It may be hard to imagine, but Downey Street was once a very important thoroughfare. Downey Street was the entrance into West Branch from the south. If you look up and down the gravel trace of the old road, you can see scattered hitching posts in front of several of the homes.
Did you notice how most of the homes along this street have either four-board or picket fencing in their front yards? For modern-day homeowners, what looks like a decorative choice was actually one of necessity for the folks living on Downey Street. When “Bertie” Hoover was a boy, he probably saw local farmers drive their livestock to market down the middle of this wide street - right past his front door. But if it weren’t for those fences, a stray pig or cow might have actually wound up eating the vegetables in his mother’s garden or stepping on the tulips in their front yard!In the 1870’s, the streets of West Branch were either “dusty thoroughfares or muddy bogs.” When it rained Downey Street would turn sticky with mud and lots of wagon wheel ruts. It wasn’t unusual to see a team of oxen or even a horse and buggy get stuck. At the time of Hoover’s birth in 1874, West Branch didn’t have sidewalks. However, by 1885 the city had finished over three and a half miles of wood plank walkways. The sidewalks here today are representations of those late 19th century boardwalks; they may be slippery when wet, so please watch your step.
Did You Know?
General Land Office surveyors who first came to Iowa commented that the territory was fit only for waterfowl. Eighty-five percent of Iowa used to be soggy tallgrass prairie. More...