In June of 2018, I found myself with a week of vacation available to me and no plans at all. I Googled historic sites near me and nothing excited me. I mean, I live 30 minutes from Philadelphia, something interesting exists around every corner, but nothing caught my interest on that particular day. I sat back and asked the question I ask myself often: What period in history was I in the mood to discover? I wasn’t really sure. I decided to simply take a drive. I packed an overnight bag and hit the road. I headed north when it dawned on me that Hyde Park, NY was within a three hour drive of my home. Now THAT was very interesting to me. I had spent a lot of time in college reading and learning about the Roosevelts and so, I made the decision and brought up directions on Google Maps. I was heading to the land of FDR. As I drove, I became so excited to visit Hyde Park and to learn more about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Once I arrived in the sweetest little town I’ve ever visited, I was so pleasantly surprised. Hyde Park was absolutely charming. I found a hotel and checked in for two nights. I was so excited to get exploring that I hurried out of my hotel and headed into town.
The history of Hyde Park does not begin and end with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One might not realize that, however, while driving into this history rich town. As you cross into this tiny time capsule within Dutchess County, New York, you are greeted with banners waving, historic marker signs everywhere, direction signs pointing you to everything Roosevelt. There are pictures of both, Franklin and Eleanor, on every other light pole, and you are instantly taken in by the overwhelming sense of a charming time-gone-by. You cannot help but feel a sense of excitement to visit any of the sites and learn everything there is to know about the Roosevelt’s home and life.
I did every tour offered: Springwood (where FDR was born, grew up, raised his family, and still resided when he died. He is buried in his mother’s Rose Garden on the land of his beloved home), the Top Cottage, Val-Kil (Eleanor’s home), and of course, the Presidential Library and Museum. As I drove from one site to another, I just fell in love with the quaintness of this tiny, but historically rich, town. When my time in Hyde Park was over, two and a half days later, I knew, most definitely, I would be back.
And so, fast forward a few months to October of 2018. I, again, set out for another trip to Hyde Park. I was determined to see more than the Roosevelt history that is so prominent throughout the one road town. I ventured out and had the most wonderful time exploring the surrounding areas, which, I was surprised to discover, was filled with interesting historic sites from multiple periods in history, all within less than twenty minutes in any direction of my hotel. But I made the decision to see all Roosevelt sites again first before exploring further out. I was certain the homes would look different in the fall than they did in the summer, and I was right. Both seasons are beautiful so travel when you prefer, it will be a wonderful, scenic, time.
The Hyde Park Visitor’s Center is conveniently located inside the National Park Service Welcome Center where tickets for every tour of all Roosevelt properties can be obtained. If, like me, you think you’ll spend more than a day or two exploring, and I think you will want to do so, you should purchase the NPS Annual Pass. Not only does it help to finance the upkeep of the sites you will be touring, but, additionally, you will have full access to all Roosevelt sites (except the Library, which had an additional $10 charge), as well as some of the other historic homes and sites in the area. All Roosevelt tours start from the Welcome Center. After purchasing the ticket to tour the FDR Home, Springwood, you will be directed to a short film, which is very informative and truly sets the tone for this bigger than life historic figure. The tour begins on a gorgeous mosaic tile map of the area that denotes historic spots in the Hyde Park area.
There is a 20-30 minute discussion with your NPS Park Tour Guide while everyone stands around the mosaic map. The tour commences with a 5 to 10 minute paved, flat ground, walk to Springwood. The Ranger stops along the way and shares information that is sure to hold your interest. You gain more details of the land that Roosevelt loved so much and it really takes you back to the years he lived on the land. The story at the entrance to FDR’s burial spot, for example, is moving on many levels and should not be missed. For those whom such a distance would be challenging to walk, there is a tram that will follow the tour guide to the home so you will not miss anything along the way. Additionally, while inside the home, there are chairs for those who might find standing for long periods of time challenging as well.
