Day 3 of a virtual journey through Iowa .
Refreshed by a good night’s sleep , we wake up early and dawdle over a continental breakfast before setting out for the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site in West Branch , 13 miles away. We arrive just as it is opening and spend a few minutes at the Visitors Center , familiarizing ourselves with the layout and deciding which attractions we want to concentrate on ; there are many things to see.
There is much to admire about Herbert Hoover , our 31st President , who helmed the nation from 1928-1932. The son of a Quaker blacksmith , he was orphaned early , was brought up by his aunt and uncle , obtained a degree in Geology at Stanford , worked as a mining engineer in Australia , China and many other countries , traveled the globe and made a fortune by dint of hard work. His wife , Lou Henry , a banker’s daughter whom he met at Stanford is no less praiseworthy. Theirs was a marriage of equals. Unfortunately for Herbert Hoover , he became President at the onset of the Great Depression and is mostly remembered today being unable to cope with it . This is unfair because the factors leading to the Depression existed before he came into power and he did not have enough time to deal with them .He did a lot of good things and ,both before and after his presidency , he did a lot to combat famine all over the world. Tapped by Harry Truman , a Democratic president , to help with famine relief , his efforts helped feed a billion people . The nine galleries at the museum help set the record straight about this remarkable man . You can access them and other fascinating artifacts of the period at www.hoover.archives.gov .
On the grounds of the museum you can see the two room cottage which his grandfather and father built with their own hands and where he was born. There is also a replica of his father’s blacksmith shop. On the hillside nearby are the simple graves of Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover . Standing there , reflecting on the journey of this orphan boy who rose to the highest office in the land , one feels a rush of emotion both for him and for the country where such a journey is possible. Or should I say ” Was possible ?” It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to duplicate it in this day and age .
In a reflective mood , we drive to the Amana colonies about 20 miles away. The inhabitants are descendents of a German sect , known as the Inspirationists because of their belief that God through the Holy Spirit inspired people to speak ( prophesy). Persecuted for their beliefs , they first settled and prospered in Buffalo , NY. Attracted by the cheap , fertile farmland in Iowa , they migrated there in 1843 settling on 26.000 plus acres and establishing seven villages :Amana , East Amana, West Amana , South Amana , High Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana and Homestead . Amana means ” Remain true” and for almost a century they lived a communal life , working their farms collectively . The great Depression brought changes as they realized that the communal life inhibited individual goals and aspirations . The Amorites then formed a corporation to mange the farms , mills and other enterprises. Today, the name Amana is mostly associated with high quality household appliances ( refrigerators , dishwashers, dryers etc) but Amana has other ventures including business services.
The villages are beautiful with brick or clapboard houses and well-kept gardens. It is a very bucolic setting and we might have spent more time except that we had been to Maytag Farms the previous day. We made some quick visits to various shops such as the General Store , the Blacksmiths shop, the Communal Kitchen , Winery and smokehouse. The displays were all enticing and the people very friendly . With great restraint , we resisted buying everything in sight , contenting ourselves with some salt water taffy.
For lunch we repaired to the Ox Yoke Inn which features German specialties as well as steaks and ham. Since we wanted to keep light , we stayed away from the Kassler Rippchen , Sauerbraten , Jaeger Schnitzel , Knackwurst and Bratwurst . Instead, we split a BLT and a Grilled Multicheese sandwich. Sated but not stuffed , we headed to Cedar Rapids and the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library which has a remarkable backstory.
The museum is located beside the Cedar River and in summer 2008 the river overflowed its banks almost completely destroying the museum . Over the next three years , the museum was completely re-built on an adjoining site 12 feet above the original site. The new museum building, three times as large as the original , is imposing , a stark contrast to the Herbert Hoover Museum which we have just left. There is a beautiful amphitheater and outdoor terrace next to it and inside is an impressive Grand Hall with a huge chandelier. It has interesting exhibits of jewelry , textiles ,lace , beaded costumes and other artifacts that offer a glimpse of Czech and Slovak history . Our visit coincides with a travelling exhibit of pins belonging to Madeleine Albright , the former Secretary of State . ( I didn’t know of her Czech ancestry). The pins are ornate and beautiful and we spend some time admiring them . Another exhibit that commands our interest is a photographic collection Prague 1968, photographs documenting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. You can sample it at http://paulgoldsmithphotography.com/
That was quite enough sightseeing for one day so we find ourselves a motel , rest for a while and go for dinner to the Granite City Food and Brewery. I reward myself with a Northern Light Lager and my wife has a glass of white wine as we peruse the menu . My wife decides on the Crispy Shrimp Tacos and I settle for the Granite City Reuben . Very good , very filling . Afterwards, we walk around for a bit and then its back to the motel room and sleep.