After we left the project in Chambersburg, we spent a couple of days in Milton, PA, which is near where the borders of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey meet. We had hoped to visit Dingman’s Falls, but due to all of the rain and damage, they were closed for the season. But another, privately owned, Bushkill Falls in the area was opened, and we were able to view them.
It felt great to get out and walk, enjoying the scenery!
Since we had an extra day, and were only about an hour and a half from Hyde Park, New York, we headed there the next day. The homes of F. D. & Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as the Frederick Vanderbilts are located there. In order to see what we did, we chose not to see Franklin Roosevelt Library.
This beautiful mosaic of the area is on the floor of the visitor center
The Roosevelt home, built in 1800, was purchased by his father in 1867. He added two rooms, enlarged the servants’ wing and built a carriage house.
which had beautiful gates!
The home was clapboard, and the picture we saw, it looked like a big, typical farm house; quite different after the remodel!
It was Franklin’s birthplace, and after he married, he and Eleanor continued to live there with his widowed mother.
After his father died, Franklin and his mother Sara added a tower, fieldstone wings, replaced the clapboard exterior with stucco, raised the roof to create a flat roofed third story, and replaced most of the porch with a large fieldstone terrace with balustrade and a small columned portico. It made it look palatial. Of course, no pictures allowed inside.
The long driveway to the house afforded him goals to walk with as little help as possible while building muscles to be self sufficient after polio.
He also placed two cannons at his front door…. in case any republicans came by!
The home was undergoing some renovations, so we were unable to see the upstairs, but were able to see the kitchen, which is normally not shown.
Both Franklin and Eleanor are buried in the garden, along with two of their dogs (you can see the darker green in the picture, on the left).
Franklin purchased additional land and added to the original property his father had purchased.
Eleanor began to acquire political associates of her own, through the Democratic Committee. Two, Marian and Nancy, became close friends. Roosevelt suggested the three of them build a cottage nearby where they met to enjoy a picnic spot by a stream on their property. They could enjoy the place year-round, since his mother closed the house for the season and they would not be able to meet then. They had a life-time use of the property. The fieldstone house was called Val-Kill, which is dutch for pond or stream in the valley. It was a place she could meet friends without soliciting her mother-in-law’s permission.
The women constructed a second, larger building on the site to house Val-Kill Industries. The women, along with a fourth woman, Caroline, believed that if farm-workers learned manufacturing skills in addition to agriculture, they would have a source of income when farming was unprofitable. For 10 years, local men and women turned out replicas of Early American furniture, pewter pieces and weavings. They were of high quality, but, like many other businesses, it folded during the Great Depression. Instead of closing down the building Eleanor converted it into two apartments for herself and her secretary, with several guest rooms.
This, believe it or not, is the front entrance to the home she welcomed many heads of state! She preferred the simple life.
She felt more comfortable there than in the imposing mansion. Franklin left the “big house” to the US Government in his will. Although the family had a lifetime estate on the big house, it was turned over a year after his death, per his will. Eleanor preferred Val-Kill, where she devoted time to her large family and created a fun place for all of the children, with playhouse and pool.
After touring Val-Kill, we hiked up hill about a mile, to Roosevelt’s retreat, where he would spend time alone. A tour there was just ending, so we were able to see it, and hitch a ride on the shuttle bus, back to the jeep!
We also toured the Frederick Vanderbilt Mansion….
a little more grand than the Roosevelt home.
And better views of the Hudson River.
The visitor center was the cottage built for $50,000 in the 1890’s, for them to live in while the main house was being built in 1898, and in itself, would have been a great home!
Inside the mansion, a huge, octagon shaped entry reception room, open to the second story is the centerpiece of the house, I think. But of course, no picture allowed. Original furnishings and antiques are still present. European craftsmen were hired and brought over here for woodcarving, plastering and painting.
The formal garden was on several levels,
and included a gardener’s cottage
and a greenhouse, the back wall of which still stands.
The local garden club has refurbished the gardens to be the same as when the Vanderbilt’s resided there,
complete with heart shaped flower beds.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, the first generation of wealth from the railroad, was Frederick’s grandfather. Frederick’s father, William, being the oldest son, inherited most of the $100 million dollar estate wealth.
Frederick married Louise, 12 years his senior and recently divorced from one of his cousins. They married against the wishes of his parents, thus for a while, was disinherited. But a sister got him reinstated in the will and he inherited $10 million (a very small portion of the $200 million estate!) They lived a private life, and he was able to increase the inheritance to $70 million by the time he died. Frederick’s generation would elevate spending money; and all but Frederick, would dissipate most of their money. Most of his money was left to various staff members, with Louise’s niece inheriting the estate, which she left to the federal government in 1940. None of his money went to Vanderbilts.
As we went through town we saw the Culinary Institute. Reservations for meals are required, so we did not even try to eat there…. maybe next time!
We could see how the area would attract the very wealthy, getting away from New York City in the spring and fall.