Aug. 22, 1891: Lou Henry, 17, poses for a photo at R.E. Nickel's Acton store | Click image to enlarge.
Another myth shattered. Traditionally, our local history literature has claimed that First Lady Lou Henry Hoover wife of President Herbert Hoover grew up and lived in Acton, that her father Charles Henry was superintendent of the Puritan Gold Mine near Acton, and that the president and first lady would visit her parents in Acton. Thanks to a recent correspondence with the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa (hoover.archives.gov), we know this was not the case.
However, there does turn out to be an actual connection between Mrs. Hoover and the community of Acton. The Hoover Library sent the SCV Historical Society a copy of a letter written by Mrs. Hoover on Feb. 10, 1938, in response to a letter she received from local historian Harry E. Heinkel, asking her about her experiences in Acton. It seems the legend of her "Acton childhood" was already well developed by that time.
In her letter, Mrs. Hoover writes:
"The inquiries in your letter of February 8 bring back to me a very vivid recollection of Acton from 1889-1891. My father loved the mountains, and every moment that he could steal away from his indoor occupation we went exploring and camping in what would be new country to us. Thus, during those years, a number of times we used Acton as a center and made trips about in various directions.
"We never lived in Acton, nor did I go to school there, although I do remember the red brick schoolhouse, which stood some distance beyond the store from the railway track.
"Across from the railway station, or 'depot,' was Mr. Nichols' store*, the only one in Acton when I knew it. Within the store were the counters and shelves of general merchandise of all sorts desired by the ranching people. Mr. Nichols* was also the postmaster, and one got one's mail there.
"I remember it very well, as I rode down on horseback two or three times a week for the family mail during the one summer that we camped in the mountains behind Acton for practically the whole of the vacation. That summer was no doubt the occasion of a tradition's being started of my father's mining there.
"It was 'mining' only in a very small way, the mining part being quite secondary to having the kind of pioneering vacation that we loved. Father and one or two acquaintances had bought an old prospect, I should say some eight miles from Acton, and he spent the summer watching the first developments toward proving the value of this property, which turned out to be nil. We camped not far from the small shaft, on which, if I remember rightly, only two workmen were engaged. My father pottered actively about, and lent a hand wherever he thought most useful at the moment.
"We all had a most entertaining summer, and were really disappointed that the mining values proved so low that there was no need to go back again on the mining venture, although we did go back occasionally in the next two or three years for a few days' riding or hunting somewhere in the neighborhood. At that time Acton was certainly not a mining center. As I remember, there was only one active mine anywhere in the neighborhood, that being some eight or ten miles away, but not in the same direction as the one which was interesting Father.
"This, by the way, was not known as the Henry mine, nor have I ever heard of a mine by that name. I was from twelve to fourteen years old during those years of our visits. **
"Not during the time that I knew it, nor do I imagine any time before that, had it been the 'busy' place of which you speak. There was only one saloon in what might be called the town itself, around the neighborhood of the station, the store, and the school, not the dozen of which you speak.
"Acton was no doubt the railroad section station between San Fernando and Mojave. There would have been the houses of those section hands, for the schoolteacher, doubtless a doctor. There would probably have been a carpenter, a tinsmith, no doubt a blacksmith's shop, and just a few such people as would be absolutely necessary to carry on the life of a very tiny village some hours from the nearest larger centers, which would be San Fernando, Barstow, and Mojave!"
History is a fluid endeavor. "Facts" change as new information becomes available. Here we have the truth from the "horse's mouth" Mrs. Hoover herself about her connection to Acton, California.
Read Lou Henry's official biography here.
* Mrs. Hoover misspells Richard E. Nickel's surname.
** The Hoover Presidential Library records her Acton summers as 1891-1895, which would make her 17 to 21 years old. Age 14 could work historically, but if she were 12, her visits would have predated Nickel's store.