Location: Hyde Park, New York
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Franklin D Roosevelt’s father, James Roosevelt purchased approximately 1 square mile of land along with the 15 room house built in the Italianate style in 1866 known as Springwood. After many improvements the house was remodeled in 1915 by FDR adding two fieldstone wings along with a tower and a third story to the main structure. This more than doubled the size of the house in order to accommodate his growing family. FDR was born in the second floor tower bedroom in 1882 and continued to consider Springwood his home even though it was owned by his mother, Sara, who did not pass away until 1941, just 4 years before FDR died. Sara continued to run the house even though FDR married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905 and had 5 children born in the house. In addition to the home, there is the carriage house and stables that were very important to his father James Roosevelt who raised prize winning thoroughbred horses. The memorial garden is planted with many varieties of roses surrounding the tombs of Franklin and Eleanor. The National Historic Site is also the location of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. The Presidential Library is the first Presidential Library and the only one to be constructed by a sitting President. FDR designed and built the Library to hold his vast records of his public life as New York State Senator, Assistant Secretary to the Navy, New York Governor, and President of the United States. Built in 1939-1940 it was completed before the end of his second term as President as he did not anticipate being elected for a third term. By the time of his death during his fourth term in 1945, it was already overcrowded. Today the Library also holds an extensive museum of his amazing political career and personal life.
1) The Visitor Center is one part of an immense building that controls access to the Historic Site and houses the FDR archives. Here you purchase your tickets for the house tour and museum. Since the Presidential Library and Museum is separate from the National Historic Site, the interagency pass only cuts the entrance fee in half. The Visitor Center also contains an excellent movie about FDR’s life and career that you must see, even if you are already familiar with FDR.
2) The grounds surrounding the home and outbuildings is beautifully maintained and you can appreciate the love FDR had for the forest. If you are interested you can take a hike through the woods across the highway from the house that FDR had turned into an experimental forest under an agreement with the Forestry Department at Syracuse. Unfortunately, our time was taken up with the house and museum and we did not have enough time to hike the forests.
3) Springwood is a lovely home, although the 1915 expansion leaves a mix of styles. The terraces in the front and back are a beautiful addition and made my wife jealous as she loves large porches.
4) You can also see that the 1915 expansion also made the interior a little strange. The entrance hall is beautifully furnished, although not in the way you would generally think as an entrance hall. The entire south wing extension on the first floor is devoted to FDR’s study which makes this the largest room in the house. Since the house was donated to the NPS upon the death of FDR, it has all the original furnishings which is great. You could spend hours just looking at all the items in the study.
5) The second floor has guest bedrooms and separate bedrooms for Sara, FDR, and Eleanor in the south wing. The north wing was primarily for servants.
6) The carriage house has been converted to public bathrooms, so except for the exterior there is not much to comment on. The stables, however, still had the stalls for the horses along with their names. The tack room is spacious and tiled, which was a surprise.
7) The rose garden was just coming into bloom when we were there and would be more spectacular in a couple of weeks. FDR requested to be buried at the sundial in the rose garden and Eleanor was added in 1962 when she passed away.
8) Even though the house was well worth the visit, the best feature for me was the Museum. Covering two full floors, the museum contains an excellent set of exhibits spanning his entire career. I am familiar with most of FDR’s legacy during World War II, however, my understanding of how he dealt with the Great Depression in his first two terms was sketchy. I spent two hours learning about this part of our history alone. They even have the complete text of his first inaugural address that literally told Congress to get behind him or get out of the way. The changes he made in the First Hundred Days were outrageous and thank goodness we seem to be coming out of our own Great Recession, I would have liked to have seen some of these same actions taken today.
9) In the basement you can see some of his extensive collection of model ships and his car, the Sunshine Special, that he had modified to drive without using his legs that never recovered from polio. It is too bad the lighting was kept so low as you could not really see all the ship models behind the glass screens.