New York – Days 6-7: The Vanderbilt Mansion, FDR House and Presidential Library, and Arriving in NYC

Brittany Swanson   November 6, 2015   Comments Off on New York – Days 6-7: The Vanderbilt Mansion, FDR House and Presidential Library, and Arriving in NYC

After a few day detour in Pennsylvania, I returned to New York and continued my New York adventures starting in the Hudson Valley. I’ve worked in the Hudson Valley for three summers now and this past summer I really wanted to check out the Vanderbilt mansion near Hyde Park, but never got around to it. So, this was my chance.

The Hyde Park Vanderbilt mansion is owned and maintained by the National Park Service, so the tour was free with my Interagency Park pass. It was one of the better tours I’ve been on lately. The guide would give us a debrief and then let us roam around and ask questions if we had them. Those are the best kind of tours in my opinion; I enjoy having the freedom to do my own thing.

On my tour, I learned that Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the Vanderbilt fortune, began making money by starting what is now the Staten Island Ferry. Then the money went to his oldest son who invested it in railroads and other highly profitable markets at the time and more than doubled the family fortune. At one point the Vanderbilt family was worth 210 million dollars, which was more money than the United States Treasury had at that point. Crazy! The mansion I toured in Hyde Park was one of the smallest of the forty Vanderbilt mansions built around the same time. Yeah, with only fifty-four rooms it was tiny…

Vanderbilt mansion, Hyde Park, NY.

Vanderbilt mansion, Hyde Park, NY.

The house took twenty-six months to complete and cost two million dollars to build and furnish. It wasn’t very homey, but I guess that wasn’t the point. The point was to show off for guests and brag about how much money they had… The Vanderbilts who lived there only used the mansion as a fall and spring house. Though I completely understand why they wanted to be here in the fall:

View of the Hudson Valley from the Vanderbilt mansion grounds, Hyde Park, NY.

View of the Hudson Valley from the Vanderbilt mansion grounds in the fall, Hyde Park, NY.

When the house was passed onto the next generation of Vanderbilt they decided to sell it. But no one wanted it, or could afford it, so in 1940 it was the sixth house donated to the National Park Service. The National Park Service kept the servants on the payroll and recorded their oral histories. Therefore, a lot of the information on the tour came directly from people who were there, which is pretty neat.

FDR’s house was nearby, so I figured why not? The Roosevelts, unlike the Vanderbilts, came from old money. So Roosevelt’s house was not as lavish and showy as the Vanderbilts’. FDR’s house was still large, but not fifty-four rooms large, and it felt much more livable and less like a church.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's house, Hyde Park, NY.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s house, Hyde Park, NY.

I always sort of knew Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were related, but could never remember how. Our tour guide solved the mystery by explaining that they were cousins and that FDR modeled his career after Teddy’s. Also, I didn’t know, but learned, that Eleanor Roosevelt was a niece of Teddy’s and therefore a distant cousin of Franklin…Awkward.

The FDR Presidential Museum and Library was so freaking cool! There was so much history at such an important time. I only had an hour or so to explore before the museum closed but the front desk guy had said the ticket was good for the next day as well…

FDR's Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY.

FDR’s Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY.

So, I went back the following day. I gave myself another hour to finish the museum and after TWO more hours I finally felt I’d seen everything.

The most interesting and unbelievable part of the museum was the section on WWII. They had two timelines running parallel to each other. One showed what was happening in the U.S. and the other showed what was happening in the world. At one point in the timeline it was just crazy because everyone was declaring war on everyone else. It was almost comical because, how could/why would so many countries declare war on each other in such a short span of time?!

There was also a world map showing the different sides of the war. It’s insane because most of the map is on one side or the other, but then there are those few countries who’re neutral. I’m like, wait, everyone around you is at war and Sweden, for example, is just like, “you know? I think we’ll sit this one out…” What?!

The second day at the FDR Presidential Library museum I overheard a guy say he could spend a whole week at this museum. I don’t disagree. There’s was so much information…. Also, history is so much more fun from the source and when I can interact with it. To revolutionize education we should take kids on more field trips. Seriously, how cool would it be if, as a kid, you got your education by traveling around to different places and learning about them firsthand, instead of from a textbook in a classroom?!

After I left the museum I heard about President Obama’s decision to put Special Operations forces in Syria and couldn’t help but think how close we are to repeating history… If only Obama or someone from his administration had a moment to go look at that timeline at the FDR Library and see how quickly these things spiral…

After that it was off to the city. New York City that is. It took forever to find a place to park. Like, over an hour, forever, but thankfully the spot didn’t require me to move my car until Thursday morning, almost a week later, so that was nice. Since it took so long to park, and traffic was pretty slow when I was trying to cross the bridge into Manhattan, I missed free night at the MoMa. And I wasn’t going to make it to Best Buy before they closed either. Oh well. Chill first night in the city instead. I went to Juilliard to meet up with Mary, my host for the week. I stopped by the fountain outside Lincoln Center first, for old times sake. It was amazing how it felt like no time had passed at all, even though it’d been over two years since I used to pass the fountain on my way to work.

Fountain in front of Lincoln Center, New York, NY.

Fountain in front of Lincoln Center, New York, NY.

I have a lot of things to do on my NYC bucket list, so I’m super excited to get started!