Road trip into history: Hyde Park

Author: James Meyers
Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010

As the nation worries about the economic downturn spiraling into a depression and politicians battle over cutting services such as Social Security, it seems as if Franklin Delano Roosevelt is as relevant today as at any time in recent memory. Therefore it seemed an appropriate time to visit the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, which was dedicated in 1941. It’s America’s first presidential library and the only one ever used by a sitting president.

Travel into history

The only way to access the historic home and library is to take the $14 guided tour offered by the National Parks Service. The tour includes entrance to Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage and cultural center at Val-Hill, The Vanderbilt and Mill’s Mansion, all situated within a few miles. The tour begins in the main guest center room, where visitors will find an intricate and beautiful mosaic tile map in the floor detailing the area. Early on in the tour, the guide discussed Roosevelt family history, as well as local points of interest. Visitors are led past the rose garden where FDR and his wife Eleanor are buried along with his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala. FDR was so attached to the dog that Secret Service Agents called him “The Informer,” because they knew whenever they saw Fala, The President was certainly nearby. It was here, that Roosevelt gathered the White House press corps and first revealed his polio to them. “Boys, I can’t walk. It’s up to you what you do with that information,” he said. The press kept the President’s secret, which in the current era of video phones, Twitter and 24-hour news cycle is remarkable to consider.

A home fit for a president

The FDR home feels like just that, a home. It is not an imposing mansion cloistered and posed to present an image of what life might have been like. Rather, it’s utilitarian, specifically designed for FDR’s needs. It’s fascinating to see the actual desk where he delivered the fireside chats from and to see the subtle modifications to the home that allowed him to move about without revealing the extent of his disability. It’s particularly poignant to see the chair he sat on. Attendants, including his son Jimmy, placed Roosevelt on the chair and crossed his legs for him before guests were brought to greet him.

Roosevelt’s collections

The museum is full of Roosevelt’s fascinating collections, including over 50,000 leather-bound books, satirical cartoons and historical artifacts. Visitors may be impressed by the display of birds. FDR personally collected and stuffed over 300 species of birds found on the property. Some 30 or so are on display, while the rest are housed in the Museumof Modern History. As a student of history, this writer found it thrilling to stand in the same spot where perhaps Churchill once stood or to see the actual desk from where FDR made some of the most momentous political decisions of the 20th Century.

Go take a hike

Even if one is not a history buff the FDR Museum and Library has much to offer a day-tripper. The site is situated on over 900 acres of gorgeous rolling green fields covered with old-growth trees. Breathtaking views of The Hudson Valley greet guests upon every turn. Depending upon the season, the grounds are an ideal place for a romantic picnic, foliage hike, or cross-country skiing.

Fun for Foodies

Aside from its historical importance, Hyde Park is perhaps best known as a destination for serious foodies. The main campus of the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America is located here and offers a dazzling array of attractions for those with gourmet palates. The three main restaurants, Escoffier Restaurant, Ristorante Caterina di Medici and American Bounty require reservations and proper attire. The St. Andrew’s Café and Apple Pie Bakery Cafe offer more casual faire and dress, but are closed on weekends. The institute’s store offers everything a gourmet food enthusiast would require, from countless cookbooks, exotic gadgets for the aspiring chef to the finest European chocolates for those who wish simply to indulge in the decadent.

Casual dining

For those who show up in Hyde Park with neither reservations nor the requisite dress to attend the CIA’s premier establishments, the Everready Diner may be a good alternative. It’s an iconic local institution, which has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” The building is certainly eye-catching with its 50’s meets Deco-inspired chrome and neon delights. There are so many options available, the menu reads like a novel. It touches on diner classics, blue plate specials and even seldom seen treats from the past such as egg creams, cherry colas and hand-made malteds. The baked on premises bread was the highlight of an excellent meal. Rare for a diner, at least to this writer’s experiences, they also have a full bar with classic cocktails and an excellent selection of wine and beers. Expect a wait at this popular diner, if you visit at peak times. Whether your interest is piqued by presidential history, gilded-era grandeur, or culinary delights, Hyde Park is a Hudson Valley destination offering many rewards.

James Meyers is a resident of Kingston who writes about national and local issues. He is a frequent contributor to Hudson Valley Life.

Categories: Cool Places * Hot Trips

Tags: places to go,Hudson Valley,Hyde Park,day trips

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