Location: Kinderhook, New York
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren was born in 1782 in Kinderhook, New York thus being the first President born a US citizen following the Revolutionary War. As Kinderhook was an isolated Dutch village on the Hudson River, he grew up speaking Dutch at home and became the only President for whom English was a second language. His formal education ended before the age of 14 when he apprenticed to the lawyer Peter Silvester in Kinderhook where he studied law in his spare time being admitted to the Bar in 1803. Being active in politics since the age of 17, Martin served in the New York State Senate from 1812-1820. In 1817 he created the first political organization that encompassed all of the New York, the Bucktails, in opposition to the ruling party, the Democratic-Republican Party. He was the leading figure in the Albany Regency, a group of Bucktail leaders that dominated state politics for over a generation. He was the prime architect of the first nationwide political party, the Jacksonian Democrats or Democratic Party that relied on party loyalty and patronage to prevent contentious sectional issues, including tariffs and slavery, from becoming national issues that would divide the party. In 1821 he was elected to the US Senate and supported Andrew Jackson to win the Presidency in 1828. In 1829 he was elected to be the Governor of New York, but he resigned this position two months later to become President Jackson’s Secretary of State. In this position he was a close adviser to President Jackson and in 1832 became Vice President during Jackson’s second term as President. In the 1835 Democratic Nominating Convention he was unanimously nominated to run for the Presidency, which he won over the Whig candidates in 1836. As promised Van Buren intended to continue the policies and programs of Jackson, including tariffs, banking, and free trade. All of this contributed to the Panic of 1837 which the federal government had very few tools to deal with. The resulting economic depression lasted five years with record unemployment and hardships. While President, Van Buren purchased the mansion in Kinderhook that he admired as a child for $14,000 along with 125 acres, from the Van Ness family. This Federal style mansion was situated along the Post Road that ran from Albany to New York City making it an ideal location from which to continue his political life after his failure to achieve a second term as President in 1840. From this home he ran both this campaign and a failed attempt to achieve the Democratic Party nomination in 1844. In 1848, he ran as a third party candidate for the Free Soil Party that was primarily opposed to the extension of slavery to the territories claimed from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. His opposition stemmed not from any strong opposition to slavery, but of inclusion of more slave states that would weaken the political power of New England and New York in particular. From his home, named Lindenwald, he held many political meetings with opposition leaders, as well as, supporters around his large table in the entry hall. Soon after purchasing the property, Martin Van Buren’s son, Smith, was given the task of enlarging the Federal style mansion who hired the renown architect, Richard Upton, to make the improvements. These “improvements” included a four story brick tower on the backside in the Italian style, a Gothic style front porch, attic dormers, new kitchens, running water, a furnace, and many additional rooms. The entry hall was expanded by removing a central arch and grand staircase to create a large room to hold the large meeting table. The walls of this room were adorned with 51 wall paper panels from France depicting an elaborate hunting scene. The final touch was the house was painted yellow and Van Buren remarked ” the idea of seeing in life, the changes that my heir would be sure to make after I am gone, amuses me.”
1) The Visitor Center is a very small building which looks temporary in nature that houses a very small gift shop and enough chairs to seat a dozen people to watch their video. The video does a very good job of giving the history of Martin Van Buren and his home.
2) The grounds surrounding Lindenwald are well maintained by NPS with many trees lining the circular drive in front of the house. There is a small section of the old post road that is not paved in front as well that gives a good sense of what visitors would have experienced as they approached. There were originally two guard houses on either end of the circular drive, of which only one is still standing. These houses were used as living quarters for the seasonal workers that would be employed in the fields and orchards.
3) Tours of the house are limited to 12 people per hour and must be purchased in the Visitor Center. From the outside you can see the strange appearance given to the house during the 1845 additions. The four story tower in the back corner especially looks out of place on a house that is otherwise Federal style. I strongly recommend taking the tour of the house as you will see many interesting things. First, the entrance hall has been restored to its 1800s appearance. The French mural of hunting scenes all around the room is very impressive. Where possible the mural has been restored and where necessary replaced by the French company that is still in business today. Van Buren loved gadgets and the largest one is the large central table. This table folds up like an accordion to create a number of sideboards that could be placed around the room for less formal affairs. The other rooms downstairs are a large sitting room for the ladies and study/library for the men. Upstairs are the bedrooms for the large Van Buren family, especially when his grandchildren were in residence. The third floor was also bedrooms and servant rooms, however, the main servant area was the basement which was also used for storage.
4) On the grounds outside of the house is a short walk with interpretive signs that provide background on the Dutch farming practices of the time along with the orchards and fields of the estate.
5) Across the highway there is a series of nature trails that wind through the second growth forests. There are a number of number posts along the path, but without a trail guide explaining their purpose they added nothing to the walk.