History buffs will enjoy a trip to West Branch and nearby Springdale, Iowa. West Branch is a small town with a population of slightly over 2,300 citizens abutting the unincorporated town of Springdale. The town of West Branch is divided between Cedar and Johnson counties, near Iowa City.
The city was host to stops along the Underground Railroad before the American Civil War. There are 17 unmarked graves in nearby Liberty Cemetery belonging to escaped slaves that died before reaching Canada. The 17 graves are located in an undisturbed partial of land located within the western half of the fenced in three acre cemetery. It is believed that a group of Quakers, living in Springdale, assisted the freedom seekers. The Quakers abhorred the practice of slavery. To protect themselves from angry slave owners, it was common place for conductors along the route to hide evidence by burying deceased slaves without headstones.
The Daughters of the American Revolution have placed a marker at the historical William Maxson Home, located near Liberty Cemetery. The farm served as a military training location for the famous abolitionist, John Brown and his raiders during the winter of 1857-58. Brown was best known for leading the invasion of a weapons arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia.
In 1874, the 31st president of the United States of America, Herbert Hoover, was born in West Branch. Hoover was born to humble beginnings in a little two-room cottage. Although orphaned at the age of 9, Hoover achieved international success as a mining engineer and was known as “The Great Humanitarian.” The National Park Service has set aside 81 acres to preserve the natural Iowa landscape that was common place in the mid 1800’s, known as Tallgrass Prairie. The area is a garden with tallgrass prairie plants. Visitors are invited to tour the cottage and other nearby historical buildings. There is no charge to tour the cottage, blacksmith shop, Friend’s Meeting House, gravesite, Tallgrass Prairie or Visitor’s Center.
Visitors to the Herbert Hoover Museum and Library may view the permanent gallery, which is divided into nine sections, detailing the United States under the leadership of Hoover from his candidacy and his term as president from March 4, 1929 through March 4, 1933. The temporary gallery has housed exhibits including artifacts from turn of the century China, a Belgian World War I relief warehouse and other fascinating displays. Admission prices, directions, parking details and other information are available on the website.
*The photo is courtesy of Herbert Hoover's Birthplace as posted by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr’s Creative Commons.