Birthplace Cottage Furnishings
During restoration work of the Birthplace Cottage in the late 1930s, Lou Henry Hoover reached out to the family's relatives to see if any of the home's original furnishings still existed. Unfortunately, most had been sold at auction after Hulda Hoover's death in 1884. The furniture you see today is a combination of reproductions and period pieces.
Think about all the activities that take place in your house. The Hoovers' first home, because of its compact size, needed to be multi-purpose. Mattie Pemberton, Jesse Hoover's sister remembered that one end of the main room served as a sitting parlor. Two or three chairs and a straight-backed sofa would hold visiting friends and relatives, while a small table in the corner held a kerosene lamp to read by. A sewing basket filled with needles and thread was always within arm's reach in case Hulda wanted to darn or sew the family's clothes.
The other end of this room, which contains a drop-leaf table and a tall wooden storage hutch, functioned as both the family dining room and the kitchen. Take a closer look at the small high-chair with the rounded back. It's a replica of the one used by President Hoover as a child. Now picture trying to cook a holiday meal for your family in this 14 feet by 20 feet cottage! You'd not only have to use the table to serve the food on, but to prepare it there as well. In the winter, the woodstove did double-duty as the home's "central heating." If you look high on the wall to the right of the bedroom door, you can see where the stovepipe was connected. When the weather got warm, the family would move the stove to the back porch, which became the summer kitchen.
With no electricity or indoor plumbing, you can imagine that washing the dishes in the 1870's was a little more complicated than loading the dishwasher is for modern day families! Hulda no doubt, made sure that when the dish pan was placed on the table and filled with steaming water from the teakettle, that little "Bertie" Hoover was safely out of harm's way.
On September 1, 1876, this cottage became home to five people with the birth of a baby girl. Jesse Hoover built young Mary a graceful walnut cradle, and Hulda rocked her daughter to sleep in it, just like she had done for both Tad and Bertie. This cradle is a replica of that family treasure. The original, sold after Hulda’s death, was surprisingly found in a West Branch barn sometime in the 1930’s and eventually returned to the Hoover family.
Having long outgrown the rocking bed, 2-year old Herbert and his 5-year old brother, Tad shared a trundle bed, which was pulled out each night from underneath their parents’ four-poster. Do you think the ropes supporting the larger mattress made that bed a comfortable place to sleep? Decorative patchwork quilts, along with wool bedspreads woven on family looms, kept everyone warm when the woodstove’s fire died out in the middle of the night.
The dresser in the corner is very similar in style to the one Grandmother Minthorn gave as wedding presents to each of her daughters, Hulda and Agnes. Made by Herbert Hoover's great uncle, a cabinet-maker in Detroit, the drawers were once filled with household linens. The sewing machine, while not original to the family, is a reminder of Jesse’s growing success as a businessman, and how he provided for the needs of his wife and family.
If you’re wondering about what is covering the floors of the cottage, they’re called “rag rugs.” American families in the 19th century practiced recycling long before we did. Because cloth goods were relatively scarce and expensive, they would take discarded family garments, cut them into long strips and weave them into sections that were sewn together. The colorful rug is similar to the ones Hulda’s mother made for the house in the 1870’s. By putting layers of old newspapers underneath and fitting the rugs snugly against the walls, the floors would stay warm all winter.
As you exit, take a moment to look at the partially enclosed and covered areas at the rear of the cottage. They may have served several purposes over time, including a woodshed, storeroom, summer kitchen, and spare bedroom. It was here, in the dark of night on August 10, 1874, that blacksmith shop assistant, Elwood King was awakened to go and fetch the doctor.Just before midnight, Herbert Clark Hoover was born.