Road Trip Route: Philly to Iowa (Part 3)
Day 7 – Muscatine, IA to Grand Rapids, MI
Muscatine, IA to West Branch, IA
About 45 minutes from Muscatine is West Branch, where Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, lived the first nine years of his life. However, even though he never lived there again, the small town story and traits were both foundational in his life and also in the narrative of his political career.
Herbert Hoover Museum and Library
Probably the smallest and most modest of any of the presidential libraries, the tan (seemingly almost dusty) color palate of the Hoover Museum and Library feels like it mimics the landscape outside. (That’s not to say that all of Iowa is brown, but certainly some parts are.) The library offers a full look at Hoover’s life plus his presidency and beyond. Although it is not always the case with all presidents, Hoover was alive for the building and original dedication of his library, so his influence is undoubtedly etched in the design and presentation.
Hoover National Park Site
Just down the road from the Museum/Library, some of the original buildings from Hoover’s childhood are preserved for visitors to tour as part of the Hoover National Park Site. There are some information signs and ranger tours scattered through the day, but if you are planning on guiding yourself, I recommend doing the library first and then visiting the National Parks Visitors Center to offer context and background information on the buildings.
West Branch, IA to Tampico, IL
About an hour and a half from West Brach is Tampico, just over the state line in Illinois.
Ronald Reagan Birthplace
In stark contrast to the glitzy and obviously well funded Reagan library in California, the Ronald Reagan Birthplace seems all but forgotten, except by the very kind and enthusiastic tour guide. Although the birthplace is supposedly in downtown Tampico, we saw very few other people, which tells you something about how small the town really is. The museum downstairs is basically just pictures of Reagan so, if you know what he looks like, feel free to skip ahead and have a guide show you around the apartment upstairs. For a president that is lionized by the current Republican party, I found it surprising that the birth site isn’t better funded and publicized. (In buying the apartment, somehow the museum also acquired the bank area next door, so feel free to ask if the guide will show you the enormous safe and old banking equipment as well.)
*We were looking for somewhere to grab lunch and eat in the car heading out of Tampico. We couldn’t find anything, so either do research ahead of time (internet signal was spotty when we were there) or wait until you get back on the highway.
+ With Reagan being the current darling of the Republican Party and also a very recent president, there are plenty of resources on him, his presidency, and his stance on issues. Here is a Salon.com article that works to put Reagan’s policies in the context of his greater time period and here is a HuffPost piece about Reagan’s comments on racial violence.
Tampico, IL to Grand Rapids, MI
During this five hour trek, time zones strike again and you’ll gain an hour by the time you get to Grand Rapids. (Although depending on traffic near Chicago, you may lose it again.)
Founders Brewing Co
Apparently Founders is a big deal in terms of beer. (Grand Rapids is billed as the city of beer, so I guess that makes sense.) I have no idea but the food was good and we happened to be there on the some sort of live-music tribute to Bob Dylan, so I have no complaints.
Day 8 – Grand Rapids, MI to Norwalk, OH
You’ll wake up to no driving (at least in the morning), so enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading out to the Ford Museum!
Gerald R. Ford Museum
Gerald Ford is unique among presidents in that his library and his museum are not together in one building. (Supposedly Obama is following a similar model.) The Ford Museum is located along the waterfront in Grand Rapids, and also serves the gravesite for Mr. and Mrs. Ford. In terms of libraries, I will always say that Ford’s has the best organization and flow. It manages to cover his entire life concisely without becoming too overwhelming. The exhibits are a good mix of artifacts, text, and interactive features.
+As much as I want to offer a different resource, the UVA President Archive is so good. Here’s the entry for Ford.
Grand Rapids, MI to Ann Arbor, MI
About two hours across the state, go from one Michigan college city to another.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
Housed on the campus of the University of Michigan, Ford’s Library is really just a big room on the ground floor of the archives building. If you’re not already in Ann Arbor or hell-bent on seeing every single library (like me), it may not be worth a specific trip.
*If you’re looking for a place to have lunch, you can’t find a better selection of sandwiches than Zingerman’s. This is definitely one of those places that is perpetually busy, so make sure you aren’t in a rush.
Ann Arbor, MI to Norwalk, OH
Another two hours will bring you out of Michigan and int Ohio. We stayed with friends in Norwalk, which is why this seemingly small town was our final destination for the night.
Day 9 – Norwalk, OH to Mentor, OH
Norwalk, OH to Fremont, OH
Because we stayed with friends in Norwalk, we went a little out of our way. The most efficient route would be to stay in Fremont (or nearby) as staying in Norwalk requires about forty minutes of backtracking.
Rutherford B. Hayes Library
Not affiliated with the National Archives Presidential Library System, the Hayes Library claims (in multiple different forms of signage) that they are the first one. For a president that probably has very little name recognition, the mansion is preserved in impeccable condition and has an exhibit that fills two floors of the visitor’s center.
+Hayes had quite the close election to get to the White House and there is still some argument about exactly what happened. Also, read my Stories from the Road about my trip to visit the grave of his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden.
Fremont, OH to Cleveland, OH
The trip from Fremont to Cleveland will take about an hour and a half plus whatever traffic you hit within the city. (We found Cleveland to be a city full of weird turns and one way roads - so good luck.)
Entombed in a towering mausoleum, somehow the inside James Garfield’s memorial is even more impressive. Be sure to climb up to the top and look out the cemetery (and see Cleveland in the distance) and descend all the way to the basement where the caskets are situated.
Cleveland, OH to Moreland Hills, OH
Once you’re sick of Cleveland, Moreland Hills is a bucolic suburb that’s only thirty minutes away.
James Garfield Boyhood Cabin
Due to scheduling conflicts, we emailed the historical association that manages the Boyhood Cabin and asked if we could schedule a tour outside of their normal hours. The guide who met us after hours (it was like 4:00 pm) was so kind and passionate as she recounted the years that Garfield spent in the cabin. She also sent us on a mini-adventure following one of the trails behind the recreated cabin to find the stones that mark where they think the original cabin was.
Moreland Hills, OH to Mentor, OH
Another thirty minutes in the car will bring you from one suburb to another.
James Garfield’s Lawnfield
If you’re not already sick of James Garfield, after this you certainly will be. Now owned by the National Park Service, Lawnfield was Garfield’s home until his assassination. His widow then made it into a presidential library and archive dedicated to her husband’s legacy. Unlike other NPS sites that are preserved from when the person was alive, this house does feel like a shrine to the deceased president.
+Having only spent 200 days in the White House, Garfield’s time is something of a blip. Here is the Britannica entry on him that covers the entirety of his life.
*The story of Garfield’s assassination and the attempt to save him is skillfully chronicled in Candace Millard’s The Destiny of the Republic. Entwining the stories of Garfield, Vice President Arthur, the assassin and Alexander Graham Bell’s efforts to develop the technology to save the president, this book is an exciting overview and reads like narrative as opposed to nonfiction.
Day 9 - Mentor, OH to Philadelphia, PA
With about seven hours to travel, try to relax knowing that you’re on your way home after a great trip!!