The house tour takes roughly 30 minutes once inside the home and you are free to walk around as the park Ranger shares interesting stories about Roosevelt as a child and throughout the rest of his life. You’ll hear of Royal visits, family stories, and the determination of FDR as he navigated from the bottom floor to the second floor after polio. There are wonderful pictures and artifacts everywhere for your enjoyment. I found the samples of taxidermy, beautifully done I might add by FDR as a youth, in his effort to do the things that his uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, excelled. There is an owl that is just stunning. I would add the image here, but you should truly see it for yourself. The home is wonderfully preserved and is said to be in the exact arrangement as it was at the time of FDR’s death. It is truly a treasure trove of wonderful history. Beginning April 1, 2020, “Springwood will be closed for much needed repairs” (per the FDR Presidential Library and Museum FB page). Please check when it will reopen when planning your trip so as not to be disappointed. Other sites will be open for touring, including Top Cottage and The Presidential Library and Museum, among others.
The Springwood tour concludes on the second floor and when you exit, the view of the Hudson River Valley is just spectacular. As beautiful as it was in summer, it is even more spectacular in the fall. The benches, placed exactly where FDR and Eleanor sat enjoying the breathtaking views, allow you to rest, reflect, or just simply sit and feel the history that surrounds you. Take a moment to just enjoy the view….it is incredible.
The tours of Val-Kil (Eleanor’s home), and other Roosevelt sites are not to be missed. There are some very warm and wonderful stories about Eleanor while touring Val-Kil (JFK came to Val-Kil to discuss Eleanor supporting him for President….he convinced her) and also offers insights to FDR at Top Cottage. These sites allow you into the far more private space of FDR than Springwood. Both tours provide personal details of the Roosevelt’s lives, and their separate lives, which was surprising to learn. The manner in which the tour guides take you through the stories, they allow visitors to see a much fuller picture of both of these incredible people, especially who they were in the absence of the other. Be sure to take the time to watch all of the films provided, as they give details that will be discussed, but not elaborated on during the tours.
The FDR Presidential Library is a trip back in time like none other. The details of FDR’s life, runs for office, his Presidency, the hope the Roosevelt’s gave to the nation, adults, and children alike during the Great Depression are emphasized throughout the library. His famous touring car is also on hand for viewing. This is a splendid way to spend two to four hours of your time (I was in there for 6 hours, but I literally wanted to see and read everything), just learning and viewing all of the incredible historic artifacts on display. This library, the first Presidential Library and imagined by FDR himself, is more than worth the $10 admission and the part of your day you will spend there. Don’t rush…the treasures are there to be viewed, you wouldn’t want to miss a single one.
While visiting in October, I also ventured out and away from FDR and found my way to some incredible places.
The Vanderbilt Mansion is a highlight. The grounds, which you are able to drive, provide some of the most breathtaking views of the Hudson River. I took hundreds of pictures from every location. The tour of this home is free with your NPS Pass or $10 if you do not have the pass. You obtain tickets in the Vanderbilt Visitor Center, which doubles as a gift shop where wonderful books are available for purchase. The best part of the visitor center is the story of the structure itself. So beautiful and a very interesting history. Then you make your way to the mansion. The history there, in addition to the FDR connection, and the story of the land owned around the mansion is sure to hold your interest. You are able to see two floors of the mansion and they are spectacular.
The Staatsburgh State Historic Site is another not to be missed site. Built during, and honoring, the history of the Guilded Age, the tour guides stay true to the period in every story they tell. There is much to be learned about the couple who lived in this home, fascinating and connected to American history very nicely, including a link to the doomed Titanic. The home is gorgeous inside and out and the views of the Hudson River from the land behind the home are spectacular. The fun of this tour is that it is rich with fun facts connecting the house here in America with the Downton Abbey television show. Fans of both history and the PBS hit show will find this a wonderful place to spend a couple hours.
(Just a peek…..Photos were taken in public area, not intended for financial profit)
Another incredibly historic site, just a ten minute drive away from Springwood, is Locust Grove Estate. The main house was built in 1850 for the artist and inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse….yes, the same Morse as in Morse Code. Morse invented the electric telegraph between 1832 and 1835. He then, with the help of a friend, Alfred Vail, went on to invent the Morse Code in 1838. This mansion was designed and built with the view of the Hudson River very much in mind. It is a splendid tour with views that are nothing short of breathtaking. This property also boasts hiking trails through nature and an art museum, which is spectacular. There is a family pet cemetery on property that is touching to behold. This is a stop that won’t take too long, maybe an hour or two, depending if you take any of the hiking trails, which are well marked, and very much recommended. But to miss this historic property would be a shame so add this into your plans.
