Ronald Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911 in Tampico, Ill. The family moved to Dixon, Ill., which “Dutch” always considered his hometown in 1920, when he was just shy of 10 years old. He was known by the nickname “Dutch” because his father described him as a “fat little Dutchman” at birth and his mother always gave him a Dutch boy haircut. He lived in Dixon through high school and his family didn’t move from town until after he graduated from college. In all, they lived in town for 17 years.
The house at 816 Hennepin Avenue that remains today was only the family’s home for three years, from 1920-23 but it was the one that stayed in the future president’s memory and he remembered having a lot of fun here. The house itself was a rental; the elder Reagans never owned a home until Ronald bought them one in California.
The house was built in 1891 for $1,500. The Reagans rented it for $15 a month. You must tour the house with a docent. Begin your visit at the Visitor Center where you will pay your entrance fee of $5 and, depending on when the next tour is taking place, you can watch the nine minute video either before or after you tour the house. The visitor center is next door to the house and has the small gift store and four rooms of exhibits.
You enter the house like a guest would through the front door. Go upstairs you will see the bedrooms first. The boys, Dutch and Moon (Neil), shared a bedroom and a bed. There was a third bedroom but their mother Nell often brought home the men she rescued after they were incarcerated and she used the third bedroom for her projects. There is not a lot of original furniture in the house but there is a quilt in the bedroom and an iron wash tub. A rocking chair was often used by the future president at a neighbor’s house to listen to the radio; she willed it to the house on her death. At home, the boys who called their parents Jack and Nell had no radio and were encouraged to read by their mother.
The house is quite simple, what you would expect of an average working family. It has a warm feeling however and it did for the family as well. The President and Mrs. Reagan returned here on Feb. 6, 1984. His brother Neil came as well and they ate dinner in the dining room and then removed a brick in the brick wall of the fireplace to show where he used to stash his boyhood pennies. What was interesting is that Neil does not appear in any of the photos, by his own request.
You are free to wander around the grounds and to look at the Model T that is on display in the garage. Local members of a Model T club restored her to operating condition and at that time she was named Bessie. The home is open for visits from April to November seven days a week. It is only closed on Easter Sunday.
This is a very interesting place to visit and though it is a little off the beaten track, it is worthwhile to come for a visit. This writer was en route between Moline, Ill. and Sheffield, Ill. and it was only a slight detour. It is located about 100 miles west of Chicago and 42 miles southwest of Rockford. This is the only childhood home mentioned in Ronald Reagan’s autobiography so it obviously was important and memorable to him.