Looking at the vast expanse of the summer and wondering how, perhaps, to sneak in some activities beyond camp, coasters, and beach time? For a day trip (about two hours outside of NYC) that provides fresh air, history, and a little bit of learning, head to Hyde Park, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s childhood (and adult home) and presidential library are located. Part look at late-19th century living, part history lesson, with the chance to hike some lovely trails, Hyde Park could be the change of pace your family needs this summer!

photo: Steve L. via Yelp

 

Old Lifestyles and the New Deal
A visit to Hyde Park encompasses two museums—the Roosevelt home and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library—and over 300 acres of outdoor space. You can get a lot out of a one-day visit, but it’s better if you can plan for two.

by Michael G. via Yelp

A look at old-timey living, and FDR, the individual
The home and associated tour reveal nothing about FDR, America’s 32nd president. Instead visitors learn about Roosevelt’s upbringing, early and lifelong passions, and the full arc of his family life. Roosevelt was born in the house on January 20, 1882, and after marrying Eleanor in 1905, he oversaw its renovation to accommodate his growing family and his own needs after polio left him paralyzed from the waist down in 1921. The house and its accommodations go a long way in explaining who FDR became as president.

The grand foyer, for example, is home to a handsome grandfather clock and other impressive furnishings—as well as FDR’s collection of political cartoons of the times. These were not added for tourist effect: much to his mother, Sara’s, chagrin, FDR hung them with pride and left them on walls even when hosting monarchs and heads of state. In the “snuggery” room, see if your children can spot the television set (hint: it has a mirror on top to reflect the images that played across a screen hidden in a large cabinet), or when venturing upstairs, ask what interests the Roosevelts had based on the artwork and tapestry designs (answer: sailing and admiring trees).

The great grounds surrounding the house feature a commanding view of the thickly wooded Hudson River valley and numerous old-growth trees around the lawns. The substantial vegetable garden is currently undergoing restoration (to include a victory garden education project) but you can walk among the rows and ask questions as the groundskeepers tend to the plants. The wider estate also includes over 16 miles of easy hiking trails that Roosevelts once enjoyed, linking the estate to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill home and factory as well as the Vanderbilt mansion, both of which are worth trips of their own. Val-Kill is the only National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady.

FDR Presidential Library
Once you have a sense of FDR the person, take a short walk over to the presidential library to explore FDR the politician. FDR was the nation’s only four-term president, serving from 1932 to 1945, so there is a lot of history to cover. As the first of 14 presidential libraries run by the National Archives, the site serves as both a haven for researchers and an impressive, immersive museum for visitors of all ages. And chances are, no matter your children’s ages, they are touching upon something FDR-related in school—from the New Deal’s multifaceted approach to end the Great Depression to World War II.

by Christopher C. via Yelp

The museum is chock full of artifacts—from documents, awards, and household goods, to a radio, a typewriter, and wreckage from Pearl Harbor. It also displays and explains thousands of archival photographs and has numerous radio programs (FDR was the first president to take to the airwaves to hold regular Fireside Chats with America) and vintage video clips that visitors can queue up on demand at kiosks throughout the museum. Interactive stations that appeal to children seem to be strategically placed around larger displays where parents may want to stop and read for a while.

Thinking back to FDR’s formative and family years in the Roosevelt home, it is easy to see how his upbringing influenced aspects of his presidency. His interest in trees gave rise to the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps which, for 10 years, employed men age 17-28 to plant more than three billion trees in over 800 parks. In a similar vein, he initiated the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Rural Electrification project that helped farmers keep their land or settle new landscapes, respectively. As a paraplegic, FDR also launched the March of Dimes campaign to fight polio. Also harking back to the home, the archive also displays dozens of large model ships that Roosevelt collected over his lifetime.

Logistics
Hyde Park is a two-hour drive from New York City, or you can take Metro-North to Poughkeepsie and hop the free Roosevelt Ride to the historic sites. The shuttle is available every day through October. Admission to the home and library have a joint, two-day admission fee of $18 per adult. Children under age 15 are free. Depending on your children’s bandwidth for museums, you could use the ticket for different adults on two consecutive days while the other adult takes the kids on a hike or to the Mid Hudson Children’s Museum right near the train station. There are several hotels along Route 9 if you drive if you want to make a weekend of it.

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Hyde Park, Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Tickets: Adults/$18; kids 15 years and under/free
4097 Albany Post Rd.
Hyde Park, Ny
845-229-5320
Online: nps.gov

Have you visited Hyde Park as a family? Tell us about your trip in the comments! 

—Cheryl deJong-Lambert