President’s day was originally set aside as a day to honor Washington and Lincoln and is now a day to remember and honor all American presidents. Since, Herbert Hoover is the only president to hail from the great state of Iowa, I thought it would be a good time to encourage a trip to his library and museum located in West Branch, just 10 miles east of Iowa City. We are fortunate to have this institution so close, as it is one of only 13 Presidential Libraries in the United States.
Know Before You Go
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum • 210 Parkside Drive • West Branch, IA 52358 • 319-643-5301
- Hours of Operation: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily (closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days).
- Cost of General Admission: Library and Museum – Children 5 & under FREE; Children ages 6 to 15 $3.00; Age 16 to 61 $10.00; Age 62 and older- $5.00. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site -FREE to visit and tour the grounds, historical buildings and gravesite.
- Parking: A large parking lot is located adjacent to the library where you can park for FREE.
- Food: Food is not allowed in the museum. The website states that candy and water is sold in the Museum Gift Shop. (The cooler was empty and there was no candy available the day we toured.)
- Restrooms: Clean public restrooms are located in the museum lobby.
- Prior to your visit check out the library’s website.
While You’re There
Presidential libraries are not libraries in the usual sense of the word. They are both archives and museums, built to preserve the written record as well as the physical history of our presidents. The presidential library depicts the life and times of President Herbert Hoover.
I suggest starting at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center. Here you can find information for planning your visit and you can watch a 12 minute film about President Hoover. You can also pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book for the kids to complete while you’re touring the grounds. It will make the experience more interactive for the kids. It also helps to slow them down a bit, instead of racing from place to place.
Our next stop was the Presidential Library & Museum. The permanent museum attractions begin with Hoover’s boyhood in Iowa and continue on to the Waldorf Towers in New York where he spent the final years of his life. The kids asked several questions about Hoover during the hour and forty minute drive to the Library. I’m embarrassed to say, but I really didn’t know that much about President Hoover before our visit to the Library. He and his wife were both very fascinating people.
It is Hoover’s unfortunate legacy that he was President at the beginning of the Great Depression. If you do go to the museum you will learn that Hoover was a geologist and engineer and his business took him all over the world. Because of these experiences and his Quaker upbringing he also felt the need to give back through civic duty. He gained great wealth through his career and was a very generous philanthropist and humanitarian. He is one of only two presidents to not take a salary during his presidency. In his later years President Hoover became a prolific writer and was asked by President Truman to reorganize the Executive Office.
Lets face it, kids can get antsy in museums. Luckily, the library was not very busy the Saturday we visited. And, the few others that were there, were mainly families with kids of varying ages. No one seemed to mind a loud voice here or there or the inevitable melt down by the two year old. With that said, your best bet is to make the experience as interactive as possible.
We try to relate what we’re seeing in the exhibits to our lives and what we know. Ask your kids what their thoughts and understanding of the exhibit are. For younger kids you can play “I Spy” to keep them on their toes and engaged. Before you go, download this Herbert Hoover Kid’s Activity Pack, which includes questions kids can answer while touring the museum. If you’re not in to reading all of the exhibit materials, a twenty minute movie telling Hoover’s life story is shown in the auditorium.
In addition, to the exhibits about Hoover, the Quarton Gallery features temporary exhibits relating to American history. The Signature of Baseball exhibit is currently running through March 22, 2015. This exhibit highlights Herbert Hoover’s love for baseball and includes The Kaplan Collection (signed baseballs from world leaders and heads of state); along with the baseball memorabilia of Herbert Hoover and memorabilia of past baseball heroes and local legends.
After you’ve toured the library you’ll be ready to head outside. The Hoover Museum sits on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site where visitors can tour President Hoover’s birthplace cottage, a blacksmith shop, Quaker Meeting house, school house and the gravesite of Mr. and Mrs. Hoover. This is a great time to get out the Junior Ranger Activity Book you picked up at the Visitor’s Center.
To experience both the Museum and the National Park you will need to allow two to three hours to get through it all. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity for your family to learn a bit about Iowa and world history and the types of experiences that helped shape one of our state’s most prominent figures. So pack up the kiddos and make a day of it in West Branch!
After Your Visit
The downtown area of West Branch includes a 16-building historic district, which includes the presidential library. This small town has a few dining options and a couple of quaint shops worth checking out. We ate at Herb and Lou’s on the recommendation of my neighbor. It’s a local bar/pizza joint. The pizza was quite good and the beer was even better!
Once you head home, have some questions prepared to have a family discussion about everyone’s favorite exhibit and what they learned.
What are your tips for a family fun day at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum?