A Visit to the Home and Presidential Library of Franklin D. Roosevelt

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!

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York

One of the more interesting homes we have visited on our travels is the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York.    I didn’t know anything about the Vanderbilt family before we came here, but I learned much more from this historic site now managed by the National Park Service.  The Vanderbilts were once the richest family in the United States during the gilded age of the late 1800’s.   Cornelius Vanderbilt made a fortune in the shipping and railroad business and his children and grandchildren proceeded to spend their inheritances with luxurious lifestyles that have never been seen in America before or since.

They built fancy mansions on 5th Avenue in New York City as well as summer homes in Rhode Island.   Their balls and parties could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.   While they lived lavishly, much of the population around them were in poverty, such as the tenements in New York City.    Few of the Vanderbilt mansions survive today.   The New York City mansions were demolished to make way for office buildings.    A mansion called “The Breakers” can still be seen in Rhode Island and the largest home ever built, the famous Biltmore is a popular tourist attraction in North Carolina.

In 1895, Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius bought property in Hyde Park and built this mansion which he used as a retreat in spring and summer. Since he and his wife had no children, the house was left to a niece when he passed away in 1938.   She tried to sell the home and grounds without success as maintenance would be too costly.  When President Franklin D. Roosevelt who also lived in Hyde Park suggested she donate it to the National Park Service (NPS) she agreed.  The home that once cost $2,250,000 to construct and furnish was given to the public to enjoy.   It was opened in 1940 as a tourist attraction.

We took a tour of the house with a park ranger who was a wealth of interesting stories and information and who shared that his grandfather once worked for the Vanderbilts in the railroad business.  In the picture above is our guide with one hand on the rail talking to the group.  We learned about the generosity of the Vanderbilts in helping the citizens of Hyde Park, often giving gifts and charitable donations.   When the Vanderbilts stayed here there were as many as 60 staff working at the home and property.   Although children were never welcomed into the home, when the Vanderbilts came across little ones outside on their estate they always had a treat to give them.

At Frederick’s death, he was worth $76 million which in today’s money would be over $1.2 billion.  Much of his money was left to their many servants, the amount dependent on how long they had worked there.  Some received amounts that enabled them to buy a home in town and one servant even received a home and land on the Vanderbilt property.   The Vanderbilts did not believe in leaving their money to family members who they felt did not need it.   Their servants had been the ones to take care of them and deserved to be rewarded.  I found this to be admirable and rather touching.

We learned that bad feelings over inheritances can sometimes last for many years.   Our guide shared that while making plans to visit the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina he contacted the National Park Service (NPS) office that manages the site.   He thought since he also worked for the NPS they would be willing to give him a special tour.  The response from the NPS at Biltmore was no, they could not accommodate him.  They did not associate with the Frederick Vanderbilt side of the family.   George Vanderbilt, the builder of Biltmore was the brother of Frederick.

When the 54 room mansion was given to the NPS, the home had been left intact with all furnishings.   This made the visit even more interesting, since we were able to see how the Vanderbilt family actually lived.  Although originally a part time residence, Mr. Vanderbilt lived here full time for 12 years after his wife passed away in 1926.   It appeared that no expense was spared to make the home as lavish as possible.  Much of the furnishings and decoration came from Europe, obtained from wealthy families who had fallen on hard times.   In addition, it was designed with all the latest modern conveniences such as electricity, central heating and indoor plumbing.  Above is a picture of the master bedroom.

We were also able to walk around the lovely gardens which are still maintained.  In the picture above I am standing at the pool of the formal Italian Garden.   The property features a very nice view of the Hudson River and surrounding area.

After our visit I wanted to learn more about the gilded age and the Vanderbilts so I bought a book in the gift shop titled “Fortune’s Children, the Fall of the House of Vanderbilt” written by Arthur Vanderbilt.  One sentence in the Introduction was especially striking.   It noted that when 120 Vanderbilt descendents of the original “Commodore” met for the first family reunion in 1973, there was not a millionaire among them.   Although once the richest family, over the years, the fortune had been depleted.   A historical lesson that wealth can certainly be fleeting!

Thanks for reading!

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in the Hudson Valley

When researching the Hudson Valley before arrival, I was intrigued while reading about the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.   I like unique and different attractions, things we don’t usually see in our travels and the Aerodrome seemed to be that kind of place.   In 1958, Mr. Cole Palen, an airplane enthusiast started his collection with a few planes and created America’s first flying museum of antique aircraft.  Although he passed away in 1993, his legacy lives on and more than 60 aircraft from the early 1900’s until World War II are exhibited here.   In several hangars you can view some of these planes as well as antique cars and motorcycles.   What really sounded fun though were the weekend air shows and I got us tickets online for a Sunday afternoon when they put on a World War I dogfight featuring pyrotechnics, a World War I tank and antique autos.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find the show had been canceled due to weather, which was not surprising since we knew that a thunderstorm was in the forecast.  To make up for the canceled show, they offered visitors a guided tour of the aircraft in the hangar and also said they would bring several of the planes out on the airfield and fly them around as long as the weather held out. In one hangar is the plane pictured above, a 1912 Thomas Pusher.   In 1965, Mr. Palen flew this plane from Rhinebeck to New York City to appear on the TV show, “I’ve Got a Secret.”  A panel of celebrities had to guess his “secret” as to why it took him several days to travel to NYC since it is only about 100 miles.  When it was revealed the age of the airplane he flew, Mr. Palen explained that he had to make frequent stops to fix the plane as things kept falling apart on it.  The plane was even brought to the TV studio so the audience could see it.

Viewing the aircraft on display was interesting, but the highlight was seeing the planes fly.  The grass airfield was quite a bit larger than I expected and had a real look of days gone by since it is located out in the country, surrounded by a thick forest with some old fashioned buildings as storage for planes and props for the shows.  There weren’t many people there watching so lots of room to wander plus the opportunity to talk to the people that work here about the aircraft.

The 1909 Bleriot is the oldest regularly flying airplane in the United States and the second oldest flying anywhere in the world.   It is also the first type of aircraft to be mass produced.  It was one of the planes that took to the air here.   Well, it kind of took to the air with great difficulty.   It was awhile before they could get the engine started and after a few false starts down the field it finally left the ground only to soar a few yards before touching back down.  Two different pilots attempted take offs and we sat in suspense wondering if the plane would ever take flight.  It was fun seeing such an old plane and the brave pilots giving it a go since it looks rather rickety.   Below is a picture of the plane as it lifts off.


I liked the striking color and markings of the Albatros, which in the 1970’s was built here as a  reproduction of the 1917 original.

This type of plane was introduced as a German fighter plane during World War I.

This third plane that was demonstrated was an original Fleet Finch from 1942, built during the “Golden Age” of flight.

During this time period airshows were popular with flying exhibitions and daredevil stunts.  After showing us some maneuvers, the pilot did a stunt with toilet paper – dropping a roll while in flight and then attempting to cut it in half with the wings.

As you can see from the photo above, the dark clouds were really starting to come in, so it was decided that the flying should end.  We headed back up to the museum and hangar area and then a torrential downpour started.   Rainstorms on a regular basis seem to follow us on our journey and today was no exception.   But we still had a great time at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.   Because we didn’t get to see the scheduled show, we were given a rain check.  Since we were leaving and couldn’t use the tickets, we gave them to a man who had grilled up Mark some delicious hot dogs at the little RV snack shop.  He seemed excited about going as he had never been before and said he would take his wife.  As so often happens, it all turned out for the best – we had fun visiting the museum and seeing some old aircraft in flight and someone else will get to see the planes fly as well.   In the picture below, Mark heads down to get the truck during the downpour at the Aerodrome.

