Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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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.

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This unassuming entrance was the front door, through which all visitors passed.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eleanor’s winter bedroom. During the warmer months, she slept on the porch.

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.

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The heirloom candelabras are at odds with the utilitarian plates and glassware and the odd figurine collection Roosevelt brought back from Europe.

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.

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Eleanor Roosevelt and JFK met in this room to discuss his election campaign.

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.

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Eleanor’s ‘Sleeping Porch’

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)

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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

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The Stone Cottage is an older building on the property which now houses the museum
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The ‘Kill’ for which the estate is named.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

 

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves an important piece of American Western history. The Open Range Cattle Era, from 1860-1890, gave rise to the legendary cowboy culture and helped to feed a growing nation.

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Johnny Grant, a Canadian, first settled the land on which the ranch was built. His marriage to a Shoshone woman insured his peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans in the valley. He made a living driving cattle to market in Sacramento and built the original ranch house in Deer Lodge, Montana in 1862.

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Conrad Kohrs moved to the territory in the 1850s without much besides knowledge of the butchering trade. He established himself and opened up several butcher shops where he bought cattle from Johnny Grant. In 1866, Grant sold his ranch and home to Kohrs and moved back to Canada.

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Kohrs, along with his half-brother, built up a cattle ranching empire. By the 1890s, he was grazing cattle over 10 million acres and shipping 10,000 cattle a year to Chicago by rail. He became influential in Montana politics and played a part in the territory being granted statehood.

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We’d driven a long way to visit the ranch and when we pulled into the parking lot in front of a tiny visitors center, I was worried we may have spent hours on the road for a 15 minute stop. Fortunately for the sake of marital harmony, there is much more to this park unit than meets the eye.

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We signed up for a tour of the ranch house and explored the grounds while we waited for our tour time. In addition to the ranch house, there are several outbuildings to explore, livestock, and volunteers and rangers providing living history demonstrations.

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We practiced our non-existent lassoing skills, sampled some ‘Cowboy Coffee’ made by the chuck wagon cook and watched the blacksmith make a gate latch out of a nail. My daughter got to make her own cattle brand out of foam.

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The ranch house looks like an large, but unassuming country home on the outside. But once we stepped inside for the tour, we were blown away by the opulence. The docent explained that Kohrs would reward his wife with extravagant shopping trips in Chicago after enduring the annual cattle drive to the stockyards.

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One huge marble statue in the living room was from the Egyptian exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair. Everywhere we looked, there were ornate knick-knacks. The dining room table was set for 22 with fine china and silver that some hapless ranger has to polish on a regular basis.

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Kohrs’ large desk had a unique hinged design that allowed it to be closed up and locked when he was away. There was a sort of press in his office that acted as a copy machine (I bet it was more reliable than the one in my office.) We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the house.

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Kohrs had expanded the house with a 5000 square foot addition, including a tub with running water and a flush toilet. Pretty unheard of in the wild west. Cattle ranching was lucrative for the Kohrs family.

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I asked the docent how all of the belongings and furnishings had been so well-preserved. Most historical homes I’ve visited are partially restored with period-appropriate items that didn’t necessarily belong to the original occupants.  After Kohrs’ death in 1920, the home and ranch passed to a trust company of which Conrad Kohr’s grandson was the head.

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Conrad Kohrs Warren and his wife eventually bought the ranch out from the trust. They moved into a more modern house on the premises. In 1972, they donated the original ranch house and property to the NPS with all of the elder Kohr’s belongings intact.

Location: 266 Warren Ln, Deer Lodge, MT 59722

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 8/9/1972

Date of my visit: 6/26/2018

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Eisenhower National Historic Site

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We visited the Eisenhower National Historic Site right after our tour of Gettysburg National Military Park (you can read my Gettysburg post here.) The home isn’t far from Gettysburg, but we arrived just in time for the last house tour of the day.

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Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower was a Five-Star General in World War II, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and the 34th President of the United States. His presidency brought us the Interstate Highway System, The Civil Rights Act, NASA, the escalation of the Cold War and the Eisenhower Doctrine which promised US protection for unstable but ‘friendly’ Middle Eastern countries from communist invasion.

