President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Presidential Library System in 1939 to serve as a repository for the documents of his administration. The library opened in 1941. Roosevelt stated that “. . . a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”
Today, the library campus which sits beside the Hudson River is maintained by the National Park Service. It is located an hour and forty-five minutes drive from New York City and comprised of five areas: the Hyde Park residence “Springwood”, stables, garden, library/museum and welcome center for visitors.
Your Ranger-led tour begins in the Welcome Center standing around a large inlaid map of the surrounding New York area.
This map assists visitors in learning about the history of the area. The Roosevelt family had been in the New York region since the 1600s. With an overview of the family legacy, you then board a tram or walk to Springwood, the Hyde Park residence.
Springwood is the house where Franklin was born and raised. Springwood was never owned by FDR, it was inherited by his mother, Sarah, and she ruled the roost. That was something that Eleanor came to know all too well. The house had electrical power in 1908 and was enlarged in 1915 adding two wings to accommodate the growing size of the family. He was in residence some two hundred times during his four presidential terms, giving it the name the “Summer White House”. Springwood is as it was when Roosevelt died at age sixty-three in 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia. Each item in the home is authentic and boasts a large collection of bird specimens as well as naval art. The bell that was rung to alert everyone that it was time for dinner is a four-hundred-year-old Tibetan bell.
Franklin was born is 1882. He loved sailing, collecting Navy memorabilia and he wanted to attend Annapolis, but instead would graduate from Harvard and follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. FDR married Eleanor in 1905. They had four sons and a daughter. He was nominated for Vice President in 1920 but was defeated by Calvin Coolidge. He began his political career with his election to the state senate in 1910. Franklin was stricken with polio in 1921 at age thirty-nine after a visit to a Boy Scout camp in Canada, Campobello. Eleanor stayed by his side during his illness. He visited Warm Springs Georgia in 1927 which was known for its hot springs and boasted cures for polio and would go on to found the Georgia Warm Springs foundation therapy center for polio victims. He also purchased property in Warm Springs which would serve as his “Little White House”. See my companion post on Warm Springs: https://roadrunnerjourneys.com/2018/07/09/fdrslittle-white-house/. Franklin closely guarded the fact of his paralysis from polio. He requested that the press not photograph him in a wheelchair because he knew that the county would not elect someone in a wheelchair. While this was most likely the biggest open secret in the world, the press honored the request and did not publish photographs of the President in a wheelchair. In fact, the library only has 4 photographs of the FDR in a wheelchair.
Franklin was elected Governor of New York in 1928 then went on to be elected President in 1932 and would go on to be our longest servicing president, four terms, until his death in 1945.
His rooms at the estate consisted of a bedroom, dressing room and a sleeping porch with views of the Hudson. Eleanor’s room was adjacent to his.
The President hosted King George VI at Springwood in 1936. Franklin’s mother was aghast as the King viewed the many British political cartoons that decorated the walls of the residence. He remarked of the cartoon collection, “…you have some that I don’t have in mine.” It was during this same visit that the King was photographed eating a hotdog at a picnic. That caused quite a stir in the press. How could the President serve the King of England a hot dog!
The stables at Springwood were built by Franklin’s father, James, because of his interest in horse breeding. Eleanor housed prize-winning horses there as well.
The gardens are located just behind the museum and serve as both Franklin and Eleanor’s final resting place. Franklin is interred in front of the grave marker. Eleanor is buried next to Franklin. His precious prized dog, Fala was also placed near them.
The Presidential Museum is located between the home and the welcome center. The stone façade building was designed by Franklin as an archive for his presidential documents.
It has two floors of exhibits and artifacts from both of the Roosevelt’s careers. The permanent collection boasts his presidential desk and numerous other artifacts from both Franklin and Eleanor’s careers.
Eleanor is well represented in the museum with a display of some of her twenty-seven books, her typewriter and the suitcase that she carried around the world.
While the Roosevelt’s were a well-matched political duo, Eleanor did not seek the political life. In 1918, she discovered that Franklin had an affair with Lucy Mercer. She said of the discovery, “The bottom dropped out of my own particular world…,” The couple remained married most likely because Franklin’s mother and other aids believed that a divorce would have been political suicide. Both Franklin and Eleanor’s legacies of inclusion endure today.
The library hosted its 75th anniversary in July.