West Branch Grows, 1851-1874

Trees in autumn foliage line a gravel street and obscure 1800s houses.
Historic homes and trees line the trace of Downey Street

NPS Photo by John Tobiason

West Branch was barely a year-old settlement when Baltimore native Aaron Baker came in 1852. He claimed the free land he had received from the United States government for his service in the Mexican War. Baker promptly sold all 160 acres of it for about a dollar apiece.

By the time John Wetherell purchased five acres in 1869, the price of land had risen considerably. The new real estate developer set about subdividing his property into town lots, and also decided to name a nearby street after himself. The four historic homes on Poplar Street today, the E.S. Hayhurst, Mary Wright, James Staples, and David Mackey houses are the same that stood there when Herbert Hoover was a child.

West Branch boomed between 1869 and 1873. New buildings constructed in the neighborhood near the Hoovers’ small cottage on Downey Street included the Laban Miles House, the Amanda Garvin House, and the Methodist Church, which is no longer standing. When the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad arrived in West Branch on December 20, 1870, two hundred of the town’s residents celebrated with a picnic dinner.

When Herbert Hoover was born in 1874, West Branch was beginning a long period of growth and general prosperity that lasted through the early part of the 20th century. Commercial downtown buildings from that time remain and are part of the West Branch Commercial Historic District.

Farther up Downey Street to the south were the P.T. Smith and Hannah Varney houses. Those homes, and others, were neighbors to the Hoovers in their second home, the "House of the Maples," which no longer stands.

Later additions to the neighborhood included the L.J. Leech and C.E. Smith houses, both part of the historic site today.

Historic Homes

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    Last updated: November 17, 2018