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For Roosevelt’s Retreat: “Springwood”

"All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River" FDR

I feel full of rage, The kind of rage where something trivial has gotten you upset, more upset than you deserve to be. These kinds of emotions are the ones that stop me in my tracks and have me take stock of just how lucky I am. As this thought enters my mind I am immediately reminded of the day I spent in Hyde Park. I am once again reflecting how much I was inspired by my visit to Springwood,

Springwood was the home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family. It actually was originally the home of the Delano’s, Franklin’s mother’s family. From there it was past down to Franklin and then his children, and then luckily to us.

Springwood is located in the upper part of New York State in a town called Hyde Park. Hyde Park can be mistaken for New Hyde Park in Long Island, New York. But the two could not be further apart in distance or experience. But I am thrilled that the considerable drive was well beyond worth it. The two hours plus trip brought me to a quiet little town that appears to be in much the same state as Roosevelt left it in.

When I think of Hyde Park there is one very specific location that comes to mind. It has such great significance for me and I cannot wait any longer to share it with you. It was definitely a special spot for our former President and now I know why. I was stopped in my tracks while I was listening to the tour guide tell the story. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking photos to look at later and running to keep up with the crowd. I wanted to know that when I looked back later on I had stopped, turned around, taken a breath, closed my eyes and could see both FDR and myself in the path. For me it is one, if not the most, powerful image I have ever taken or seen. It has the ability to stop whatever I am doing and/or feeling to take me back to that moment in time. Once again I know what is right in the world and that I have to keep going no matter what.

We had just left the visitor’s center (one of the nicer ones I have ever seen) and we were walking towards the presidential residence. As we walked we passed several other points of interest to explore further later on. There was the presidential library, stables, and the gravesite for Franklin and Eleanor (and their dogs).  It was hard to keep walking because I ached to go into every location but I knew that would be waiting for me. Still, that provided no comfort the anxiety was building.
It is at the half waypoint towards the estate when our guide stopped and had us look at the narrow path that had been FDR’s driveway when he lived there. Of course at that time there were no other buildings and it was a clear but long shot to the road. Even now you could easily fit a car down that path and without too much navigation have quick access to the house.
It was a gorgeous fall day, crispy but clear, and my pictures came out perfectly.  I am glad I schlepped it with me. As I turned towards the driveway facing out I learned that after falling ill very suddenly (allegedly from polio but doctor’s now believe it was Guillain Barre Syndrome) Franklin would force himself to walk this path until he literally collapsed. Then he would need to be carried back to the house, which is not that close.
He did this over and over again achieving absolutely amazing resilience to learn to live with his illness. He worked his upper body so hard that he could walk because he was using his stomach muscles to move his legs one at a time (as I type this “Lean on Me” is playing all of a sudden and I cannot let that coincidence pass). While it appears that it is the physical strength he needed to keep up that therapy I see all of the mental dominance he had to work on before he could take one step. That is where my jealousy and inspiration lies.
Yet I sit here fully able but waiting to go to the bathroom because it’s a few feet farther than I would like it to be. It is this intangible personality trait that draws me to both FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. While these men were very different in some ways, they both share that undeniable will to make it however, wherever they wanted. It must be in the genes. I am trying to learn from example. And we are just getting started.
The things I would learn or relearn about the 32nd President would continually blow my mind. I was shaking on the high of it all. If you could have seen what I felt on the inside on that day you would have sworn I was drugged thinking I won the Presidency or lotto. For lack of a better phrase, it was my “aha moment” ala Oprah.

