Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site


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 Vanderbilt family, building on the shipping and railroad business started by Cornelius Vanderbilt, became prominent during the Gilded Age (the period after the Civil War.) In that period the Vanderbilt  grandsons built ornate palaces to showcase their wealth including The Breakers in Rhode Island and The Biltmore in North Carolina.


The Vanderbilt Mansion, originally known as Hyde Park, is the only Gilded Age mansion owned by the National Park Service. The 54-room Beaux-Arts structure was built in 1898 by Frederick Vanderbilt. He and his wife Louise lived in NYC and used this elaborate mansion as their country ‘cottage’ and entertained only a dozen or so guests at a time here.


Louise Vanderbilt was a fan of the palace at Versailles and emulated that style of decor in many rooms of the mansion.


The Park Service had just completed a major renovation when I visited. All of the windows had been removed to be restored by an artisan off-site and then reinstalled.


While this work was in progress, the furnishings had been put into storage. Some of the rooms were still being put back together and were filled with stacks of plates, assorted knickknacks and sheet-covered pieces.


We noted that the walls in the foyers and hallways were unadorned and plain. The ranger guiding our tour of the mansion told us that Frederick Vanderbilt had collected antique tapestries and that it looked much different when they were all hanging.


Unfortunately the tapestries are in need of professional restoration and the park service lacks the funds for that project. Most of the tapestries have been put into storage indefinitely.


Frederick and Louise were childless. Frederick lived in Hyde Park full-time after Louise’s death and willed the estate to his niece, Margaret Van Alen.


Van Alen did not want the 600 acre estate and tried to sell it. Because it was the end of the Great Depression, no one could afford it.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who’d already willed his nearby Springwood estate to the people of the United States,  worked with Van Alen to donate the mansion along with 200 acres and some of the other buildings to the National Park Service. The remaining acreage, which had been farmland, was sold off and eventually developed.


Prior to FDR’s presidency, most of the National Park units were designated to preserve our natural wonders and prehistoric sites. Under Roosevelt’s presidency, the role of the National Park service was expanded to include the nation’s historical and cultural treasures as well. Through his legislation, FDR’s government created a quarter of the NPS units currently in the system.


The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site was designated to be representative of this era in American history, not as a museum devoted to the Vanderbilt family. So while this might not be the grandest or best-kept estate in the Hudson Valley, the interpretation provided on the Ranger-led tours gives visitors an excellent perspective.


Hyde Park posts:


Location: 119 Vanderbilt Park Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 12/18/1940

Date of my visit: 10/3/2018


Home of FDR National Historic Site


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.


I visited the Home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a Wednesday in October. October is typically a very busy month for the Hyde Park NPS sites, but it wasn’t too bad on a week day. I stopped at the visitor center, got my ticket for the 9:30 tour and then watched the 15 minute film about FDR.


FDR was the only president to be elected four times, though he only served three full terms. He passed away suddenly at the beginning of his fourth.


I hadn’t ever seen the film footage from his inaugural addresses and was struck by the fact that he delivered them standing. I knew that he’d been paralyzed by polio and was the only disabled man ever to serve as president.


Our docent explained that FDR never admitted that he couldn’t walk and had a gentleman’s agreement with the press to refrain from photographing him in the wheelchair. He had heavy steel braces made so that he could stand behind the podium.

The original section of the house from 1800

After the film, our group walked over to Springwood, the Federal-Italianate mansion where FDR was born and lived for his whole life. Built in 1800, FDR’s father James purchased Springwood in 1866. FDR and his mother Sara expanded the house in 1915.

FDR’s boyhood room

In 1943, Roosevelt donated the property to the USA with the stipulation that his family would be allowed to live there for the rest of their lives. He died two years later and the family relinquished their rights, transferring ownership to the National Park Service.


FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Scottish terrier, Fala are all buried in Sara Roosevelt’s Rose Garden.


