How To Visit FDR’s Hyde Park With Kids
Here is more about Hyde Park and Presidential Libraries
I was invited on a press tour to visit Hyde Park, the Roosevelt Library, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill estate and famous Top Cottage this past spring. It’s the first time I’ve accepted a press trip without bringing my daughter along. But I was very curious about the library and estate and at 6 1/2 I thought she was too young. She was, but I was surprised at how interactive the library is and how possible it really would be to bring slightly older kids.
Franklin Roosevelt is my second favorite president (after his uncle-in-law Teddy) and Eleanor my favorite first lady. That notwithstanding. FDR was the longest-sitting president. He and Eleanor steered the U.S. through two of the most significant and formative events in modern history. FDR had an interesting private life as well. And his public and private lives come together at Hyde Park.
How Much Time Do You Need:
The library, managed by the National Archives, is huge, highly interactive and absorbing. Then there are the grounds, the mansion, Top Cottage and Eleanor’s Val-Kill. Yup, plan for a whole day, and a long one. Bring snacks and comfy shoes.
The NPS recommends the site for kids ages 7 and up. At age 8 my daughter was able to get something worthwhile out of it. But I would wait until kids have learned about the Great Depression and World War II in American history so that you don’t have to explain the context for everything you see and hear.
Top Cottage. FDR designed this Dutch-style cottage as his retreat from Hyde Park. It’s outstanding for its intimacy and for the parade of world leaders who sat on its modest back porch. Make sure to get the tour from the NPS ranger who is passionate and knowledgeable about the cottage’s history. He can tell you about his conversations with the local man who was sent as a child to buy the hot dogs FDR famously served to British King George.
The presidential library. The first presidential library and the only one used by a sitting president, this museum is extensive, interactive and completely absorbing. Listen to FDR’s fireside chats in a typical 1930s kitchen, count the objects on his cluttered Oval Office desk, and see the convertible he had retrofitted to drive without needing his legs. FDR presided over controversial periods in our history and of course, not everyone was on his side. The library includes opposition documents and speeches to provide the full context of the era of his presidency.
Leave Time For:
Val-Kill, Eleanor’s estate and the only NPS site dedicated to a first lady. Eleanor Roosevelt was unique and ahead of her time. Val-Kill was where she pursued her personal and public interests and where the Roosevelt family frolicked. The tour offers nice insight into her personal life and role in history.
The extensive grounds are free and open sunrise to sunset everyday.
The Hyde Park mansion and presidential library are open daily year-round, 9:00 am -5:00 pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas And New Year’s Day. The Roosevelt home is available by guided tour only. No strollers or baby carriers in the house.
Travel to Top Cottage by shuttle with a ranger from the Visitors’ Center (open May 1 – November 1 only).
Val-Kill is open daily, 9:00 am- 5:00 pm, May 1 – October 31 with tours throughout the day. Hours and tour schedule are abbreviated for the rest of the year.
A combined ticket for the house and library is $18. Children 15 and under are free. Val-Kill and Top Cottage are each $10 for those 16 and older.
Kids 12 and under can ask for a Junior Secret Service kit at the Visitors’ Center.
There is a café with pretty good sandwiches and a patio where you can eat your own picnic.
Reward yourself for a long day of touring with a dinner at one of several impressive restaurants and cafes at the Culinary Institute of America (reservations essential!)