Today, we visited three National Historic Sites in Hyde Park, N.Y. Just so you are aware, Hyde Park is located along the Hudson River, about 90 miles north of NYC.
We started our visit with the Eleanor Roosevelt NHS, then the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS and finished with the Vanderbilt Mansion NHS. The three homes showed a vast difference in wealth and how the people who lived there felt about it.
Eleanor’s home, Val Kill, was a cottage that she and FDR built several years into their marriage. Up until that point, they had lived in his childhood home with his mother. FDR’s mother was the ultimate overprotective helicopter mom. To put that statement into perspective, she lived 40-something years after her husband (FDR’s father) died and never remarried or showed any interest in remarrying because she had her son and could basically now devote all her time to him! Indeed, when he went to Harvard, she moved up there so she could be near him. So, the idea of Eleanor having her own home had great appeal to her. She also used the cottage as a factory, helping to train the locals in furniture making and other skills that they could use in the winter when it was too cold to farm.
Eleanor decorated this house herself and kept it very “common” and down to earth. On our tour, we all (granted there were only four of us…very cozy and intimate!) said that it reminded us of our grandparent’s homes. It was everyday furniture, nothing ornate or fancy. And she did entertain many high profile folks at this house, including Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. Even they got the basic dishes that could be replaced at the local store when broken!
From there we went just across the road to FDR’s home. As I stated earlier, this was actually his mother’s house where he grew up. It was definitely much larger and had much nicer furnishings. Nothing was completely over-the-top, but there was definitely a difference. His mother grew up wealthy and she certainly lived her life so that everyone knew – exactly what Eleanor yearned to escape. FDR continued to live in this house, even after Eleanor’s cottage was built. Back in the day, it was not uncommon for wealthy couples to have separate bedrooms. While the Roosevelts did share a bedroom at one time, his indescresions and illness (polio) eventually led to more separate lives, at least privately.
The grounds here also contained the Presidential Museum & Library, which we skipped, and the Rose Garden where FDR, Eleanor, and his beloved dog are buried.
From here we took a lunch break and went to The Apple Pie Bakery and Cafe at The Culinary Institute of America. We looked into getting dinner reservations at one of the full scale restaurants a couple of weeks ago, but everything was booked. And, well, we can only afford one fancy, expensive dinner this summer and we are saving that for our anniversary (which is one month from today).
Lunch was fabulous, though. Between the two of us, we had the chili, French onion soup, Prosciutto de Parma sandwich, crab cake and a huge slice of apple pie. While it was all delicious, both the chili and soup were a little on the sweet side for our tastes. Everything else was pretty much exactly perfect. The crab cake had very little filler and the sandwich had nice, thick slices of prosciutto. The Dutch apple pie was absolutely fabulous, with big, crunchy crumbles on top.
If you are ever in the area and want to eat at the CIA, this is definitely a good option. It was still pricey, but probably at least a third or a fourth of what we would have spent on dinner. The campus was beautiful. I’ve heard they do tours, but we have not looked into that yet. If we have the opportunity to do that another day, we just might.
Following lunch, we took a tour of the Vanderbilt Mansion (exterior pictured at the top). The Vanderbilts built their fortune on shipping and opium trade in the 1800s. The patriarch who started the Vanderbilt “empire” decided he didn’t want to break apart the fortune and left it all to just one child. He basically doubled the fortune (to what would be the equivalent of roughly $3 billion today). When he died, he divided up his fortune to all eight of his children, though not equally. The youngest son actually got the least amount of money because he was disinherited when he married a divorced woman, but his sister convinced their father to reconcile and bring him back into the will. He ended up being the only child that actually grew his fortune and ended up with more than he started with.
All the children had more money than they knew what to do with and built massive houses all over the world. This particular home that we visited today was a “small” one, comparatively… Only three stories and thirty-something bedrooms! It was designed to hold only about 16 guests, not 100 or more, like many of the other homes. It also had room for all the many servants. But there was nothing common or small about it. Everything was modeled after the wealthy homes in Europe and almost all the furnishings were European. It reminded us a bit of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. This house definitely reeked of opulence… Though nothing to the scale of The Biltmore in North Carolina (also a Vanderbilt home).
Finally, after a long day of touring homes, we drove back “home” to our camper. Our campground for the next few nights is actually about 45 minutes north of Hyde Park, in Copake. This area of the state has lots of VERY small towns. This town has only a handful of “restaurants” and only one of them really looks like anything we would go to (and we did last night for pizza & wings!). We are staying at the local KOA, which is huge. It is a very nice campground, with all the amenities you could ask for (well, everything except a hot tub… Something we are still looking for at a campground).
Another unique tidbit about this campground is the permanent residents. Generally, we are not a fan of permanent residents, but these folks do it right. The have decks, sheds, potted plants and welcome signs. Everything you would find in a subdivision. They just have a fifth-wheel as their home. This is definitely a look that we can accept. It also doesn’t hurt that these particular lots are in a separate part of the grounds from the temporary folks like us.
We will be here four more nights touring the surrounding area. Good thing it’s a great site!