Around this time last year, as we made traveled through New England for the holidays, we took a slight detour to Hyde Park, New York for the loveliest afternoon. If you’ll also be passing through I highly recommend a visit to this National Historic Site, the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here’s the scoop:
Upon arrival to the Visitor’s Center (plenty of parking) you’ll need to get tickets for access to the actual sites. And, because this is important stuff, I wanted to be sure to tell you that there was a cafe on-site as well as vending in the gift shop if you are in need of sustenance. Or souvenirs.
The Park Ranger provides an orientation to the property, which actually contains a few sites: Springwood, the lifelong home of FDR; the Presidential Library and Museum; Top Cottage; and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage. Plus, there is a Vanderbilt Mansion site nearby.
For this visit we focused on FDR. Both Top Cottage and Val-Kill were closed that day, but even so, we had our fill of historic fun and then some.
We started in Springwood, which was a short walk away (less than 5 minutes in a slow-moving group) from the Visitors Center. On the way over you’ll pass the grounds, the site where Eleanor and President Roosevelt are buried, the stables (pop in there on your way back out for a brief audio snippet) and gardens.
Inside Springwood is rather dark, so apologies in advance for the photo quality. It is set up somewhat as if it were still in use as a home, which it was to FDR his entire life, but to preserve everything most of the windows are darkened.
Here, a peek into a sitting room and the largest space in the home:
and here is the chair in the lift that FDR had installed behind the staircase so that he could move between floors:
You’ll go throughout the first floor and the upstairs rooms. The tour takes about an hour, with plenty of time to ask the Guide questions and to daydream about what the house was like when it was filled with life. We learned a lot about FDR’s early days, and his life during his Presidency.
The part I liked the best about Hyde Park, though, was the Presidential Library & Museum operated by the National Archives. You walked right by it to get to Springwood, and you’re missing out if you skip it on the way back. The building looks fairly modest, but don’t be fooled. Most of it is underground. And it is huge.
The museum details the personal lives of the Roosevelts, and their family, while also going through the years of his four-term Presidency and all of the national history pertaining to those times. The museum itself is very new, as it just opened in summer of 2013. As you might expect, the exhibit styles are modern – and each one a different style, to keep your interest. I could have spent the entire day wandering through and still not soaked up all of the interesting tidbits,
The museum building itself was FDR’s office for the last few years of his life, which is preserved behind glass as you can see here:
Beyond the museum though, the original purpose of this was to house his papers as the first Presidential Library. To that end, there are massive archives full of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt’s papers and correspondence during their lifetimes. All in magazine file boxes, dated by month and year, on shelf after shelf. Truly incredible to behold, and hard to imagine in our increasingly paperless world.
If I had to compare the museum and library to anything I’d say it was somewhat similar to the British Library in London, which is another favorite of mine.
So, if you’re passing through the Hudson River Valley then I highly recommend whiling away an afternoon -or even a weekend – at this historic site. It was nice bit of walking to stretch our legs from being in the car, and plenty interesting.