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Because of his military career, Ike and his wife Mamie moved around frequently and had never owned a home. After the war, Mamie insisted they settle down. They purchased a run-down farm and 189 acres on the outskirts of Gettysburg. They rebuilt the old house during Eisenhower’s first presidential term.

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In 1955, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack while in office and he spent over a month recuperating at the newly (and extravagantly) renovated farmhouse. Afterwards, Mamie and Ike returned to Gettysburg most weekends and holidays.

Eisenhower drew sharp criticism from his political opponents for his frequent absences from the White House and for the amount of money spent on the farmhouse renovation. By today’s standards, the cost was over $2 million.

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The Eisenhowers donated their home and land to the National Park Service in 1967, retaining lifetime living rights for Ike. Eisenhower died only two years later, but Mamie was given federal permission to remain in the home. She lived on the farm (in a smaller section) until her death in 1979.

The National Park Service opened the site to the public in 1980. There is a short video in the visitors center and several outbuildings to explore, in addition to the main house.

Location: 243 Eisenhower Farm Rd, Gettysburg, PA 17325

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 11/27/1967

Date of my visit: 9/3/2011

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Fort Point National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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After exploring the Marin Headlands on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge (you can see my post on the Marin Headlands by clicking here,) we drove across the famous bridge to visit Fort Point nestled under its southern side.

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Fort Point was built during the Gold Rush by the United States Army to defend San Francisco Bay against foreign attacks. It was completed just before the start of the Civil War and never saw battle.DSC02578

Renowned for its fine masonry, it was saved from demolition in the 1930s . The Golden Gate Bridge architect designed the span to arch over the fort instead of razing it.

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The fort is now protected as Fort Point National Historic Site, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. It is administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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We tagged on to the end of a ranger-led tour and explored the three levels where there are historical artifacts on display. There are great views of San Francisco and Alcatraz from the roof. And this view of the Golden Gate is quite a different perspective from the usual bridge vista.

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Location: Long Ave & Marine Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 10/16/1970

Date of my visit: August 18, 2012

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Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

0DSC05207We stopped at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee on our road trip down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This site encompasses a couple of blocks in the town, preserving Johnson’s early home, tailor shop, presidential museum and his larger homestead.

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Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, chose Johnson, an anti-secessionist Southern Democrat, as his running mate for his re-election campaign in order to promote his message of unity following the Civil War. Their ticket easily won the election. Johnson became the 17th president of the United States, only six weeks after being sworn in as VP, following Lincoln’s assassination.

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Johnson was deeply unpopular, at odds with the Republican Congress over Reconstruction policies. His strict constitutionalism and opposition to civil liberties for the freedmen ultimately culminated in his impeachment by Congress. He was acquitted by one vote and served the duration of his term as a ‘lame duck.’

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We began at the visitor center where we signed up for the next guided Homestead Tour. We watched the short film and browsed the adjoining presidential museum while we waited.  Johnson’s original, tiny tailor shop is contained within the Memorial Building.

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Then we walked a couple of streets over to the Homestead for the ranger-guided tour. Andrew Johnson owned this large home for 24 years. The home was occupied by soldiers during the Civil War and pretty much trashed. When Johnson and his wife returned from Washington they renovated the home and redecorated in a Victorian style.

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The Homestead passed on to two more generations and was then donated to the National Park Service with many original furnishings and memorabilia.

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On our way back to the car, we stopped in the ‘Early Johnson Home’ across the street from the Visitor Center. The Johnsons lived here before moving to the larger Homestead in 1851.

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I had mixed feelings about this park unit. It’s easy to write off the man who opposed the 14th amendment (giving citizenship to the freed slaves) as the worst president in history. But the park service does a good job in presenting all facets of this man who raised himself up out of extreme poverty, with no education, to become a defender of the Union and of the Constitution. They leave it to the visitors to judge him by casting a ‘vote’ in the impeachment trial after touring the site.

