Since I had planned out trip to circle around to the west of New York City, the trip up to Poughkeepsie from Delaware Water Gap stayed away from any large cities. First, it was north along the Delaware river within the Recreational Area back to Milford, PA and then along I-84 to our next campground. It would have been an easy pull, except that we forgot it was Monday of Memorial Day Weekend. Milford had blocked off the main drag for their parade! This would have been no problem if we were not pulling a 35 foot trailer behind us. We had to navigate on some narrow residential streets with heavy traffic coming to the parade until we could get to the entrance of the Interstate west of town. Unfortunately from this exit until the one we should have gotten on was under major construction meaning one lane and very slow. What should have taken us 10 minute became 45 minutes because of the parade. In any case, we were a bit later, but still was at the Sylvan Lake Beach Park just after lunch. While this campground was okay, it was one of the worst we have stayed in. It was rundown and needed work and it did not have any pull through sites. Thankfully, our site was in their meadow which meant there was wide open spaces to pull up into and back the rig in. I practiced straightening up the RV in the site since we had so much room and learned a thing or two in the process. We met a nice gentleman who attempted to help us back in, that was full timing in his RV, along with his wife who was visiting relatives in Florida at the time. We did have a sewer hookup, but they made the run from the RV slightly uphill which was going to make it a chore to empty the hose when we pull out. I was also not impressed with their bathrooms which were old and the door was permanently propped open which meant there were plenty of critters sharing your time. Their laundry facilities were also locked up and it appeared they were using the area for storage, which meant Kal was going to have to find a laundry in town. Except for these complaints, the campground had a nice view of the lake and was quiet all week.
Since we had already decided we were not going to take a train into New York City, there was not a lot to see in the area with regards to the National Parks. This was somewhat a blessing as we had been keeping very busy since leaving William’s exploring National Parks. We did check on West Point, which was just south of us, however, it appeared that did not have any historical areas that dated back to the Revolutionary War that we would have been interested in. In addition, they were in the midst of graduation so I expect the campus would have been a mess. This left just a couple of National Park sites north of Poughkeepsie in Hyde Park. The first of these is Frranklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site which is his estate, Springwood. It is also the location of his Presidential Library and Museum, which are not part of the NPS. We were able to get tickets for the 11:00 tour of Springwood, which included access to the Museum. Since the museum is administered by a private foundation our Interagency Pass only got us in for half price. While waiting for the tour we looked at the few exhibits about what we would be seeing. FDR’s father, James, purchased the Springwood estate in 1866 and remodeled it over the years. However, the largest change was from a 1915 remodeling done by FDR and his mother, Sara, when they added two large fieldstone wings to the either end of the house and added a third floor due to the increasing size of the family. When they did this the entire first floor of one of the wings became FDR’s study, which is by far the largest room in the house. Since the home was given to the NPS shortly after FDR died during his fourth term, nearly all of the furnishings are original from the time of his death. Therefore, the study has a lot of very interesting features and items that I would have liked to spend more time with. However, the tour is quickly moved along to the second story where you find their bedroom. It was interesting to note the Sara’s bedroom takes up most of the front of the house over the study, while Eleanor’s and FDR’s separate bedrooms were about half the size in the middle and back side of the wing. You can also see the effect of the remodeling since the original bedrooms, which are now for the children, are much smaller and cramped on the second floor. After we finished with the tour of the house, we exited through a second floor landing down a metal staircase that was obviously put it in so tours can efficiently be moved through the house. After the tour we were on our own to explore the stables, which were spacious and still had the names of the horses on the stalls, and the rose garden within where FDR and Eleanor are buried under a sundial.
By this point, it was after noon so we took a break and ate lunch in the truck. From there we went to explore the museum. It was fortunate that we had all afternoon for the library, since it is the best Presidential museum that I’ve seen. First, it was interesting to learn that FDR had this museum built during his second term as President to hold his papers and documents which he donated to the country, unlike any of his predecessors. However, FDR was elected for a third and fourth terms during WWII, so it became not only the first Presidential Library, but also the only one to be built while he was still President! You can still see the office FDR had built from where he broadcasted a number of his “Fireside Chats”, however, by the time he died his papers had vastly outgrown the Library. These are stored in the much larger Archives, of which the Visitor Center occupies one end. Instead this building is his Presidential Museum and it is massive. Beginning with rooms devoted to his childhood and early political career, there is a room devoted to his trials with polio along with his efforts to recover use of his legs and time at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, which we have visited years ago. During this period, he figured his political career was over, but Eleanor worked tirelessly to keep it alive and actively supported him for his election to New York Governor. At this point, they hid the fact that he could not use his legs as much as possible coming up with some ingenious ways to make him appear to be able to slowly walk. Following these rooms were the ones I was most interested in, his first term as President. Following President Hoover who was blamed for the Great Depression and the inability of the federal government to do anything about it, President Roosevelt was elected in a landslide because of his promise to act. In fact, they had the text of his inaugural speech where he called for Congress to either quickly get on board or get out the way. It was a strong speech that promised nothing was going to stop him. In fact, his “First Hundred Days” where he implemented much of his New Deal was fascinating. He enacted a number of programs that I would have thought would have helped get us out of our recession. I would have liked to see the troublesome banks shut down until they could be straightened out with new and stiffer regulations. I also think it would have been a good idea to create a program like the CCC and WPA to put people to work rebuilding our infrastructure rather then funding a series of “shovel ready” projects that had questionable results. In any case, I spent a lot of time learning about all the ideas he tried, some of which failed, to get people back to work and the economy working again. Unlike our current government that seems to be all about doing nothing, they at least actively attacked the problem. He was making great advances that would have led us out of the Depression, but the onset of WWII really did the trick. After two terms in office, he did not intend to run again for President, even though at the time there was not a Constitutional restriction on the number of terms. However, his party and the voting public felt it would be a bad idea to change the Presidents with the threat of war and they already trusted FDR to provide strong leadership. At the end of his third term in the middle of WWII, it was once again believed to be a bad idea to change the government so he was elected for a fourth term. An entire floor of the museum is devoted to his last two terms and WWII. When you visit the museum, be sure to go down into the basement where you can see his Sunshine Special, a convertible that was converted to be driven without the use of the pedals. He drove this car while at Springwood on the property. You can also glimpse his expansive model ship collection behind glass panels, although I wished they could have turned up the lights a bit since you could hardly see them. After this full day, we were ready to head back to the campground.
