president to have a library built, though it wasn't his effort. Truman was the first to design and plan for his own library.

I suppose Hoover's then came after Roosevelt's. Lincoln's is pretty recent I think, but I'd love to see it anyway.

Thus far, I've been to the Lyndon Johnson library at the University of Texas in Austin, TX; and Jimmy Carter's library in Atlanta, GA. Of the two, I was more impressed with Johnson's than Carter's.

I am very hopeful to travel to Independence before long to see the Truman library, as he is about my favorite president.

I'd love to see them all before I leave this earth - but we'll just have to see if opportunity permits.

Dani said...

I have never seen a Presidential library, though in the course of being an American History professor, I'm sure I will get the chance.

Chris is right on his library history though. FDR didn't want one, it was the work of his wife who wanted to find a way to memorialize his efforts, without dealing with his mistress. Truman put a GREAT deal of effort into his library and for the rest of his life could be seen almost every day there until his heath got so poor in the few months before his death.

Truman is my favorite 20th century president, and I would love to see his. Other than that I would enjoy to see Lincoln's, and some of Madison's papers.

strem said...

I can't believe I forgot about the Truman Library! (Correction: I guess I've been to 3.) I really cannot remember much about it, but when I visited it, I was with people who didn't care anything about it and rushed right through it. I do remember spending more time in the house where he was born... and at the nearby LDS temple too! WOW! It just vanished from my memory earlier today... so I know I need to go back again. I don't know it for a fact, but I assume the 3 I've visited are the 3 closest to central Illinois. I'll have to look up the locations of the others.

For anyone who hasn't been to the newly-opened Lincoln library, I highly recommend it!

lydia said...

I would also HIGHLY recommend the Lincoln library. I just visited it this week with my grandparents, and I LOVED it. There was also a traveling exhibit on Mary Todd Lincoln that was rather interesting.

Marcy said...

Great pictures. It would be great to make a trip and see them.

strem said...

Lydia: Was the traveling exhibit the one with Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses? If so, I think it was so interesting to see what she wore.

If it wasn't, you'll have to tell me what they have displayed now.

Marcy, if you come this way, I am sure we could find some tour guides for you!!!

Marcy said...

I will have to plan a trip out there somtime:) I really do.