In 1871, Herbert Hoover's father and grandfather together built the 14 by 20 foot cottage in the town of West Branch; population 350. By 1880, the population had swelled to 500. The community was largely farmers and those that supported farming like Herbert's father who was the town blacksmith. Like much of the community, the Hoover family were members of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) with guiding principles of honesty, education, hard work, simplicity, generosity, and faith. In fact, the Friends Meetinghouse was just across the street from the Hoover cottage. When Herbert was 6, the Hoover family sold the blacksmith shop and moved to a larger house. Unfortunately, that same year, Herbert's father died of a heart attack. Just 4 years later, his mother would also lose her life to pneumonia. Orphaned at 11 years old, Herbert boarded a train bound for Oregon to live with his Uncle. He would eventually attend Stanford's first class, work as a mining engineer in Austrailia, and become the first President of the United States born West of the Mississippi River.
The first thing that struck me on arriving at the site was just how small the house is. It is tiny--14X20 feet, about the size of the back deck on our house. By the time the Hoovers moved to a larger home, they had three kids! Photos in the museum show a home full of friends and family. It really forces one to think about what is important and what we really need. The house was restored by the Hoovers in the 1930s as were many other buildings surrounding the cottage including the schoolhouse, the Friends Meetinghouse, and his father's blacksmith shop. Smaller and more rural than Tampico, Herbert must have had a similarly free childhood. "I prefer to think of Iowa as I saw it through the eyes of a ten-year old boy. . . filled with the wonders of Iowa's streams and woods, of the mystery of growing crops. . . . days should be filled with adventure and great undertakings, with participation in good and comforting things", recollects Hoover of his childhood here. Despite leaving at 11, it made an obvious life-long impression on him, as he chose this place for his Presidential Library as well as his grave site.
I did find myself thinking lots about the early tragedies in his life, especially losing his parents. As a parent of three (one the same age as Herbert was when his father died), I couldn't help thinking about just how young they passed away--both were just 35. And I just can't imagine what that train ride out to Oregon must have been like for young Herbert. An 11 year-old boy on a train through the West in 1886! I also thought about the unexpected external events that can forever alter the course of your life. Just 8 months into Hoover's presidency, the stock market crashed, bringing on the Great Depression. It is how we respond to these events that really defines who we are.
For the pictures, I tried to find ways to convey just how small this house is. I composed long shots through the trees and the landscape. I also found some great reflections in the cottage windows that show some of the interior space superimposed with the reflection of the open land surrounding the home. With such a small space, most of their time would have been spent outside, the Iowa land leaving a life-long impression.
**Please note--all photos are from my cell phone. The finished edit will be uploaded to the full project page accessible with the above link.