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Exploring the Hudson Valley: Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site


This historic Hyde Park cottage was the semi-permanent residence of famed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and is literally down the road from the FDR Historic Site and Presidential Library. The story goes like this: In 1924, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt were picnicking at their favorite site, Fallkill Creek, with her confidantes Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook. The ladies were lamenting that the weather would soon be too cold for outdoor excursions, and Franklin suggested the construction of a retreat on the property, which was completed in 1925. A year later, Eleanor build a furniture factory adjacent to Stone Cottage to provide work for young men, and when it was closed 10 years later she converted it into a modern and comfortable lodging.

Now on the register of National Historic Sites, Val-Kill is only 15 minutes from the Vassar campus and makes a great day trip when combined with the FDR Historical Site. The lush grounds surrounding the cottage are open to exploration, and feminists everywhere will love the Eleanor Roosevelt story.

The Visitor's Center is a good place to start, where tickets for a guided tour of the house can be purchased for $8. Only the first floor is open to the public, but the 45-minute tour also includes some of the outdoor facilities that were gradually added to the property. For those interested, the playhouse shows an introductory film about Mrs. Roosevelt.

The docent provides the up-close-and-personal Eleanor Roosevelt Exclusive, highlighting visitors of such caliber as Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, who would call on her after visiting FDR at the Hyde Park mansion, and also exposes the First Lady's unusual life. Lorena Hickok, Eleanor's rumored lover, was a frequent guest at Val-Kill, and their relationship has been subject to much historical speculation. Mrs. Roosevelt enjoyed her intimate sanctuary until she fell ill in 1962, when she reluctantly returned to New York City.

Val-Kill, though meant to be a modest home, houses exquisite period furniture and art that Mrs. Roosevelt accumulated during her international travels. Before opening to the public in 1984, Val-Kill was completely restored to its 1962 appearance, including the First Lady's famed library. Much of the furnishings are replicas, but a few originals remain.

“The greatest thing I have learned is how good it is to come home again,” Mrs. Roosevelt declared. Visit Val-Kill, and let the home of America's most accomplished First Lady make its mark on you.

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