DOWNSHIFTERS' DIARY: Our very own Presidents' Day

After a leisurely morning in the Chicago suburbs near O'Hare Airport, we got on the road and headed for the Amana Colonies in Iowa. We never made it.

Heading west on I-88, we spotted a sign that said, "Birthplace of President Ronald Reagan". In the spirit of carpe diem, we decided to take the exit and make the side trip.

It was well worth the detour.

Located about 15 miles off the interstate, the little town of Tampico, Illinois (population 800; name pronounced "TAM-puh-koh" by the locals) looks much as it did when Reagan was born in 1911, though we were told the town was "bustling" at that time, with a population of 1,200.

The museum is a study in contrast to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA. While the crowds in California arrive early, I doubt that Reagan's birthplace has seen any crowds -- save school children on field trips -- for quite some time. And that's a good thing.

The docents gave us a personal tour of the apartment where the Reagans lived when Ronald was born. We actually stood in the room as opposed to viewing it through protective glass, and we were allowed to take our own pictures, like this one of the room in which the future president was born.

All told, we spend about an hour and a half being shown about by the docent, who had been the town's postmaster prior to her retirement, and her husband. it was time very well spent indeed.

Back on the interstate we continued west, crossing the Mighty Mississippi River near Davenport, Iowa; driving through the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area; past the World's Largest Truckstop; and on toward the Amana Colonies.

But as fate would have it, we soon spotted another sign: The birthplace and Presidential Library/Museum of Herbert Hoover. A quick discussion and decision, and it was off on another historical side trip.

Despite arriving only an hour before closing time, we saw enough to see what an amazing place it is! In addition to the museum and library, caretakers have recreated the essence of the village that Hoover was born into: a Quaker meeting house, the blacksmith shop where his father worked, a two-room (not "bedroom") cottage where Hoover was born.

If all you know about Herbert Hoover was that he was president during the Great Depression and that Hoover Dam is named after him, you'll be surprised by what you find at the museum.

Hoover was an adventurer, avid traveler, accomplished engineer, and philanthropist. He started many charitable feeding programs after the Great War, including the program that was the forerunner of CARE.

Though his bent was toward Socialism, his legacy speaks for itself. A wonderful side trip for any history buff -- and devoid of the crowds you'll find at libraries of more recent Chief Executives.

So, while we started our day with the intention of seeing the Amana Colonies, other interests prevailed, and I ended the day thinking of my favorite quote from Lao Tzu: “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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