As we approached the house it looked much different than I thought it would. It is white with green trim and still has the American flag swaying in the breeze. I feel as though someone could open the door at any moment.
We pass a window where we can look into FDR’s office, a room we will not see up close because it is part of the portion of the house that is blocked off, as is the kitchen.
Once inside the treasures were all encompassing. We weren’t allowed into the actual rooms as they had been roped off but it still provided a great vantage point. The house from the outside is very deceiving; it is quite large with over thirty-five rooms. The dining rooms had all of the fine china laid out. The studies have many bookcases filled with the classics and for a personal touch there were several hutches with numerous birds, which was the hobby Franklin had as a child. He had a couple of hundred of all various species. He really was a lover of the land and its natural wonders. You can still see the beauty from the back of the house and the enormous hillside. With the leaves changing colors it looked like a water painting.
Besides the marvels of furniture and wood there is much more to see upstairs. Perhaps the most amazing part was witnessing the pulley FDR used to raise his wheelchair from the first floor to the second. Even after electricity was possible he refused it and wanted to keep his muscles strong. I can barely carry my purse, believe me its plenty heavy especially with my camera in it, but essentially sit in a chair and pull myself up actual stories?? Um I think not. I stare at this “elevator” in sheer shock. No one I have already told will believe me. I am not that creative. I am still in awe of this man. I guess all of that time in the driveway was worth it after all.

As we passed by the many bedrooms we passed one that simply read “Birthing Room”. Yep. That was all it said. I turned to the woman standing next to me and said “I guess after that the room wasn’t used anymore?.” We both chuckled but I think I am secretly thrilled I don’t know the real story. Maybe it is just that they had a house where they didn’t need to reuse rooms. Must be nice.
Last but not least, are the inventions of FDR that essentially saved the house from peril. As someone who was disabled FDR had a tremendous fear of fire. That is totally understandable. God forbid the worst had happened I am not sure what the emergency plan would have been. But FDR wasn’t one to wait and watch. He had special light bulbs made containing a special fire-extinguishing agent on the inside. The theory was that they would burst during the intense heat, put the fire out, and save the rest of the home and family from danger. Thankfully FDR and his relatives never had the opportunity to test them out. But our tour guide said that a few years back there had been a fire and actually those bulbs had saved mostly everything inside from damage while stopping the fire out. That is a genius for you. FDR was so ahead of his time.
The only part of the house that was not on the tour was the third floor. The fire department does not allow entry there, as there is only one way up and one way down. It is not considered safe for groups. I have heard that before many times other places and its always a disappointment but I had plenty still to see at Springwood.

Now it was on to the stables. It looked like the horses had been there yesterday and were moved out simply for our tour. I loved the ornate wood work here too and the clever names for the horses. Of course my favorite would have to be “New Deal”.

Then as I walked through the rose garden towards the presidential library I stopped for reflection and photos near the gravesites. There is one large white cement stone next to another with the names engraved lightly on the top.

As we approached the presidential library from the rear exit we saw pieces of the Berlin Wall and busts of Wilson Churchill and FDR. The significance of their relationship is apparent.
This is the second presidential library I have visited. It is also the first and only presidential library that was created under a living president. It was Franklin that created this tradition. Finding this out answers my question of why Teddy Roosevelt didn’t have a library. The answer is simple; FDR came along six presidents later. In Teddy’s time it wasn’t done. That is a shame for sure but there is a Teddy Roosevelt Association that does a lot of good promoting knowledge about that great man.
I walked through the library very quickly. The heat was on high and my migraine brain didn’t want to be in there a second longer than I had to. I raced around to see the artifacts, personal papers, educational tools, gifts from other governments, as well as the president’s treasures. My favorite though lies in the basement. There was his actual oval office desk he used and the car he drove after having it modified for someone that couldn’t move their legs. Like I said he was a man ahead of his time.
I saw just about everything on the Springwood property. As you can see this is just the tip of the iceberg. The one exception was Top Cottage, the small home that was to be solely Franklin’s but that he never really used it. It is the only home designed by a President aside from Jefferson’s Monticello. It is also the only home at the time to be built by a disabled person. It also served as the site where FDR held the hot dog picnic lunch he served the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the first state visit to the United States. I doubt that was ever duplicated by another sitting president. Got to love that FDR was so proud of his home he thought nothing of serving royalty there, outside in the heat (it was June, 1939). Although I ran out of steam and time to visit Top Cottage, I definitely got what I came for.
Now I am going to turn our attention to Eleanor. With FDR in and out of Springwood, Eleanor decided as a middle-aged woman she should have her own house. A house she bought, designed, and had all to herself. In her defense living in her mother-in-law’s houses her whole life couldn’t have been fun. The children were now grown and it was Eleanor’s turn. Eleanor was a very modern, outspoken lady in her time, and she was the same way when establishing her final home. She would go on to champion feminism and many worth wild causes.