Thanks for stopping in!   In the next blog more Hudson Valley exploring with a visit to a home of the once richest family in America.

Finger Lakes – Exploring With Matt and Emma

While staying in the beautiful Finger Lakes area of New York, Matt and Emma joined us for several days of camping.   I had mentioned in my previous blog that they were spending a few months in their RV traveling around the U.S. and Canada.   The Finger Lakes is wine country, one of the top producing wine regions in the U.S.   We were amazed at the number of wineries, many near Cayuga Lake and our RV park.   I had to chuckle when we went through the small town of “Lodi.”  In the Central Valley of California where we used to live, there was also a wine town called “Lodi” about 40 minutes from our city.   In addition to wineries, there are also a variety of farms to check out.   For a few days we decided to explore this agricultural heart of New York State.

I don’t really have a wine palate since I only occasionally have a little wine, but it was fun to do some tastings at a few wineries.  Our first stop was at the winery above located in an old red barn.    After another winery stop we headed to the Lively Run Dairy, a goat farm that gives tours of their cheese making operation.

We were given a platter with a nice variety of goat and cow milk cheeses to sample.  They were delicious!    After our little cheese fest we headed into the barn to see the goats.  The highlight were the kids that we watched being fed milk out of a special container.  When they were done, they hung around us happy to get petted or hugged as we were introduced to the farm’s milking goats.  Through a window we got to see the wheels of goat cheese that had been recently made and they also had a film for us to watch of their operation.

With our goat cheese purchases, we left to visit another farm down the road as they advertised having sheep milk yogurt which Matt was wanting to try.  When we arrived we found no one around and followed the path to their small store located in one of the cutest ivy covered barns I have seen.

This is another one of those self serve operations that sold meats and dairy products.   On a scale you weighed out your meats, added up the cost with a calculator, wrote down the cost and left your money.   Although they did not have sheep milk yogurt Matt did find some when we made a stop later at a local Amish grocery store.

Our next stop was an Amish farm that produces maple syrup.   The owner and his kids came to the shop to greet us and he explained the sugar making process and even showed us a little of the equipment they use.   Compared to most store prices, the maple syrup was quite reasonably priced here.   I noticed on the shelves that there were some jars of sliced pickles as well as apple sauce.  Mark had wanted me to pick up some pickles earlier at the local Amish store but they were out of them.   I asked the owner about the pickles and he explained that the jars on the shelves had actually been canned for the family, but if anyone was interested in buying anything they were agreeable to sell it.   So we left with maple syrup and pickles.

We had the most gorgeous sunset that night at our campground, one of the best we have seen.  The sky just kept getting brighter until it looked to be on fire!    It was hard to tear my eyes away!   One of the park owners who lives just down the hill was also out watching the sky.    All of a sudden he yelled out, “I just love living here!”   Yes, life in the Finger Lakes looks to be pretty good.

On our second day we headed to a U-pick strawberry farm where we filled some baskets with ripe berries.   There is nothing quite like picking berries, a fun experience and hard to stop once you get started.   Emma said it was her first time picking them.    Matt and Emma were intrigued with the duck eggs for sale here as they had never tried them before and decided to get a carton.

After strawberries, we drove to the nearby small town of Seneca Falls.  It was here in July 1848 that the first woman’s rights convention was held with almost 200 women attending.  The National Park Service has a visitor center and museum with information on important people and events associated with the movement.   The building where the convention was held has also been restored.   It was an interesting stop.   Seneca Falls also lays claim as being the inspiration for Frank Capra’s film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which was set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls.  It is a favorite film of mine and the town has a small museum devoted to artifacts from the movie.   As you walk around you see signs as well as memorabilia in some of the stores celebrating the film.  There is actually some doubt whether Frank Capra who visited here had Seneca Falls in mind when he made the film, but the town remains convinced.

