FDR looms large in many Americans' minds as the man who led the country through the Great Depression and the only president to serve three terms. For New Yorkers, the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the nation's 32nd president, is perhaps even more pervasive.
He was born in Dutchess County's Hyde Park and his family was deeply connected to the Hudson Valley. He served in the New York State Senate and later as the governor of the state before ascending to the White House. Today, the area boasts several historic Roosevelt sites that help introduce visitors to our longest-serving president and First Lady Eleanor, including the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the Franklin Roosevelt Park. Even a number of NYC sites carry his name. Time for a visit to Roosevelt Island?
A visit to Hyde Park, though, is a unique educational opportunity for children and parents—and don't count out a visit with young children. The shady grounds of the various Roosevelt sites offer plenty of room to romp in the fresh air. How to see it all, you ask? On the Roosevelt Ride, of course! This efficient shuttle takes visitors on a tour of the most important historic Roosevelt sites in and around Hyde Park—for FREE. We've got the scoop on catching the Roosevelt Ride as well as details on sites along the route, all adding up to a car-free, family-friendly day trip that’s heavy on history with a side helping of nature.
Hop on the FREE shuttle from the train station. Photo courtesy of Dutchess Tourism.
Though complimentary, reservations are required for the Roosevelt Ride. Once you’ve made reservations, New Yorkers will want to catch the Metro-North Hudson Line to Poughkeepsie, the last stop on the line. This line is very scenic, hugging the Hudson River for a good part of the journey. Be sure to catch an early train, as the Roosevelt Ride shuttle leaves the station at 10:45am (if the train is running late, the driver waits). In the ticket hall of the Poughkeepsie station, uniformed National Park Service Rangers or volunteers will escort you to the Roosevelt Ride. This comfy shuttle—which is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly—will whisk you to the first stop, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home Library and Museum. Spend the full day enjoying the museum and bucolic grounds or, if you're feeling ambitious, take the shuttle to the other nearby historical sites: Vanderbilt Mansion, Val-Kill, and Top Cottage. Whatever itinerary suits your family best, the shuttle picks you up from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at 5pm, returning you to the Poughkeepsie station.
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Check out FDR's desk at the Presidential Library and Museum. Photo by Kevin Jennings via Flickr.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Home Library and Museum
Start you visit at the home's Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center by viewing the 10-minute orientation film. It gives an overview of FDR’s life that is entertaining and easy to follow. Ranger-led tours depart every half hour. Park rangers are very open to questions, so curious kids should enjoy joining one of these tours. Ask about the free Junior Ranger program for kids age 7-12 at the front desk.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Home Library and Museum has initiated innovative programs that cater to families. Look for interactive touch screens and memorabilia like the Oval Office Desk and FDR’s Ford Phaeton. Don’t miss the immersive Fireside Chat exhibit. The cozy space is decorated with period furnishings, including an old-fashioned radio, where you may sit and listen to one of Roosevelt’s famed radio talks.
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Learn about the Great Depression, the New Deal, or even more about FDR's mom at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Photo by Mike via Flickr.
FDR Presidential Library and Museum
Head next door to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. Visitors can easily wile the entire day away on self-guided tours, learning about FDR. Exhibits shed light on just how revolutionary FDR’s New Deal economic reforms were and the relief they brought to millions of Americans who were stuck in a state of grave poverty as a result of the Great Depression.
Time spent here gives you a window into his close and complicated relationship with his mother, Sara, as well as with Eleanor, his distant cousin and wife. All the while, you get a sense of his blue blood, aristocratic roots. What prompted a man who was born into such extreme privilege to champion the common man, challenge income inequality and create the foundations of our current Social Security system? Help put issues currently on the national political stage into a historical framework for your kids with a visit here.
The Great Outdoors
When you’ve had it with history, kids will enjoy lots of running space, hiking trails, and glorious gardens. Pack lunch and a blanket for a picnic. Some of the 300 acres are paved, so it’s easy to push a stroller around the paths. There’s a café, Uncle Sam’s Canteen, where you may enjoy a casual meal or snack at an outdoor table.
Want to see more? The Roosevelt Ride travels to additional nearby sites, offering a deeper dive into the lives of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill mansion is modest and offers a window, quite literally, into her nature. Photo by susan de vries via Flickr.
This was Eleanor Roosevelt’s home. Her beloved property is utterly low-key and non-pretentious, quite different from her husband’s grander estate. Its relaxed nature gave us insight into the first lady's character. There are guides and volunteers available to answer Eleanor-related questions. If you're lucky, your guide will be Doris Mack. Mrs. Mack was a personal friend of Mrs. Roosevelt and she is a wealth of information. The grounds of Val-Kill offer plenty of space to roam.
One of the sumptuous bedrooms at the Vanderbilt mansion. Photo by Steve Minor via Flickr.
One of the region’s oldest estates, the Vanderbilt Mansion offers a feel for the lifestyle of the Gilded Age super-rich. The guided tour of the estate lasts an hour. If your family watched Downton Abbey, this tour is made for you. Don’t miss strolling the acres of manicured gardens and parklands with Hudson River and Catskill Mountain views. The formal Italian gardens are stunning.
Top Cottage was built during FDR's presidency as his personal retreat. He planned the cottage with accessibility in mind, so you will notice the extra-wide dimensions to accommodate his wheelchair. You may take the two-hour guided tour departing from the Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library several times daily. It is worthwhile if you’re a truly passionate history buff.
Good to Know Before You Go
The Roosevelt Ride shuttle runs daily from May-October. The shuttle is FREE though reservations are required. It leaves the Poughkeepsie station at 10:45am. The first stop is Franklin D. Roosevelt Home Library and Museum (also the last stop at 5pm for the return ride to the Metro-North station). Metro-North's bargain-priced family fare allows each paying adult to bring up to four children ages 5-11 for only a dollar. Kids age four and younger ride free. While the shuttle is free, adults do need to purchase tickets to the historical sites. Kids 15 and under enter free.
Top image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.