From a very young age, I've been interested in presidents and politics. I even have (though it's mostly in my parents' attic) a fairly substantial collection of political and presidential memorabilia. When I was in 6th grade at Sheldon Middle School, we did a "Night of the Notables". As such, each of my classmates and I had to pick a 'notable' person, research them, write a report about them, memorize it, dress like them, and then present it to a room full of our fellow classmates as well as teachers, siblings, parents, and grandparents.
Who did I pick?
President Herbert Hoover, our 31st President and the only one to ever hail from Iowa.
On a recent Saturday, which included stops in Clarence as well as Mount Vernon, I also made a visit to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. West Branch is located in Cedar County and is about 10 miles to the east of Iowa City along I-80.
It's an amazing campus. Not only does it include the very nicely curated museum and a separate research library building, it's also where the President and First Lady are buried and the site of his birth home and other historical structures.
Once you get to the grounds, you'll find that there is ample parking. They even have parking to accommodate tour buses.
There are nice sidewalks leading you to all the various destinations on the property. I would encourage you to either start inside with the museum or at the historical village with his birth home. I think it is prudent to end with the burial site. If you start heading toward the birth home and the Quaker Meeting House, you'll encounter a nice sign with an overview of the entire campus. Maps are also available.
Here's a view from the sign looking back toward the library.
Below, is a picture from the sign as you look toward the historical village.
Nearby is the statue of the Statue of Isis, the Goddess of Life. It was donated by the people of Belgium in gratitude for Hoover's humanitarian work there. I would encourage you to read more about this statue on the Department of the Interior's website.
Herbert Hoover's was raised Quaker and there is a Quaker meeting house on the premises. You can walk inside.
Continuing along, you go over a small creek that I imagine young Herbert would have played in or nearby. There's also several other historical structures that were built before, during, or after Herbert's time in West Branch. They have some nice signs to describe them.
There is a one-room school room that would be very similar to what the schools would have looked like when Hoover was growing up.
Herbert's father was a blacksmith and his shop is available to look at. During certain times a year, you can visit and see demonstrations.
The home where President Hoover was born is also available to walk through. It is certainly cozy with not much room or privacy.
There is no cost to wander around the grounds, visit the historical buildings, walk on the paths, or pay your respects at the grave site. However, there is a cost to go through the museum. I do think it's well worth the expense though. If you would like to visit often or take advantage of other benefits, you can even become a member.
As you enter the museum, you are immediately greeted by some wall displays as well as a cut out of the President himself.
They have a fantastically well done permanent exhibit on the extraordinary life of Hoover and then an area that can be utilized for shorter-term exhibits.
The current shorter-term exhibit is titled "Tall Grass to Knee High" and it is a collaboration with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. They are celebrating their centennial this year and this display takes a look at how farming in Iowa has progressed over the last 100 years. It's pretty interesting. If you show your Farm Bureau membership through the duration of it's time the exhibit is at the library, you can get free admission to the whole museum.
In addition to some things for kids to play with, they also have a map on the wall that allows you to put a tack where your family farm is located.
As you head into the permanent exhibit, there are a couple of quilts on the wall that are made from t-shirts of schools that have been named after Hoover. Des Moines has Hoover High School, for example.
There is a huge globe on the floor that depicts all of the areas of the world where Hoover's humanitarianism made a difference. Pretty remarkable.
As they say, he was an uncommon man.
The permanent exhibit starts with his childhood and winds through several rooms. You could get through it quickly or you could spend hours. It's fascinating stuff as it chronicles the extremely high points and the extremely low points.
Speaking of Adventure, my friend and I were too late to catch the final showing of "Herbert Hoover: an American Adventure".
Before you depart the museum, they of course invite you to check out the gift shop.
Back outside, you should make the brief jaunt to see the grave site. It is handicap accessible.
The grave site is quite beautiful and peaceful.
If you have more time and the ability, you can explore some of the grasslands nearby.
If I would have had more time, I would have wanted to explore more of West Branch, especially the historic downtown. Next time!
Kind of half way between the museum and the downtown is the archives which is available to researchers, etc. I do not think it was open when I was there. At least, I did not try to go in.
I am a Hoover fan and though I might be biased, I do think this is one of the best "tourist" spots in Iowa. It's less than a mile off of I-80. You could spend a morning or afternoon here. I predict that by the end of your visit, you would leave with a far greater appreciation for perhaps the most famous Iowan of all. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.