Her grandchildren would come to visit so she made sure to have a pool, tennis court, and playhouse for them at the ready. The house itself was small and unimpressive except for the priceless photographs and keepsakes from her life long adventures. This home was only a five-minute drive from Springwood. She lived here; Val-Kill was its name, until the time of her death in 1962. It would also be open to the public as the Roosevelt’s intended and become the first National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady.
For a final piece of Eleanor Roosevelt trivia, how many of you know how Eleanor and Franklin were related? Well Elliot Roosevelt was Eleanor Roosevelt's father, who was also the brother of President Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin and Teddy were fifth cousins, the later was obviously older as he was the twenty-sixth President and the former was the thirty-second.  

This President Roosevelt died in April 1945 at his home, the “Little White House”, in Warm Springs, Georgia from a cerebral hemorrhage. Warm Springs is also an amazing movie featuring Cynthia Nixon as Eleanor and Ken Branagh as Franklin.
To honor the man and the President there is an endless list of places where you will see the name Franklin Roosevelt. Among those are on the FDR Drive in New York City, two high schools one in Brooklyn, NY and one in Hyde Park, NY. There is the Paris Metro Station named after him, as he was an ally to France in the First World War.
In Washington, D.C. Franklin and his cousin Teddy are both honored in the Roosevelt Room of the White House where portraits of each remain hanging on the walls. It was Teddy who first used that room as an office as a part of the West Wing, which Franklin expanded. He also added an indoor pool to aid in his therapy.

It is comforting to know that such a remarkable man was not forgotten when he died. There are new dedications popping up all the time. The most recent was his memorial in Washington D.C. that has four sections to recognize that he was the only President to serve four terms. There are also statues of his wife and their favorite dog Fala. Especially moving are the reminders of the Great Depression and FDR’s fireside chats. Each crucial aspect of his terms is shown with such dedication to the reality of the situations it is almost too tough to bear, but very bittersweet.

The most recent FDR location is now my favorite, secret, place of Roosevelt Island. Well after blogging about it I guess it’s not such a secret anymore but I still love it. I ended up having a love for the island even though it was FDR’s Four Freedoms Park that drew me there. Again the four main freedoms FDR preached are represented with a bust of his head and a gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline from the tip of Roosevelt Island. All those in or around New York City must make a pilgrimage there.
For a time even Mount Sinai bore the name Roosevelt. For one hundred forty six years in fact. However when the Mount Sinai Health System merged two years ago the Roosevelt name was dropped despite the unhappy descendants.
Aside for Top Cottage (and the unlikeliness) I will return to Hyde Park any time soon just for that) I still have two other Franklin/Roosevelt sites on my next to do list. That would be Roosevelt House in New York City which is currently closed for renovations and should reopen sometime this year. Roosevelt House was originally "two mirror-image residences with a single facade and entrance. Each first floor had its own front reception room with a welcoming fireplace. Rear parlors could be combined through sliding doors." One was allegedly for Franklin and his family and one for Sara Delano Roosevelt. However upon her death the Roosevelt’s left it to Hunter College, which serves as the location for their political studies program. It is still open to visitors and there are some family mementos I plan to see when I go.
The second is their cherished vacation home in New Brunswick, Canada wherever that is. It looks like a fairytale, which seems appropriate considering the family legacy we are talking about.
I was shocked when planning my visit to Hyde Park how close another attraction on my 2015/2016 to do list was. Vanderbilt Mansion has been on my list for a long time. But after some research I decided it wasn’t a priority and I didn’t have time for it. I have also decided to cross it off future lists. I get enough of the Vanderbilt’s in Newport, R.I.  

After spending this time following in his footsteps I now appreciate the irony that “Home on the Range” was FDR’s favorite song. It was also his favorite place. I certainly get it and am glad he entrusted his home to the public upon his death to serve as a place of strength and serenity for the American people who would visit, past, present, and future.
Next we retrace my steps for a visit to Sagamore Hill, the sacred grounds of Teddy Roosevelt and his beloved family.
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