Roosevelt Estate, Hyde Park, New York State

Monday, July 03, 2017
Hyde Park, New York, United States
Earlier in the trip we visited Campobello Island the summer holiday home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was born, in 1882, into a wealthy NY family in the family home, Springwood which is in Hyde Park, about 145 kms north of New York city. The family bought the home in 1866 and there was a major remodelling in 1915. FDR married Eleanor in 1905 and the house remained the centre of family life until FDR’s death in 1945.
Although this was the centre of the Roosevelt family life, Eleanor built a cottage at Val Kill, about 4 kms from the main house and FDR built a cottage, Top Cottage, about 3 kms from Val Kill. FDR was the first President to build a Presidential Library and also the only one to use it while he was still President. The library is next to Springwood. FDR donated the estate to the US people in 1943 which is the reason it has been preserved and we are able to visit it.
In the house, you get an insight into FDR’s life firstly as a young man, then as a sufferer of polio and finally as the longest serving US President. Interestingly, Eleanor never felt totally at home in Springwood because FDR’s mother, Sara, controlled everything. When she built the newlyweds a house in NYC, she built her place next door and had connecting doors put in!!! It is in the library that you see the details of FDR’s Presidency, from taking the US out of the great recession to leading it during the Second World War. The displays in the library document FDR’s Presidency until his death in 1945 as well holding hundreds of thousands of his letters and other memorabilia, including his hand-controlled car and White House desk. FDR is considered one of the three greatest Presidents along with Washington and Lincoln.
Val Kill was owned by friends of the Roosevelts and so they spent a lot of time in there. Eleanor bought it in 1945, shortly after FDR’s death, and it remained her home until her death in 1962. After FDR’s death Eleanor thought her public life was over but President Truman made her a US delegate to the UN where she became the Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She was instrumental in get the Declaration of Human Right sanctioned by the UN. In the later years of her life, Eleanor was considered the most powerful woman in the US and it was at Val Kill that John Kennedy convinced her to support him for President. She was also a passionate civil rights advocate and travelled the country in support. In fact, in 1958, despite the Ku Klux Klan putting a $25,000 bounty on her, she ignored FDI advise and still travelled into the region to give a speech. Also on the property is FDR’s cottage, Top Cottage which was built in 1938. Roosevelt used it for visits and discussion with important dignitaries and had planned to move in after his Presidency was completed.
FDR and Eleanor’s sons lived in Val Kill and Top Cottage for some years after which time both became Historic Sites and made open to the public.
Adjacent to the Roosevelt Estate, is a mansion built by Frederick Vanderbilt and, at 50,000 sq feet and 40 rooms, it was the smallest of the 40 mansions owned by various Vanderbilt family members. Unfortunately, while we were there, it was undergoing a $6 million renovation so a lot of the house was covered. Even so, it was another example of the “Gilded Age”.