Monday, August 11, 2008

Part II: Val-Kill


Val-Kill was Eleanor Roosevelt’s home and has been turned into a museum in honor of her. The big house that is part of the FDR library grounds was his mother’s (Sara Roosevelt’s), but Val-Kill was actually Eleanor’s. Val-Kill (and a “kill” is just a creek in Dutch, hence all those “kills” in New York names.) was originally part of the larger estate and the Roosevelts would picnic by the creek. Eventually Franklin helped Eleanor get set up there so she would have something of her own and so she could come even when Sara wasn’t in residence. Eleanor and two friends, Nan and Marion, went in together to build the cottage. Nan and Marion lived there permanently while Eleanor just spent holidays and weekends there until Franklin’s death, when this became her permanent base home.

The women started Val-Kill industries to help displaced farmers learn new skills in furniture making. The business failed during the Depression, but you can still see some of the furniture on display at Val-Kill.

The house tour is guided and starts with a short video. The video is very general and fairly uninspired. I was not too impressed as while it didn’t actually lie, it definitely left things out and made them give the wrong impression (my husband was on me the entire time to behave and not aggravate the tour guides). For instance, when Eleanor found out about Franklin’s affairs, she offered him a divorce, but Sara put her foot down and threatened to disown him if he divorced Eleanor. Now the video says that Eleanor choose to stay in the marriage and leaves it there. Not really untrue, but definitely only part of the story.

On Eleanor’s desk is a name plate with her name misspelled. A child made it for her and gave it to her and she always kept it as she didn’t want to hurt his feelings if he ever came back.


In the living room area, there are tons of pictures of all the dignitaries that Eleanor met throughout her life. That room is where she met with Jack Kennedy before agreeing to support him in the 1960 campaign.

Now this house does not have AC and they don’t conduct the second half of the tour (the second floor) in the heat (supposedly someone fainted up there this summer). What made me a little upset about this is that they didn’t tell us that we’d only get half the tour when we signed up for it. At this point, we had the choice of this guided tour or the FDR home and had we known in advance that Val-Kill was only a half tour, we would have chosen FDR.

Things to Remember:

  • Ask if the tour is going to cover both floors.
  • The cottage is where the tour is, but the stone house, also on the property, is actually an office building, so you won’t be able to see anything unless they are open (it is an Eleanor Roosevelt foundation). They are actually constructing a new building soon.
  • These grounds are very relaxing and there is a nice trail to walk if you have time. You can definitely see why Eleanor found it so relaxing. There are also a lot on the grounds to see, like tennis courts and a pool.
  • There are much nicer facilities (restrooms, etc.) at the FDR library so if you can plan it, so you can use those, rather than these. The restrooms weren’t bad, but there are no baby changing tables (can you tell I have an infant?) and they are much more “park” restrooms, whereas the FDR ones was really nice indoor ones.
  • This museum and the FDR museum are very close (since they were originally the same estate), both in Hyde Park. The Vanderbilt Museum is also in Hyde Park, so there is a ton to do here and you can definitely make a day of this area.

This was a good experience, but I do wish we would have gotten the entire tour or at least told in advance what we were missing. The grounds are beautiful and the house is a fun experience. Definitely worth the time if you are in the area.

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