Virtual Tour of Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

You can enjoy an on line tour of President Van Buren’s home by clicking on the button. Van Buren and his family resided here at “Lindenwald,” a 220 acre farm, from 1841 to 1862. During that time, amidst the rough and tumble of antebellum politics, the President orchestrated two more campaigns for the White House from these very rooms. As you view images of each room in Lindenwald imagine family members, servants, dignitaries, guests and farmhands experiencing the joys and hardships of daily life as the country lurched inexorably toward civil war.

First Floor

East and North Entrances

Through these entrances to Martin Van Buren’s home, visitors are able to glimpse into the President’s life and the community of people that surrounded him. These doors frame major points in the house’s history. The Dutch door at the far end of the hall is the original 1797 entrance to the house.

East and North Entrances

The north door, built over 50 years later in 1849 during a major enlargement of the house, became the main entrance at that time. Like the house, Van Buren’s life is framed by major points. His birth is marked by the promise of the American Revolution; his life and work by the tumult of antebellum politics, and finally his passing by the tragedy of the Civil War. Enter Lindenwald to learn more about “the Red Fox of Kinderhook,” his times and his home.

The Main Hall

When Van Buren came to Lindenwald after his presidential term he created this elegant dining room, with its French wallpaper and banquet table, out of two separate rooms. While it’s easy to imagine a large family and guests enjoying dinner here, or several servants bustling around the table cleaning up afterward, it’s harder for us in the 21st century to recognize the political function of this room.

The Main Hall

In the days before sound bites and vast bureaucracies, most politics was conducted personally. And when Van Buren came to Lindenwald, he had no intention of retiring, despite his loss of a second term. In fact, he sought the presidency twice more before finally becoming a full-time gentleman farmer. So it was in this very room, during elegant dinners with visiting politicians and strategists, that Van Buren conducted the business of the antebellum Democratic Party.

Best Bedroom

The best bedroom was reserved for special guests visiting Martin Van Buren such as the Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. The large room was located on the first floor close to the main hall and the President’s library to which male guests could retire to smoke and play cards after dinner. The four post canopy bed that was once Martin and Hannah Van Buren’s could keep any guest warm inside its’ heavy drapes on a drafty winter’s evening. The carpet is a reproduction based on a fragment found trapped under some tacks in Lindenwald in the floor.

Best Bedroom

Hannah Hoes Van Buren was a devoted wife and gentle mother who died in 1819 after only twelve years of marriage. Very little is known of this golden-haired woman who was a childhood friend of Martin Van Buren. She never saw Lindenwald nor did she see him reach the height of his political power.

The Green Room

Oftentimes during Martin Van Buren’s residency at Lindenwald laughter and pleasant conversation emanated from the Green Room – the place where family and friends gathered after dinner to socialize. Lindenwald’s location on the Old Post Road, a day’s travel from Albany, made the home a convenient overnight stop. Guests included family, friends, celebrities and politicians who were traveling between the state capital to the north and Manhattan to the south.

The Green Room

Time for conversation allowed them to catch up on each other’s lives and discuss current events. Music, parlor games, and passages read aloud from books and periodicals filled the evening hours.

The Formal Parlor

Above all else Martin Van Buren was known for his formidable powers of persuasion. His wizardry at managing the complexities of antebellum politics resulted in one of his enduring nicknames, “the Little Magician”. The formal parlor in Lindenwald was one of the places where Van Buren often practiced his magic.

The Formal Parlor
Politicians traveling to Albany could easily stop to meet with President Van Buren. Invariably they would be shown to the formal parlor where Van Buren could lobby, cajole, entertain, argue, amuse, arm twist and do all the other things that a skillful political operative does to exert his influence.

Imagine the pressure you might feel sitting across the table from Van Buren with portraits of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson staring down at you. The distinctive woodwork and striking Ogee arch make the room an impressive backdrop for the work of a politician.

The Breakfast Room

The breakfast room provides a contrast to the adjacent formal parlor. Here, in the much more intimate breakfast room, President Van Buren could not only dine with close friends and associates, but also take meals with his children and grandchildren. The portrait is of teenager Mary Singleton McDuffie, niece of Angelica and Abraham Van Buren. Mary, who grew up in South Carolina, would visit Lindenwald during the summer months.

The Library

Here in the library Van Buren and his guests could retire after dinner to continue their discussions about the political issues splitting the country during the period before the Civil War. Much of the discussion revolved around the issue of how to keep the Union together as opinions over slavery hardened. This issue eventually eclipsed all others during the years between the Revolution and the Civil War.

The Library

Along with Martin Van Buren the political figures depicted in the cartoons hanging in the library – Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun and others – grappled with this problem and were ultimately overwhelmed by it. This generation watched in horror as the nation they built drifted toward Civil War.

Smith's Bedroom

By 1849, Van Buren had been living at Lindenwald for eight years. He invited his youngest son Smith and family to join him on the 220 acre farm. Smith and wife Henrietta’s daughter Eliza’s portrait hangs in the room. Smith instigated a large addition and modernization to the house.

Smith's Bedroom

The number of rooms in the house doubled to 36 and modern conveniences (such as a coal burning furnace, running water, and an indoor flush toilet, lavatory and tub) were added to accommodate family and guests. The unique indoor toilet was quite a curiosity in the middle of the nineteenth century

Cellar

The Kitchen

The kitchen was the primary workspace in the cellar. Although the cook had use of the latest in kitchen appliances such as the coal burning stove, hand-operated pump, and running water, imagine the difficulty of preparing a formal meal for as many as twenty guests here. The kitchen looks peaceful now but in Van Buren’s day it was bustling with activity, heat, smoke, cleaning, and constant food preparation. Not only did the Van Buren family require daily meals, but also the guests, farmhands and other servants!

