Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Boldly-colored painting of buildings and trees on a farm-like landscape.
Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa

Grant Wood, 1931

The painting of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site landscape serves as the introduction to our Cultural Landscape Centennial Poster Series, which connects a cultural landscape from in each National Park Service region with an artistic representation of the place.

Discover the unique identities of these artists and landscapes, as well as how they are connected to broader themes of history, art, and preservation.

Quick Facts

A baby stares at the camera with interested eyes.
Herbert Hoover at age one.

NPS Photo, courtesy Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

In 1874, Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa. He spent the first eleven years of his life in this primarily Quaker, rural Midwestern community, where values of simplicity, integrity, and service to others were reinforced by his family and neighbors.

Hoover would continue on from West Branch to serve as 31st United States President (1929-1933). In the decades that followed, 1935 to 1966, the Hoover family was actively involved in the site's preservation and memorialization, culminating with the on-site burial after Hoover's death in 1964. The implementation of gravesite design and the birthplace-to-grave vista was completed in 1966.

Grant Wood

In the 1930s, another small-town Iowa boy brought his perspective back to the Midwest.

Grant Wood developed a personal painting style, influenced by painters he has studied in Europe and by the trend towards Regionalism and narration emerging in America. In his 1931 oil painting The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa, he offers the viewer a wide angle view of the birthplace cottage and surrounding landscape.

Wood re-creates the scene to show it as commemorative destination it had become, rather than suggesting how it might have looked at the time of Hoover's birth. This artistic representation reflects the character of the landscape, which is a strong example of the evolution of presidential memorialization in the United States.

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Landscape

The landscape has been divided into six distinct character areas, based on the survival of character-defining features and the ability of each area to authentically represent the historic character of the site. The overall landscape is representative of the efforts to commemorate Hoover's presidency, rather than preserving the community as it appeared during Hoover's boyhood years. Management of the landscape takes both of these periods into consideration, revealing the history and evolution of the site from presidential birthplace to presidential memorial site.
Landscape character areas at Herbert Hoover Birthplace.
A site plan from the Cultural Landscape Report shows the Landscape Management Areas and Sub-Areas (Character Areas). The landscape's boundary lines have been adjusted since this time.

NPS/Park Cultural Landscapes Program, 1999

A white fence runs parallel to a wooden walkway, above green grass.
Wooden boardwalks are the primary pedestrian circulation route near the birthplace cottage. This once-utilitarian feature has become a character-defining feature of the National Historic Site.

NPS Photo, 2010

Today, the cultural landscape includes the historic core, the presidential library-museum, the gravesite, the Isaac Miles Farm, and the Thompson Farm. It retains aspects of the typical Iowa family farm that Herbert Hoover knew as a young boy, as well as the park-like character that was developed for visitors in the post-Presidential period.

Combined, these sub-periods of significance at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site landscape reflect the site's associations with the life of Herbert Hoover. It shows the influence of the rural West Branch community on young Hoover and the influence of Hoover, as prominent politician and statesman, on West Branch.

The landscape at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site captures the life of a president, from birth to death. The rural setting, Isaac Mills Farm, and gravesite commemorate the history of Herbert Hoover and the evolution of presidential memorialization.
Photo of the Hoovers in lawn chairs beside a photo of their graves.
Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, side-by-side in life and in death.

NPS Photos

Discover more about the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site cultural landscape and plan your own visit to West Branch, Iowa at the park website.

Last updated: June 28, 2018