It was a privilege to visit the home and presidential library of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in Hyde Park, New York. He was born here in 1882 and lived here his whole life. Called “Springwood,” the house belonged to his mother Sara who continued to reside here after FDR and Eleanor made it their home. It was enlarged to accommodate their growing family of six children. In 1940 in front of this house on election night (his third reelection as president), he told a group of friends and neighbors, “My heart has always been here. It always will be.” In 1943, he began the process of giving the home to the National Park Service so it would be available for people to visit after he was gone. FDR passed away in 1945.
We began by touring the house and surrounding property. One of our first stops was to gaze at the long driveway from the house to the main road (above). In 1921, FDR came down with polio which paralyzed him from the waist down. He was never able to walk again without assistance. Our guide told us how FDR hoped he could regain use of his legs and would exercise his body by dragging himself up and down this driveway. This was quite a feat since it is so long. Although the public knew about him contracting the disease, FDR was careful to not share that he was unable to walk unaided. He feared it would show him as a weak individual, not only in body but also in mind. There are only four photographs at his presidential library showing him in a wheelchair as he was always photographed standing with others or being helped with a cane. The house was adapted with ramps to the different levels as well as a lift to the second floor.
The home has been left much as it was with original furnishings. After FDR passed, Eleanor, who never felt comfortable living here, moved to a small cottage that was built on the property for her. My favorite room in the house was the library (above). During our traveling, we have visited a variety of historical homes, some with libraries and this was the best yet. It looked like a great place to hang out with ample room for many books. Since it is dark, photographing was difficult, hence the grainy picture.
The sitting room above has pictures on the piano of some of the many dignitaries that visited here. Notable guests included Winston Churchill as well as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.
One of my favorite “treasures” in the house is the phone located in FDR’s bedroom. The phone had a direct line to the White House. What conversations he must have had here!
The house is located in the Hudson Valley with a great view of the river. This spot (above) was a favorite of FDR and Eleanor where family, community and political events were held. When arrangements were made for the park service to take over the property, one of his stipulations was that this vista be preserved. Today, the trees that FDR planted have grown up and hide the view of the Hudson River, but it is still a beautiful sight to see.
The first presidential library ever built is located a short walk from the house. It has the distinction of being the only library used by a president while still in office. FDR served four terms from 1931 to 1945, the longest of any president, so as you can imagine there is a lot to see and take in. I spent about three hours looking at the exhibits and I walked out blinking in the sunlight a little overwhelmed from all the information. But what a learning experience about a man I knew little about. There is also a lot here about Eleanor who was an activitist and social reformer who spent much time traveling the country and meeting with citizens. She is noted in the museum as being, “A New Kind of First Lady.” We learned that although Eleanor had the devotion of millions of people, she was under close scrutiny by the FBI due to her political activities, especially related to Civil Rights. An enormous file was gathered on her, one of the largest ever compiled on an individual.
FDR used this as his office in the presidential library. It was a place to conduct government business, receive visitors and work with his books and papers. He also did several of his famous radio speeches or fireside chats from this room. In the picture you can see one of the chairs he used to move about, a kitchen chair modified with wheels.
Speaking of fireside chats, the library/museum created a few rooms to look as they were in a typical house in the 1930’s and 40’s, pictured above. You could sit and listen to several of his actual radio broadcasts. It was an interesting experience listening to the past. The broadcasts gave hope to Americans during the unknown and difficult periods of the Great Depression and World War II. His talks kept him in close contact and created a stronger bond with the American people.
As president, FDR worked on many policies and this signboard sums up some of the more important ones. Today, we can thank him for the GI Bill, Social Security, highway and road improvements, conservation and National Parks to name a few things that Mark and I have certainly enjoyed the benefits from. And of course, there are many more. It was inspiring to read about all the positive changes in our country while he was in office.
FDR used this desk and chair in the White House Oval Office during his 12 years as President. The objects on the desk also belonged to him and are arranged as they were at the time of his death. Many important items were signed here including declaring war with Japan and Germany.
It was a great day spent with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. This was our third presidential library and one of our best stops. It is certainly one of the best museums of our trip.
Thanks for spending time with us. In the next blog I will be writing about our adventures in Maine, a special state with lots to enjoy!