The Laundry Room

A household as large as Lindenwald’s required a great deal of labor to run properly. The elegant lifestyle we see in the formal rooms would not have been possible without the availability of inexpensive domestic servants. Not only did the family produce a great many dirty clothes on a daily basis, but President Van Buren’s political and social guests generated an endless stream of soiled table and bath linens. All of the laundry came here to this room, and was the responsibility of the laundress. Here in a hot cramped room the laundress would use the pitcher pump to draw water and a great deal of labor over many long hours to maintain the neatness of the clothes and other textiles in the Van Buren home.

The Servant's Bedroom

Lindenwald’s domestic servants, mostly Irish potato famine refugees, kept the household running smoothly. Imagine the work associated with a group of twenty guests for dinner with perhaps half of them staying overnight. What were the tasks associated with serving a meal, preparing bedrooms, and making sure guests were comfortable? The young women who cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and took care of guests, worked for room, board, and a small salary. In Kinderhook they were not only an ocean away from loved ones, they were also isolated from other Irish immigrants and far from a Catholic Church. Turnover was rapid as they moved to urban areas like Albany or to the nearby Valatie mills.

The Cellar

More is revealed about Van Buren, who is known for his political savvy, after descending from the living spaces on the first floor to the cellar. In the cellar, north of the kitchen and laundry room, is more space where it’s apparent that the former president was also interested in the technological advancements of his time as shown by Lindenwald’s furnace. The furnace, installed in 1850, also suggests Van Buren’s veneration of Thomas Jefferson who, like Van Buren, had embraced innovation at his home, Monticello. Also located on the north side of the cellar were other utility rooms including a root cellar, an ice room and a coal storage room.

The Servant's Dining Room

The servant’s dining room provided a place of welcome, though brief, rest from the toil of serving the Lindenwald household. Here the maids, cook, and laundress would take their meals together. Room and board was provided to the servants who labored for between $1.50 and $3.00 a week salary. Farmhands, too, would sometimes eat meals in this room.

Second Floor

John's Bedroom

John Van Buren, a lawyer by profession, served as Attorney General of New York from 1845 to 1847. He was the only one of Martin Van Buren’s sons to follow him into the political arena. John was active in the Democratic Party, and as political turmoil grew over the slavery issue he took an active role in establishing the Free Soil Party. To make a dramatic political statement, he prevailed on his father to run for president as the Free Soil candidate in 1848. Like his father, John had lost his wife, Elizabeth Vanderpoel, after only a few years of marriage. The spacious writing desk lit by a solar lamp suggests it was not just Martin Van Buren’s busy career that found a home base at Lindenwald.

Abraham's Bedroom

Abraham Van Buren, a graduate of West Point, married Angelica Singleton, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner. They were introduced at President Van Buren’s inaugural ball by her relative, Dolly Madison. Since her father-in-law was a widower, Angelica took on the duty of White House hostess during the Van Buren administration and later helped set up housekeeping at Lindenwald. As the issue of slavery displaced all others in the 1840’s and 1850’s there may well have been some tense and awkward times between President Van Buren, Abraham, and Angelica, the daughter of an influential slave-holding family from the first state to secede from the Union.

Martin Jr.'s Bedroom

The third son of Martin Van Buren, Martin Jr. was ill for a good portion of his life. He eventually died of consumption at the age of 42. His bedroom denotes a sick room with the ruffled bedding, chamber pot, step stool, and a chair positioned in the sunshine. Martin Jr. was fond of Fanny Elssler, a leading European ballerina during the 1840’s whom he had met during his father’s presidency. His fondness is revealed by several collectibles contained in this room, the ballerina candleholder on the chest of drawers next to the sleigh bed as well as an etching of Elssler which hangs above the fireplace.

The Guest's Bedroom

Arrayed around a large center hall on the second floor are five bedrooms. In the middle of the second floor is a guest bedroom. After a long day of travel along the Old Post Road friends or political visitors to Lindenwald could stay in this room overnight. With its dramatic Palladian window it was a pleasant, comfortable place to rest after socializing or spending a tiring, but rewarding evening planning political strategy with the “Red Fox of Kinderhook” as Martin Van Buren was known due to his red hair and political skill.

The President's Bedroom

President Van Buren’s room is in the sunny southeast corner of the house. Here there are several mementos of his political career including a framed tribute to Andrew Jackson above the mantle.

The President's Bedroom

It was on this bed that Martin Van Buren passed from life on July 24, 1862 during the turmoil of the Civil War. It must have been deeply troubling for a man who had struggled for his entire career to hold the Union together to watch it splitting apart. He died not knowing whether the nation he had helped to build would continue to exist.

The Stairwell
The stair tower that connects the original portions of the house with the additions built in 1849 provides an apt metaphor to end this virtual tour of President Van Buren’s house.  Martin Van Buren was born at the country’s inception and his life and work bridged its early tumultuous years up to the Civil War.  The stair tower spans the entire elevation of the house, connects old and new and finally has several twists and turns as does the complex and absorbing history of America’s antebellum years.
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