Hyde Park posts:

  • FDR Presidential Library
  • Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Coming Soon)
  • Gardens at Bellefield (Coming Soon)
  • Home of FDR National Historic Site
  • Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (Coming Soon)


Location: 4097 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 1/15/1944

Date of my visit: 10/3/2018


Fort Vancouver National Historic Site: McLoughlin House


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.

John McLoughlin was the Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver from 1825-1845. To see my post on Fort Vancouver, click here.


Though his mission was to make money for the Hudson Bay Trading Company, McLoughlin had a soft spot for the starving immigrants arriving in the territory via the Oregon Trail and often assisted them with goods from the Fort Vancouver Mercantile to help get them started with their new lives.


He purchased a plot of land by the Willamette River in 1844 and named it Oregon City. The charter was granted in December of that year. Oregon City is the oldest incorporated city West of the Missouri.


He was forced into retirement and settled with his family by the Willamette Falls in 1846. A trained physician, he was known in Oregon City as The Doctor.


He became an American citizen in 1851 and worked towards developing the prosperity of the Oregon Territory. Known for his generosity in support of the community, he served as the mayor of Oregon City.


In 1909, the McLoughin home was saved from destruction and moved from its spot by the falls by the McLoughlin Memorial Association. The park ranger showed us photos of the house being pulled on rollers by horses uphill to its present location next to the Barclay house.


The McLoughlin House, along with the Barclay House which houses the Visitors Center,  was consolidated into the Fort Vancouver NPS unit in 2003. It is only open a few days a week, so we timed our visit to take the ranger-led tour of the house.


The site is also listed as a stop on the Oregon National Historic Trail. The Oregon Trail brought over 200 thousand settlers to the area in covered wagons. For those who made it as far as the Oregon Territory, John McLoughlin played a pivotal role in their success and has come to be known as ‘The Father of Oregon.’


Location: 713 Center St, Oregon City, OR 97045

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 1941

Date of my visit: 8/26/2016


Home of FDR National Historic Site: Gardens at Bellefield


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.


Bellefield is an estate that was built in 1795 by a judge and then passed through many different hands. In the late 1800s, New York Senator Thomas Newbold bought the property and expanded the house and built a formal walled garden. Bellefield remained in the Newbold family until 1975 when the last heir donated it to the National Park Service.


The NPS incorporated Bellefield into the neighboring Home of FDR National Historic Site. The house is used for offices now, but the formal garden is open to the public. It sits behind the Wallace Visitor Center.


The garden was designed by Beatrix Farrand in 1911. Farrand was the only female founder of the American Society of Landscape Architects and was responsible for the landscaping of many college campuses including Princeton and Yale.


I walked over to the garden after finishing up my tours of Springwood and the FDR library. In early October, there were still some flowers blooming and there was no one else in the garden with me…a lovely, peaceful place.


Federal funds did not allow for proper maintenance of the garden so the Beatrix Farrand Garden Association partnered with the NPS in the 1990s to restore it. The arts and crafts style gates were restored by an Eagle Scout based on Farrand’s original plans.


Hyde Park posts:


Location: 4079 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: Incorporated into FDR NHS in 1975

Date of my visit: 10/3/2018


John Muir National Historic Site: Happy Earth Day!


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.

John Muir published 300 articles and 12 books in his lifetime

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” –John Muir


Happy Earth Day and happy 181st birthday to John Muir, father of the National Parks! My very first post on this blog back in February of 2018 was about the John Muir National  Historic Site and you can see it by clicking here.


I wan’t sure how much space photos would use back then, so I only included four in that first post. I didn’t take many because on the day we visited there was an oppressive heat wave, but I’ve included more in this special Earth Day post.

This sequoia tree, now about 120 years old, was planted by John Muir himself when he lived here on the fruit ranch in Martinez, California.

Location: 4202 Alhambra Avenue, Martinez, California

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 8/31/1964

Date of my visit: September 2017

The ornate decor in the 17-room Italianate mansion is attributed to Muir’s wife and father-in-law
There are still olive trees and fruit orchards on the grounds of the National Historic Site

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site


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.


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 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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)


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

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

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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