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My first stop in Hyde Park was to the Wallace Visitor and Education center where I watched the short film and then spoke to the rangers about making the most of my day. After touring Springwood, FDR’s home, I drove two miles to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill.
This is the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady. When I was in grade school, I was assigned Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography for a book report, so I already had an inkling that she was pretty remarkable. My tour through her home with the thoughtful commentary of the park ranger confirmed that she was an amazing woman.
On this site, Eleanor Roosevelt, along with three other women, established Val-Kill Industries in 1927. Here, local craftsmen produced colonial revival furniture and pewter work in order to provide supplemental income for the local farming community. In 1938, because of the Great Depression, the factory was closed and converted into a cottage which became Eleanor’s permanent home after the death of her husband.
As the wife of a president disabled by polio, Eleanor Roosevelt played a more prominent role than any of her predecessors. She often made public appearances on the president’s behalf and was particularly outspoken when advocating for civil rights. She authored a daily newspaper column and hosted a weekly radio show.
After FDR’s death, Eleanor prepared Springwood, which had always felt more like her mother-in-law’s home, for transfer to the National Park Service. She moved into the more modest Val-Kill cottage and began the second stage of her political career.
She became the United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. There she helped to author the Bill of Human Rights.
She also entertained various politicians and foreign dignitaries in her simple cottage. There are photos of John F Kennedy drinking from one of the generic diner-type glasses in her dining room. The few luxurious items on display in the house were Eleanor’s family heirlooms…she didn’t care for anything ostentatious.
JFK visited Eleanor at Val-Kill because he wanted her endorsement in his bid for president. She had supported his opponent in the democratic primaries and agreed to support Kennedy only if he would promise to work towards improving the rights of minorities and women. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Roosevelt to chair the Commission on the Status of Women. She died shortly before the commission issued its report.
The family offered Val-Kill to the National Park Service. The NPS initially declined due to lack of funds and so the estate was sold to developers. A non-profit ‘friends’ organization began a campaign to preserve Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy and Val-Kill was designated a National Historic Site in 1977.
Hyde Park posts:
- FDR Presidential Library
- Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
- Gardens at Bellefield (Coming Soon)
- Home of FDR National Historic Site (Coming Soon)
- Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (Coming Soon)
Location: 106 Valkill Park Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538
Designation: National Historic Site
Date designated or established: 5/27/1977
Date of my visit: 10/3/2018