Speaking truth to power, past to future: Hyde Park, home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Former President Roosevelt’s country home on the Hudson River, Hyde Park, has seen a surge in tourism numbers in the last year. Two factors coincided to regenerate interest in one of the most interesting presidents at one of the most interesting and difficult times in American history: the first has been the collapse of the US economy (with loss of jobs that are starting to stagger in their numbers, and a shaky stock market), which eerily reflects the beginnings of the Great Depression, especially in the heavy weight of personal debt individual households are carrying; and second is the campaign, election, and, yesterday, inauguration of a president who hammers home time and again the messages of change and hope.

President Barack Obama’s oratory and plans have both been compared to FDR, who was one of America’s most revered (and, by the wealthy, who loathed his socialism, hated) presidents. The shakiness of the economy has led US and international tourists alike to look up Hyde Park, which is now part of the National Park Service, in an effort to further understand both who Roosevelt was and what he did for the country.

While the house tour, which takes about an hour, is interesting, it is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum that really sucks you in. Most people plan to spend an hour or two at the house and grounds, but when I took my English in-laws there a couple weeks ago, we found that the museum kept us occupied for two more solid hours. We could have stayed longer but were beginning to starve for lack of lunch (for some silly reason the coffee shop is closed in the off-season). The museum’s section on FDR’s famous, inspiring wife Eleanor is also extensive.

The museum currently has a long-running exhibition called “FRD’s First 100 Days,” an in-depth look at the situations and actions that defined the Great Depression, FDR’s solutions, his successes and failures, and the US’s eventual economic recovery through its entrance into World War II. “First 100 Days” is attracting, it seemed to me, hundreds of visitors, many hoping to see how the problems and solutions of the past can inform the problems the world is facing now, and what tools President Obama’s administration will use to address them.

The best time to visit Hyde Park is probably in the spring. The grounds, rose garden, and FDR burial site are free to visit. The hour-long house tour costs $14, tickets good for two days, and this fee includes access to the museum. If you have the time, it might be good to split the museum and house/grounds visit over two days, or to give yourself enough time to have a good lunch break. I highly recommend stopping at the Culinary Institute of America’s bakery or one of their other restaurants. It’s just down the road.

Hyde Park is about 90 miles north of New York City. It’s quick by car, or you can take the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie. Further directions on the website here.

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