If you had asked me a month ago if I knew about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I would have said “of course.” Even though we never made it that far into history in elementary and middle school, I felt like I knew all about FDR’s New Deal, Fireside Chats, his response to Pearl Harbor, and the adorable ‘lil pup, Fala, who sits at his feet at his memorial in DC. But a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Hyde Park in Dutchess County and I learned so much more about our longest-serving president. If you are a history nerd (like I am sometimes), Hyde Park is a must-visit, and is relatively easy from NYC.
If you get on the 8:45 am train from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie, the free Roosevelt Ride shuttle will meet you at the train station two hours later. The shuttle will take you straight to Hyde Park where you can find the FDR Home, the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, FDR’s retreat Top Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home Val-Kill, and the Vanderbilt Mansion.
The FDR Home where Roosevelt was born, grew up, and lived as an adult was our first stop. It was interesting to learn about FDR as a child and young ornithologist. FDR’s boyhood bird collection, stuffed by FDR himself, is still sitting on the shelves of the main room. One of my favorite collections of FDR’s still displayed in the house is dozens of framed political cartoons. The picture below is of the bed where FDR was born in 1882. I hope someone has saved the bed I was born in at Atlantic City Medical Center to be displayed at my own historical site someday.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has been recently renovated and modernized. It is awesome and I wish we had had more time to spend there. When the library was first established, it was actually the first ever Presidential Library, kicking off a trend still in style today. FDR designed it himself and it first opened in 1941. Not only does the museum touch upon FDR’s life and presidency, but the renovation now allows a teaching of the times, as some visitors may not be as familiar with what life was like for the typical American during the Great Depression and World War II.
On display are letters from the American public to FDR, his Ford Phaeton that he used to ride around Hyde Park (specially modified with hand-controls), and his desk with all of his knickknacks set up just how he had used it in the day (below). Interactive exhibits give you the details behind tough decisions that FDR had to make and ask what you might have done with the given information. You can even sit in a model of a kitchen from the 1940s and listen to clips from FDR’s Fireside Chats. There is also a special exhibit area dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt who was one heck of a lady (see her pistol license below).
If you’ve seen “Hyde Park on Hudson,” you’re probably familiar with FDR’s retreat, Top Cottage. It is where FDR hosted the King and Queen of England in the movie (and in real life). We stood on the porch and heard stories of the visit, which was not only when discussions about the creation of the Atomic Bomb were held, but also when FDR served hot dogs to the royal couple. The Queen politely declined. The porch reminded me of the porch at my grandmother’s house, which has also been the site of important conversations, although perhaps none as important (or controversial) as ending a war with an atomic bomb. We also visited Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat of Val-Kill, which felt very warm and cozy.
The new Roosevelt Farm Lane Tram Tour will begin in June and take visitors around Roosevelt’s tree plantations. I thought it was adorable when I learned that FDR listed his profession as “Tree Farmer” instead of “President.” The Roosevelt Farm sold Christmas trees and often sent them to other political figures of the time.
This trip is definitely doable as a day trip, but the train ride *is* quite long. If you have a full weekend, I’d encourage you to stay and enjoy the farms, wineries, golf courses, galleries and more in the area. Dutchess County is the perfect place to Hyde away from the city for a few days.
Many thanks to Dutchess County Tourism for hosting me on this trip. Opinions are always my own.