"This cottage where I was born is physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life."
In the years following his presidency, Herbert and Lou Hoover restored the president's humble birthplace, which he called, "physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life." The small space and few material possessions reflect an ethic of thrift. The cottage was a typical starter home for a young late 19th century family. Antique furnishings represent common household items of a simply furnished two room rural home.
Family Of Five
In 1871, Jesse Hoover and his father Eli built this two-room cottage across the street from Jesse’s blacksmith shop. Jesse and his wife Hulda moved in with their young son Theodore. Herbert Hoover was born here on August 10, 1874. When “Bertie” was two his sister Mary was born.
A Starter Home
Herbert Hoover lived here only until he was three and half years old. This was the Hoovers’ first home, and although it was small it served the young family well. As Jesse prospered, the family moved to a larger, two-story house about one block south of here.
Two Rooms Inside
One room served as a bedroom for the two adults and three children, the other as a combination living room, dining room, and kitchen. In the winter, a wood-burning cook stove did double-duty inside the main room as the home's heater but during the warm months the Hoovers moved it to the back porch, which became a summer kitchen.
The home's large foundation stones came by wagon from the open prairie to the west. Timber for the board and batten cottage followed the Mississippi River from northern forests to sawmills in Muscatine, and then overland 40 miles by ox teams to West Branch. Strips of cotton fabric stuffed between the seams insulated the house. The small twelve-paned windows reduced the heat escaping the cottage.
After the Hoovers
The Hoover lived in the cottage only until Herbert was three years old. Several families owned and occupied the cottage after the Hoovers moved out in 1878. The Scellers family, who lived there from 1890 until 1934, moved a two-story frame house onto the cottage lot. They moved and attached the cottage to the back of the two-story house, where they used it as a kitchen and dining room.
As Hoover's fame spread people became interested in visiting his birthplace. Mrs. Scellers came to enjoy meeting visitors and showing them through her house. Her guest register showed that Herbert Hoover was especially popular with visitors from abroad. These people spoke of their great respect for the man who had done so much to alleviate suffering in their homelands during and after World War I.
Return Of The Hoovers
Even before Herbert Hoover’s election to the Presidency in 1928, his wife Lou Henry Hoover tried to purchase the Birthplace Cottage to return ownership to the family. The Hoovers reacquired the cottage in 1935, the year after Mrs. Scellers died.
Although previous owners had altered the two-room cottage, they never moved off of the property. Restoration began in the summer of 1938 with the removal of the two-story addition from 1890. Then the Birthplace Cottage was re-positioned 90 degrees to the south, so that its front door would once again face Downey Street.
"Memories of a Little House"
Lou Henry Hoover relied on the recollection of various family members, including Herbert's older brother, Theodore. She turned those stories into a manuscript called "Memories of a Little House," which guided the restoration and furnishing of the historic house.
Since most of the original furnishings were unavailable, the family decorated the cottage with period pieces they felt best represented the home in which the Hoover family lived.