“My heart has always been here. It always will be.” With these few words President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) captured his feelings for his home in Hyde Park as he addressed friends and neighbors gathered in front of the house on election night in 1940. His love of the place where he was born and raised prompted him to begin the process in 1943 of deeding his home to the National Park Service, ensuring that it would be available to future generations.
Franklin’s father, James Roosevelt, purchased the 110-acre estate in 1867 for $40,000. The property included a house overlooking the Hudson River and a working farm. FDR was born in this house on January 30, 1882, the only child of Sara and James Roosevelt. Growing up with a view of the majestic Hudson River, he developed a love of the river and the valley through which it flowed. By age eight, he was sailing the Hudson. As a young adult, racing his ice yacht “Hawk” was a favorite winter pastime.
Franklin accompanied his father on daily horseback rides. During these times he became immersed in the land, its history, and particularly the trees. In later years, he expanded his parents’ land holdings to nearly 1,500 acres and planted over half a million trees. His interest in tree farming translated into a New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC provided jobs to unemployed men age 17-28. Over 10 years, enrollees planted over three billion trees and built over 800 parks nationwide.
Surrounded by the rich agricultural heritage of the Hudson Valley all his life, FDR felt a strong affinity with farmers. One of the first New Deal programs instituted during the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, was designed to help farmers retain their land. His subsistence homestead projects relocated poverty-stricken families into government subsidized rural communities that provided decent housing, cooperative work and farming, and schools.
When Franklin Roosevelt married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they resided in both the house at Hyde Park and their New York townhouse. Franklin and Eleanor had six children, one died in infancy. FDR supervised the expansion and redesign of the house to accommodate his growing family and his political ambitions, ensuring it reflected the Dutch Colonial architecture of the Hudson Valley.
FDR contracted polio in 1921 and was paralyzed from the waist down. He held out hope for a cure, but was never able to walk again unaided. The multi-level home was adapted to his needs with ramps along short steps. The trunk lift, installed years before the onset of FDR’s polio, became his transportation to the second floor.
In 1932 FDR was elected to the first of an unprecedented four terms as President of the United States. His presidency redefined the role of government in America, establishing programs designed to improve the lives of all Americans. These programs included Social Security, the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the establishment of minimum wage, and unemployment insurance.
During his 12 years as President, FDR led the nation through an economic crisis of enormous proportions and the Second World War. He continually returned to this home he loved, seeking strength and relaxation. He entertained foreign dignitaries here, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In the small study, FDR and Churchill initialed a document known as the “Hyde Park Aide Memoire,” that outlined possible future uses of the atomic bomb.
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, FDR died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was laid to rest on April 15 in the rose garden here. One year after his death, on April 12, 1946, the home opened to the public. At the dedication Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I think Franklin realized that . . . people . . . would understand the rest and peace and strength which he had gained here and perhaps . . . go away with some sense of healing and courage themselves.”