For dinner Emma made grilled cheese and tomatoe sandwiches with goat cheese from the dairy we visited as well as fresh tomatoes from the strawberry farm.    They were so yummy!   I am a big fan of both grilled cheese sandwiches and goat cheese!  To go with our sandwiches, Matt and Emma made some tasty Mimosas with ingredients from a winery stop.   In the picture below, you can see the jar of Amish pickles that perfectly complemented the grilled cheese.   I made strawberry shortcake for dessert that night with the strawberries we picked.   For breakfast the next morning Emma made us duck egg omelettes with more goat cheese and pancakes with the local maple syrup.  We made good use of our farm purchases!

After dinner we played a little disc golf since the park has a course close to our site.   We all really enjoyed the open space at this campground, especially our grand pooches, Zida and Harry who loved running all around the fields.  Of course playing disc golf often involves searching for a wayward disc and one of ours went right into some thick bushes.  Emma and I tried to convince the guys to avoid possible bug bites and poison oak but they were determined to find it.   Eventually though they had to just give up.

Having Matt and Emma camping with us made our stay here even more special.  Alas, we had to go our separate ways to more adventures, but we would see them once again in Maine in a few weeks.

Thanks for checking in!   In the next blog we move on to the Hudson River Valley of New York.

Camping In the Finger Lakes

After Pennsylvania, we spent a week camping in the Finger lakes area of New York.   The Finger lakes get their name because they are long and skinny like fingers and look like the shape of a hand on a map.   Carved by glaciers, there are eleven of various sizes and are located in the western part of the state.   We camped near Cayuga Lake which is the second biggest of the Finger lakes.   Our site was located in a secluded area out in the country with plenty of space to wander around the fields and ponds of the RV park and enjoy open views.  Above is a picture from the top of the park looking down on our side of the campground.  You can see just a tiny bit of Cayuga Lake.   This is a beautiful area that we visited some years ago before our days of RVing.   At that time, we flew from California to Buffalo, rented a car and then drove around visiting several of the lakes and seeing many waterfalls the area is known for.

We had one of our first glimpses of Cayuga Lake when we visited the Busy Bee Market and Cafe for breakfast one morning.  The views of the lake were so nice.   Cayuga is the longest of the Finger lakes at a little under 40 miles.  There are homes along parts of it and it is such a scenic location that you can’t help thinking how great it would be to live there.   I was especially taken with this cute little boat house sitting on the edge near a dock.   It had one comfy room full of chairs and couches that looked out on the water.

Here is another photo of the lake, a restful and relaxing spot.

One day we took a short drive to Taughannock Falls State Park located next to Cayuga.  The centerpiece of the park are the falls, which drop 215 feet inside the huge 400 foot gorge.  The name Taughannock comes from the Native American Algonquin language meaning “full of trees.”   We first viewed the waterfall from the overlook.  You can really see how immense the canyon walls are from this viewpoint.   Far below are the tiny dots of people near the front of the waterfall.  After driving down to the main area of the park, we would be walking to that area next.

From the main parking area you can either walk on a path through the woods for a mile or on the wide stream bed of Taughannock Creek to the falls.   Near the beginning of the walk are small falls flowing over large blocks of rock creating a pretty cascade.

As you walk you will see a variety of rock formations in the stream bed like in the picture below.

You could access the creek at different points on the main trail, so if you got tired of walking on the rock or through the water you could get back on the trail.  Here is a view of the creek bordered by towering cliffs on one side.  It was great to see so many people enjoying the water on this warm summer day.

The very large pool at the base of the falls would be a great swimming area, but is off limits as large pieces from the surrounding cliffs could fall at any time and cause injuries which has actually happened.   The waterfall is hard to photograph because it is in shadow, but I did my best.

After our trek to the falls, we hung around in the park by the lake.  I really enjoyed the massive stone benches like the one I am resting on, created from the slabs of rock so prevalent at the park.

I hope you enjoyed a look at this part of New York State.  In the next blog, more on our Finger Lakes visit!