Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hyde Park and West Point, New York

Not all travel adventures need to entail long journeys to far away places.  As I recently discovered, sometimes there are interesting places nearby that we discover accidentally or through casual reading.

Such was the case when I read a recent travel article about the lower Hudson River Valley.  In the past few years, I've read a few biographies of past presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson) and started visiting Presidential libraries in my travels.  Having enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "No Ordinary Time", I was pleased to learn that the FDR Presidential Library and Museum along with FDR's home was in nearby Hyde Park, NY.  Looking at a map, I learned that Hyde Park is also home to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and the Culinary Institute of America.  Another 20 miles down the road from Hyde Park is the US Military Academy at West Point.  If you're passing in or out of New England via I-84 over the Newburgh bridge, Hyde Park is about 25 miles north of Newburgh.

All of this was just 3 hours away.  That was sufficient to spark a spur of the moment 2 day road trip.  It was easy to pack the Roadtrek for this short trip and my son Cavin was eager to join me. 
The FDR Presidential Library and Museum and FDR's Home sits on 265 acres over looking the Hudson River.  Its now managed by the National Park Service.  FDR's father, James, acquired the site in 1867.  What started out as a small farm grew to over 800 acres and became an estate called Springwood.  The original farm house was enlarged over several years to become a small mansion.  It included carriage house and horse stable with much of the land being used for farming and grazing.

FDR was born at Springwood and it was his life long home.  His mother, Sara, inherited the estate upon her husband's dead in 1900 and she continued to live there until her death on 1941.  In 1945, FDR donated it to the Department of Interior but retained rights for the family to live there.  It is now maintained by the National Park Service.

The FDR Presidential Library and Museum is on this site as well as the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center.  It costs $7 to visit the library/museum and another $7 to take a 1 hour guided tour of the home (free for Annual, Senior, or Access Pass holders).

Main Living Room

FDR's Bedroom


Cavin and I spent 3 hours taking the tour and going thru the museum.  Even though I had learned a lot reading the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, I learned a few new things about FDR.

  • He was home schooled at Springwood until he was 14 when he was sent to attend Groton Academy on Massachusetts.
  • He attended Columbia Law School upon graduating from Harvard but dropped out due to boredom.  He ended up studying the law on his own and passing the NY Bar Exam.
  • He became paralyzed due to polio at age 39 and was initially paralyzed from the chest down.  With rehab work he regained the use of his upper body but was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
  • He continued to believe he could regain the use of his legs and continually walked with crutches dragging his legs up and down the long driveway at Springwood.  
  • He served two terms as governor of NY and the public never new that he was paralyzed and couldn't walk.
  • He would get to his second floor bedroom at Springwood using a manual luggage lift (a large dumb waiter) and pull the ropes to lift himself up to the second floor.
  • Eleanor hated living at Springwood.  After finding out about his affair with Lucy Mercer (her former social secretary), she soon moved out to her own cottage in Hyde Park called Val Kill. During FDR's presidential years she kept an apartment in New York city.
  • FDR suffered from high blood pressure, angina, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure yet he continued to smoke up until he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63.  His last words were "I have a massive pain in my head".
Most of us are still benefiting from his many legislative accomplishments that include;
  • Federal Minimum Wage Law
  • FDIC Insurance
  • Social Security
  • National Labor Relations Board
  • Soil Conservation Service
  • Repeal of Prohibition (21st Amendment)
Cavin and I really enjoyed our visit.  The park service does a great job with the tour and facts of FDR's life.

Cavin with Eleanor and FDR
There is a state park nearby that offers camping.  The Mills Norrie State Park is about 5 miles away and sits on the Hudson River north of Hyde Park.  There are 55 campsites with no hook-ups but it does have showers, restrooms and a dump station.  The camping fee is $15/night.

The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park is 2 miles north from the FDR home.  Its also run by the National Park Service and offers tours of the home and grounds.  Cavin and I ran out of time and were not able to visit this site.

About three miles south of the FDR Home is the Culinary Institute of America.  This has been called the Harvard of culinary colleges.  You can visit the college campus and there are four restaurants that are open to the public and staffed by the students.  We chose to just get an afternoon snack and drink at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. I can attest that the chocolate mouse was very good.

West Point Museum

On our second day we drove down the Newburgh, crossed the river and proceeded about 17 miles south to West Point.  At the entrance to the Military Academy, there is a Visitor Center and the West Point Museum which are free and open to the public.  The Visitor Center highlights the Academy and Cadet life.  The Museum houses collections on historical warfare, US military history, US wars, firearms, and the Military Academy.  Bus tours of the academy are available for $13.  These are the only method of public access to the Academy grounds.  We spent 2 hours going through the Visitor Center and Museum, but skipped the bus tour.

Some interesting thing I learned and saw at the museum;
  • Geronimo's rifle that he gave up when he surrendered
  • Herman Goering's pistol and baton that Hitler gave him when he promoted him to Reichmarshall.
  • Patton's Thompson Machine Gun that he kept in his jeep during WWII.
  • Eisenhower's small .38 caliber pistol he kept in his jacket.
  • A copy of the Japanese Surrender document signed on the USS Missouri.
  • Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1852 to 1855.  
  • Douglas MacArthur was also Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1919 to 1922.  He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times and was awarded it for his defense of the Philippines
Here are some more pictures from our trip.

Cavin with Churchill

At the Library Museum Entrance

FDR's Oval Office Desk (he kept Hoover's)
Roosevelt's edits to his famous speech on Dec 7, 1941

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