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Location: 101 N College St, Greeneville, TN

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 12/11/1963

Date of my visit: August 12, 2013

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Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Cove Neck, NY.  Known for being the 26th President of the United States, Roosevelt grew up in New York and accomplished much here before taking on Washington DC. He served as NYC Police Commissioner (where he  initiated sweeping reforms in the police department) and Governor of New York before moving into national politics.

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Of all Roosevelt’s achievements, he was proudest of his work in conservation. He created the first National Parks and signed into law the Antiquities Act (under which the president may designate National Monuments.)  So it is fitting that the National Park Service manages the home where he lived from 1886 until his death in 1919. The Sagamore Hill National Historic Site includes the mansion and also the Theodore Roosevelt Museum in a separate building on the grounds.

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The mansion was originally 22 rooms, was built for his first wife Alice Lee and named Leeholm after her. But she died before the home was completed, soon after the birth of their daughter. When Roosevelt remarried and moved into the home with his new family, he changed the name to Sagamore Hill (Sagamore is the Algonquin word for chieftain.)

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Ranger-led tours of Sagamore Hill can be reserved on the NPS website or purchased on a first-come basis at the visitor center. The North Room, part of a 1905 expansion, is filled with Roosevelt’s keepsakes and safari trophies. This room, along with others on the first floor, served as the ‘Summer White House’ for part of Roosevelt’s presidency. We were awed by this room, though struck by the irony of all the animal trophies in the home of one of our countries foremost conservationists.

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The site had just reopened at the time of our visit after an extensive multi-million-dollar, 4-year restoration project. It is beautifully preserved and most of the furnishings are original. The ranger’s narrative gave us a real feel for the dynamic leader and family man Roosevelt must have been.

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Location: 20 Sagamore Hill Rd, Oyster Bay, NY 11771

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 7/25/1962

Date of my visit: 2/7/2016

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This windmill is a modern replica of the one Theodore Roosevelt originally installed. Because there was no electrical service here in those days, the windmill was used to pump water to a holding tank on the 3rd floor to provide running water for household needs.
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A bathroom with running water was a luxury at the time. The house was expanded to include the bathroom in 1905.
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One of the daughter’s bedrooms
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The kitchen, with running water
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Quentin Roosevelt was Theodore’s youngest & favorite son He was killed in action in WWI and awarded a Harvard degree posthumously,

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

The British Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver in 1825 as the headquarters of the company’s fur trade, controlling the fur business from Alaska to Southern California, and out to the Rocky Mountains. Vancouver was the main colonial settlement in the Pacific Northwest, located in what is now Washington State, right across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. It was the center of trade for the region and for settlers traveling the Oregon Trail west from Missouri, it was the last stop for supplies before setting up their homestead.

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In 1846, the Oregon Treaty set the Canadian-US border at the 49th parallel, putting Fort Vancouver within American territory.

In 1866, the fort burned to the ground. What can be visited today is a reconstruction built on the footprint of the original fort.

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We were lucky to get to the Fort an hour before they closed and hop on a ranger-led tour…and it was free for the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration. We’d been to the Mcloughlin House in Oregon City prior to the fort, so we’d already set the historical context for what this fort was about, otherwise we would have needed more time here.

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Grapevines adorn The Chief Factor’s House

The ranger took us inside some of the buildings that wouldn’t normally be open. The tour began at the Chief Factor’s House, the residence for the fort’s high-ranking officers.

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Bedroom in the Chief Factor’s House

This building was designed to impress. The officers entertained important people and clients in the large dining room and parlor.

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In the mercantile was a man dressed in period costume talking about the beaver fur trade. Trappers would come here to trade pelts for household supplies.

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There is a lovely garden at the entrance where we paused for some photos as we were leaving. Historically the garden covered five acres and was designed to be aesthetically pleasing as well as provide fruits and vegetables for the fort. The Hudson Bay Company shared seeds, cuttings and agricultural knowledge with local settlers and Native Americans.

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Cupboards in the Chief Factor’s House stocked with fine china from the mercantile.

The carpenter and blacksmith were not in their shops as it was a scorching hot day, so we peered in the windows and then moved on.

Location: 612 E Reserve St, Vancouver, WA 98661

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 6/30/1961

Date of my visit: August 2016

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