Friday, November 18, 2016

HYDE PARK, NEW YORK: ELEANOR ROOSEVELT'S VAL-KILL

Two miles east of the Roosevelt home and Presidential Museum and Library lies a beautiful patch of ground with a lazy stream running through it. Fallkill Stream meanders for 38 miles before it joins the mighty Hudson in Poughkeepsie. Franklin Roosevelt purchased 181 acres here in 1911, and the land was often used for family picnics and gatherings with friends.


In the 1920s, Franklin encouraged Eleanor to develop this piece of land, which she named "Val-Kill," loosely translated from the Dutch to mean "waterfall stream."  "Kill," the Dutch word for "stream" or "creek," is a common part of compound words in this part of New York--think "Schuylkill River" or "Catskill Mountains."


Eleanor wanted a place away from the craziness of the Roosevelt life where her creative juices could flow. Inspired by a discussion with Franklin, Eleanor and her friends Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook built a cottage and a workshop on the property. The workshop became the hub of Val-Kill Industries, a place where local artisans turned out handcrafted furniture, metal work, and weaving, especially during the winter when their farmlands lay fallow and produced no income.

The cottage was inhabited by Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook (seen with Eleanor in the photo below) until 1947, when they sold it back to Eleanor. 
Eleanor, Marion, and Nancy
The cottage front:

The cottage back:

Eleanor moved back to Val-Kill after Franklin died, and it remained her primary residence for the rest of her life until she died of tuberculosis in 1972.  The Stone Cottage has been restored to what it would have looked like in Eleanor's day:

There is nothing fancy or pretentious about it. In fact, compared to the big Roosevelt estate a few miles away, it's downright humble:



That's Franklin propped up against the wall above the fireplace, surrounded by friends and relatives:



Near the Stone Cottage is a two-storied stucco building that housed Val-Kill Industries:


These days it is a museum:


I have a thing for old typewriters. I learned to type in junior high on a manual typewriter not a whole lot more advanced that Eleanor's typewriter:
 



The picture below is a little fuzzy, but it may be my favorite thing in Hyde Park. It shows FDR sitting behind a huge birthday cake, surrounded by beautiful maidens and Roman soldiers. This toga-themed birthday party held at the White House poked fun at FDR's opponents, who accused him of acting like a Roman emperor:

Talk about a Power Couple. One can't help but admire Eleanor, a woman far ahead of her time. No doubt if she had lived seventy years later, she might have been our first woman President of the United States. During her lifetime, her endorsement of presidential candidates was highly valued, her civil rights work was very significant, and her international presence was as strong as any president's.


READING
This book being sold at the Presidential Library and Museum Bookstore caught my eye. I picked up a copy after we got home and thoroughly enjoyed learning what Eleanor thought about her own life, about the ups and downs of marriage to the charismatic Franklin, about her family life, about her work with the poor and disenfranchised, and about her international experiences. In this tell-all age when memoir-writers tend to lay all their dirty laundry out on the table for close examination by their readers, Eleanor did not mention any of her husband's indiscretions, although she was very open about her own failings, particularly as a mother of teenagers.

I came away with HUGE respect for this intelligent woman who had the courage to break many barriers for the women who followed in her footsteps. Franklin would not have achieved what he did without her by his side, encouraging him, supporting him, and most importantly, advising him. She is my new hero.


2 comments:

  1. I still don't know a lot about Eleanor, but I am very intrigued about her by what I do know. I may have to get in line for a read of the book about her. The whole Roosevelt story is fascinating, including the part about her Uncle Teddy which we still need to do some exploration of when we visit New York again.

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  2. I like that Franklin turned over the land to Eleanor to do with as she saw fit. Pretty much every quote of Eleanor's is a favorite of mine.

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