If you would like to have a picnic or do some camping on your trip to Hyde Park, don’t miss Mills Norrie State Park. There are ten cabins and 46 tent sites available for campers. The manner in which the cabins are tucked into the trees makes for a very private stay. You can bring your motor home or camper, but there are no hookups available. There are restrooms and showers available within a short walk from the tent sites. You can also launch your boat from the boat launch ramp and enjoy the wonderful Hudson in all her glory. Pets (2 max) are welcome in the park. This is a lovely place to walk, cycle, or just spend time relaxing under the tall gorgeous trees. There is a memorial dedicated to one of the Mills’ sons. If you do not want to camp, this is definitely a place you will want to drive through. You can drive your car all the way down to the river’s edge and ride along the water….just beautiful, especially at sunset.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one food establishment. I am not even kidding. This place is an absolute must stop and if you spend more than one day in Hyde Park, I bet you’ll eat here more than once. It is the Eveready Diner. The food here is so well priced for the quality of the meals. With the American Culinary Institute in town, it is not surprising that the food is chef quality yummy. Once I discovered this wonderful eatery, I took day trips to other locations around Hyde Park and planned to pass through Hyde Park at dinner time just to have an excuse to enjoy another meal here. Stop here…I promise you will not be disappointed.
Please indulge me as I share a tidbit of Hyde Park history that takes us all the way back to 1875. There was a resident in town who had quite a history of his own before ever moving into Hyde Park.
His name was Nathaniel Pendleton. He was born in 1756 east of Richmond in New Kent County, Virginia. Pendleton served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and participated in the Battles of Fort Washington (November, 1776) and Eutaw Springs (September, 1781). He served under Major General Nathanael Greene and was awarded a citation for bravery by Congress. His citation would be the equivalent to the present day Congressional Medal of Honor.
Pendleton became a lawyer by reading law and eventually entered private practice in Georgia, where he later served as the state’s Attorney General (1785-1786). Oddly enough, he was elected to both the Philadelphia Convention (1787) and the Confederate Congress (1789) but failed to attend either and was subsequently left out of history as a founder and signer of the United States Constitution. Pendleton was nominated by George Washington on September 24, 1789, to the newly created federal bench as one of the first Federal Judges. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789 and commissioned the same day.
Wanting to get away from the scandal in Georgia, and after resigning from his post as a Federal Judge, Pendleton returned to private practice and moved to Hyde Park, New York. While practicing law in New York, he became close friends with his former acquaintance, Alexander Hamilton. He would find himself in yet another scandal when, on July 11, 1804, he acted as the “second” in the notorious duel that took Hamilton’s life. Interestingly, Nathaniel Pendleton was indicted for being “an accessory to murder prior to the event,” but he was never tried or convicted in a court of law.
Pendleton returned to Hyde Park and focused on his private practice. He was then appointed, and served, as a County Judge in Hyde Park until his untimely death in October of 1821. Not much is known about his death other than he was traveling down Albany Post Road to collect a debt when his horse, or horse drawn cart, for reasons unknown, bolted, and was seen running wildly with no sign of control by Pendleton. It is believed Pendleton either jumped or was thrown from his horse, or carriage, and died instantly in a ditch on the side of the road. He was seven days shy of his sixty-fifth birthday. Nathaniel Pendleton was survived by five children, one being Nathanael Greene Pendleton, a future Congressman.
Hyde Park, New York is a small, quaint, little town packed full of wonderful history. I hope to visit there again in 2020 and to add to the list of wonderful places you should consider visiting. This is a town so enjoyable that I am even considering moving there, just to enjoy the peaceful small tow feel that welcomes every visitor who is just passing through or stopping in for a visit. If you are on a driving vacation, or fly in to NYC, rent a car and plan the short (less than 2 hours) drive to Hyde Park. You will forever be glad you did.
Travel well and I hope you enjoy Hyde Park, NY