Wednesday was spent getting the laundry done, which took Kal a while to find a laundromat in town that was not too busy. I also found some time to work on this blog, although I am finding it difficult to get caught up.
On Thursday, it was back to Hyde Park to explore the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park. Even though this mansion of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of the Commodore, is 55,000 square feet on four floors, it was only a “modest” country home when compared with the other Vanderbilt mansions, such as Biltmore Estate. This is especially striking when you consider this mansion was used for only a couple of weeks during the spring and fall as a “country retreat” from the hectic social life of New York City and their summer homes. It does serve as an excellent example of the opulence and extravagance of the Gilded Age by the wealthy industrialists. The construction and furnishings cost over $2 million dollars, which is over $600 million in today’s dollars, and all but $600,000 was for the furnishings. When you look at the exterior of the mansion you are struck with how solid the construction looks. It is massive, but not overly ornate. However, when you enter the mansion you are immediately struck with the opposite impression. It is opulent to the extreme. Everything is either bejeweled or golden and meant to impress. While the rooms on the first floor were impressive, it was the their bedrooms that blew me away. Louise Vanderbilt had three huge rooms for her suite that consisted of a bedroom, a boudoir, and a bathroom. The bedroom is lavishly furnished according to the French traditions right down to the birthing rail that surrounds her bed. Frederick Vanderbilt’s bedroom was just as big, but all he had was a dressing room in addition to the bedroom. Instead of wallpaper or paint on his walls, there was a very expensive tapestry that created a continuous scene all around the room. The tapestry even covered the backs of the doors so they disappeared as well when closed. After looking at the bedrooms you get to act the part of a servant and descend through the servants wing to the basement where you find an enormous kitchen and walk-in cooler.
After the tour of the mansion we ate lunch on the lawn and then explored the formal gardens. I was surprised to learn the NPS had not be able to maintain the garden, which had all but disappeared by 1980. A group of local volunteers got permission to replant the garden and today most of the garden is back to its original splendor. Even in early spring there were a lot of roses in bloom as well as other flowers and fountains. Well worth the visit this five tier wonder of a garden. We also stopped for a quick look at their overlook of the Hudson River with the Catskill Mountains in the background. Unfortunately, it was clouding up for afternoon thunderstorms by this time, so our pictures do not capture the scene very well. If you are familiar with Currier and Ives famous paintings on View of the Hudson, they used this vista. Since there was not much more to see, we had an early day and were back at the campground by 3:00 in the afternoon.
Once again, on Friday it was back to Hyde Park. This time we visited the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Park which is on the Roosevelt estate about 2 miles from FDR Springwood. Known as Val-Kill, this small property was deeded to Eleanor by FDR, so it was the only property she ever owned. Following her learning about FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer, she began to see Val-Kill as an alternative to staying at Springwood which was still dominated by FDR’s mother, Sara. During her efforts to keep FDR’s political career alive while he was recovering from polio, she became friends with Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman, and Caroline O’Day who became her partners in an enterprise to train local farmers in making furniture, pewter, and homespun cloth to supplement their incomes during the winter months. Val-Kill Industries produced a lot of handmade products from 1927-1938 employing a number of immigrant workers, which were actively promoted by Eleanor. After the factory closed, it was converted into a home for Nancy Cook, while Eleanor and FDR continued to use the Stone Cottage for entertaining family and important and influential guests in an informal atmosphere. Following the death of FDR during his fourth term as President, Eleanor choose to give up her claim to Springwood, which she never felt was her home, and allow the NPS to take ownership. Instead she continued to live at Val-Kill when she was not on the road. She had a very active life including appointments as a delegate to the United Nations where she was the first chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the adoption of which she saw as her greatest achievements. She was also a prolific writer publishing a daily column titled “My Day”, numerous books, radio broadcasts, and speeches. The tour and movie of the property were very informative and nice to revisit a personage I recall from my own childhood.
We had a very pleasant lunch sitting on a park bench next to the pond and then went on a moderate hike through the woods behind Val-Kill. They had a phone tour that you could listen to at various stops along the walk and I learned a good bit more about Eleanor. For instance, when she was in residence she would walk this same path every day, no matter the weather. This was in part to walk the dogs, but also gave her the time to reflect on her writings or speeches. After we finished the walk, we drove over to the Roosevelt farm parking lot. This turned out to be the trail head for a couple of trails that take you to the white pine, red pine, and yellow-poplar plantations that FDR had planted. He considered himself a tree farmer and had agreements with Syracuse University to use his property as an Experimental Forest. Unfortunately, we had already worn ourselves out with the previous walk up and down the hills at Val-Kill and it was already late in the afternoon.
For the weekend, we took a break from all the driving and exploring and spent a quiet couple of days in the campground. I was able to get a lot done on this blog, so I am now only 2.5 weeks behind!!