Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Location: Hyde Park, New York

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Located two miles from Springwood, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, stands Val-Kill, the only residence that Eleanor Roosevelt owned after being deeded the property by her husband.  After a difficult childhood witnessing the death of both her parents and brother, Eleanor attended school at the early age of 15, at the Allenwood Academy in London.  Returning to America she married her fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1905 being given away by her favorite uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt.  She moved into Springwood and started a family with her new husband, however, Franklin’s mother, Sara, would live for many more years and she still had never lived in a home she could consider hers.  After Eleanor learned of Franklin’s affair with Lucy Mercer in 1918, she resolved to devote her efforts to her own public life.  She persuaded Franklin to stay in politics after his rehabilitation from polio, giving speeches and actively campaigning for his election to Governor of New York.  Franklin encouraged her to pursue her own interest and to develop the property she called Val-Kill.  In 1927, she along with Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day created Val-Kill Industries and built a small factory on the banks Fall-Kill stream.  The company was to train local craftsmen in the construction of furniture, pewter, and homespun cloth to produce supplemental income during the winter months when they could not farm.  The business was a modest success, but the pressures of the Great Depression caused them to dissolve their partnership in 1938.  However, the business did serve as a model for larger New Deal initiatives during FDR’s Presidency.  Along with the factory, the National Historic Site also includes Stone Cottage, that was used as living quarters for Nancy Cook during the years of Val-Kill Industries.  Eleanor often lived here as well instead of staying at Springwood when she was not traveling.  After FDR’s death, Springwood was given to the NPS with Eleanor’s consent and she continued to make her home at Val-Kill.  She wrote many of her most notable works at the Stone Cottage and entertained many dignitaries from around the world.

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center is located in the original garage on the property and this is where you pick up the free tour tickets for the Stone Cottage.

2) While you wait for the tour, you are free to explore the factory which has a number of exhibits about life at Val-Kill and the products produced at the factory.

ValKillFactory

3) The tour begins with a 20 minute film about Eleanor Roosevelt that provides the necessary background on why Val-Kill was so important to Eleanor, both to support a cause to assist struggling farmers that she believed in and as a retreat from Springwood and FDR’s political career (as well as her domineering mother-in-law, Sara).

RangerGuideStoneCottage

4) The tour of Stone Cottage only cover the three main rooms on the first floor.  The first are the living quarters for her personal assistant.  The second is the dining room which is set out for a buffet style meal, which was a common occurrence when she entertained guests.  The guests would get their food and move into the living room to eat and be entertained.  Except for the many pictures on the walls, the most striking feature in the living room are the chairs.  No two chairs are the same, all different styles, sizes, and shapes.  It literally looks like it was furnished by the Salvation Army.  However, the decor was on purpose, as Eleanor believed they reflected her guests who were also all sizes, shapes, and color.

DiningRoomParlor

5) The grounds include a tennis court, swimming pool (which has been filled in), pond, and grill for picnics which were a common use of the property during FDR’s Presidency.

Grounds

6) We also took a walk into the woods behind Val-Kill that winds its way up the side of the hill.  We learned that Eleanor took daily walks along this path when she was there, in part to walk her dogs, but also to gain some solitude and peace.  It was inspiring to walk the path of someone who made such an impact on our society, politics, and public service.

Pond

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