Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill
"The greatest thing
I have learned is how good it is to come home again,"
Eleanor Roosevelt once told a friend. This short sentence
tells of her deep love for this modest little stone
cottage, the only home that was ever truly hers.
the most honored and beloved woman of 20th century America,
Eleanor Roosevelt was more reluctant participant than
eager politician. An unhappy childhood spent in Tivoli,
the early death of her beloved father, and marrying
at age 20 into one of the most prominent families in
the nation set the stage for her ascendency.
When she married Franklin she assumed
she would be the mistress of her home. However, Franklin's
mother, Sarah Delano Roosevelt, was a formidable presence
and ruled the lives of Franklin & his family until
her death. Sarah was the grande dame of Hyde Park and
she accompanied here beloved son everywhere he went,
from the city townhouse she built and decorated for
Franklin & Eleanor to their vacation home at Campobello
to the country estate, Springwood, in Hyde Park. Sarah
was the mistress of the house and expected to be deferred
to in all matters. Eleanor found herself giving in to
Sara at all points in all things.
When Franklin was elected to NY's
Senate in 1910 and later his appointment as Assistant
Secretary of the Navy, Eleanor was finally free of her
mother-in-law and formed her own circle of political
and private friends. As she persued her political work
in the Democratic party two women became her closest
friends, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman.
In 1924 during a visit of these friends
to the Hyde Park estate, Franklin, Elenaor and her two
friends picnicked at one of Eleanor's favorite spots,
Fall Kill, on the estate. The conversation turned to
Eleanor's complaints that Sara was closing the estate
for the year, making this the last outing of the season.
Franklin suggested that the three friends build a cottage
nearby. The three thought the idea grand, Franklin hired
the architect and in 1925 the small fieldstone cottage
was ready and christened Val-Kill after the nearby stream.
Her friends moved in immediately and
Eleanor spent weekends and holidays. Here at last was
a place she did not have to surrender to her mother-in-law's
control. She could have the friends she wanted, come
and go as she pleased and be alone to her thoughts when
she wanted. It was her house, her's alone.
The next year the three friends had
built a larger structure to hold Val-Kill Industries,
an experimental business they started with their friend
Caroline O'Day. The four women wanted to found a business
to employ local craftsmen to keep them from having to
leave their homes and move into the city. They believed
that if the farm-workers could be trained in manufacturing
skills they would have the ability to sustain an income
when farming was tough. For 10 years local men and women
made replicas of early American furniture, pewter and
Despite Val-Kill Industries making
products of high quality, the enterprise, like so many
others, was forced to fold as another victim of the
Instead of closing down the factory
building. Eleanor, by now First Lady, converted it into
two apartments for herself and her secretary Malvina
"Tommy" Thompson, with several guest rooms
to handle the overflow from the big house. During the
hectic Roosevelt presidential years, Hyde Park was a
welcome refuge for Franklin from unceasing activity
in Washington, as well as a quiet place for Eleanor
to rest after her whirlwind trips around the country.
When Franklin could not accompany her to Hyde Park,
Eleanor spent her visits at Val-Kill rather than in
the imposing mansion. "My house seems nicer than
ever and I could be happy in it alone!" she wrote
her daughter Anna. "That's the last test of one's
Foreign heads of state who visited
the president usually spent time at Hyde Park. After
visiting the Roosevelt home, dignitaries such as Winston
Churchill and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands dined
beside the outdoor fireplace at Val-Kill. Eleanor continued
this tradition of informal gatherings outside her cottage
long after Franklin died. As specified by his will,
she turned the big house over to the US Government but
kept the Val-Kill complex for herself, living in the
converted furniture factory, which she renamed Val-Kill
Cottage, for 17 more years.
In this placid setting she received
some of the most important world leaders of the time.
Nikita Khrushchev, Marshal Tito, Haile Selassie, and
Jawaharlal Nehro all came to Hyde Park to see Franklin
Roosevelt's grave and pay their respects to his widow.
To Eleanor, these visits were opportunities for her
to discuss humanitarian issues candidly with influential
men. She was also hostess to Adlai Stevenson, a frequent
visitor, labor leader Walter Reuther, and John F. Kennedy,
who sought her blessings for his 1960 presidential campaign.
There were other guests who were less famous but no
less welcome. Each summer she entertained more than
150 youngsters from the local Wiltwyck School for delinquent
boys. She put on an all-American picnic. The children
ate hot dogs and played games, and afterwards Eleanor
read to them from Kipling. Eleanor's family and personal
friends often stayed at Val-Kill; she delighted in planning
large holiday celebrations for loved ones. Despite the
steady procession of family and guests, Val-Kill was
most important as this great woman's sanctuary. It was
the one place where she could relax and work uninterrupted
late into the night.
After Eleanor died in 1962, her house
was made over into four rental units. In 1970 the property
was sold to private developers who planned to build
on the land. Worried that the development would damage
a valuable historic asset, concerned citizens organized
a drive to preserve the site, which in turn sparked
interest in establishing a national memorial. In May
1977 President Jimmy Carter signed the bill creating
the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, "in
order to commemorate for the education, inspiration,
and benefit of present and future generations the life
and work of an outstanding women in American History."
visitors are asked to view a lively and informative
video presentation in the main visitor center on Eleanor
Roosevelt. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site,
Val-Kill Cottage, the Depression-era workshop and Eleanor's
home from 1945 to 1962, is open to visitors, as is the
Stone Cottage (if not in other use), the original residence
on the site.
A tour of the grounds includes the
outbuildings, the flower gardens, the swimming pool,
the Val-Kill pond. Visitors are also invited to walk
the trails that meander through the site's wooded areas.
Hours: The Eleanor Roosevelt National
Historic Site is open Thursdays through Mondays from
9:00am to 5:00pm. (The last guided tour begins at 4:30
pm.) The site is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The
grounds are open daily year-round until sunset. Closed
Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day
Entrance Fee: Entrance to the park
grounds is free. An $8.00 fee for adults includes a
Guided Tour of the Home of Eleanor Roosevelt (Val-Kill).
Children ages 16 and under are admitted free of charge.
All visitors (including children) must have a tour ticket
in order to join a Guided Tour. Access to Val-Kill is
by guided tour only.
Tickets for Val-Kill are issued at
the Val-Kill Orientation Center at the site. Families
or individuals may also reserve ahead by contacting
our Reservation Center at 1-800-967-2283 or by secure
website at http://reservations.nps.gov. Reservations
are accepted up to five months in advance.
Golden Age Passports, Golden Access
Passports, Golden Eagle Passports, and National Park
Passes provide for free entry to any available tour
at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt historic sites. In addition,
the accompanying spouse and children of the cardholder
will be admitted without charge.