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Summertime in Hyde Park

“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944


Springwood, FDR’s childhood home, was often called Roosevelt’s “Summer White House.” Owned by his mother Sara until her death in 1941, the property remained Roosevelt’s home throughout his presidency. He returned here often for respite and family events, including his mother’s 80th birthday party, as shown below.

The Roosevelt family on the lawn of Springwood – FDR, Jr; Elliott; James; John; ER; Sara; FDR; Ruth; Betsy; Sara; Eleanor; Curtis; Anna – September 21, 1934. Photo by Margaret D.M. Brown.

 Living by the Hudson River greatly influenced Franklin Roosevelt’s interest in all things nautical. He amassed a large collection of ship models, many of which are within the museum collection at the FDR Library. Included are some of Roosevelt’s own creations, which he made to sail on the Hudson with his children. Below is an example of FDR’s handiwork along with a photo of the Roosevelt family sailing a ship model.

Ship Model of the ORTONA, made by Franklin D. Roosevelt.


FDR with sons Elliott and James, sailing a ship model off Rosedale point on the Hudson River, Summer 1922.


Two miles east of Springwood, the Roosevelts established the Val-Kill estate in 1927, originally the location of Val-Kill Industries. After the business dissolved in 1938, Eleanor used the property primarily as her private retreat as well as a place to entertain guests. Franklin was the contractor and builder of the property and even assisted in designing the swimming pool. Below is a photo of Franklin, Eleanor, and Missy LeHand enjoying a day by the pool.

Val-Kill pool, Summer 1940.

During the Presidential years, the Roosevelts had a new pool built with a better filtration system and installed closer to the cottage. After the President’s death in 1945, Eleanor used Val-Kill as her permanent Hudson Valley residence. She continued to swim and entertain at the site. Below is Eleanor’s bathing suit along with a photo of her by the pool wearing the suit.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s bathing suit. Made by Sak’s Fifth Avenue.


Eleanor on the lawn by the Val-Kill pool, Summer 1959. Photo by Keith M. Taylor.

Top Cottage

FDR’s own private retreat, Top Cottage, was built in Hyde Park during his second term in office as a place for the President to relax and entertain special guests away from the increasingly busy home estate. To learn more about the construction of the cottage, please visit:

A few of those special guests included King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England for the Roosevelts’ famous Hot Dog Picnic, which took place on the lawn on June 11, 1939. Other guests included Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who can be seen in the photo below enjoying a summer’s day with friends while sitting on the porch at Top Cottage.

Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, King George II of Greece, FDR, and others on the porch of Top Cottage – June 27, 1942.


Americans With Disabilities Act

President Roosevelt in his wheelchair on the porch at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, NY with Ruthie Bie and Fala. February 1941.

President Roosevelt in his wheelchair on the porch at Top Cottage in Hyde Park, NY with Ruthie Bie and Fala. February 1941.

To commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the National Archives is featuring Presidential records related to disability history on a new web research page. Following that theme, below is a brief description of how FDR’s disability affected the design of his private retreat and of the first Presidential Library.

The FDR Library Building

The FDR Library was conceived and built under President Roosevelt’s direction during 1939-41 on 16 acres of land in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt decided that a dedicated facility was needed to house the vast quantity of historical papers, books, and memorabilia he had accumulated during a lifetime of public service and private collecting.

FDR considered himself to be an amateur architect, and was intimately involved in the design of the Library. He was particularly fond of the Hudson Valley Dutch Colonial style of architecture, and the Library was built in this fashion. The building provided not only museum space for visitors and a formal office for FDR but also storage areas for FDR’s vast collections.

Because a 1921 attack of polio had left Roosevelt paralyzed from the waist down, FDR  primarily used personally-designed wheelchairs for daily mobility. Since he intended to personally and regularly use the vast collection of papers and manuscripts housed in the archives at the Library, he made sure the storage area aisles were built wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair. He also personally designed the document storage boxes initially used to house his papers. To enable his own lap-top style reading while in the storage areas, a special box type was created that could lie flat on the shelf, open in a clam-shell fashion, and act as a sort of paper tray. For preservation purposes, these boxes have since been replaced with newer, acid-free archival containers, but FDR’s original shelving remains in place in many parts of the Library storage areas.

Historic view of FDR Library Archival Stacks

An archivist at work in the FDR Library archival stacks, circa 1950s. The document boxes were designed by FDR.

Historic view of FDR Library Archival Stacks

Historic view of FDR Library archival stacks, featuring the original document boxes. FDR’s carefully arranged shelving remains in place in some areas of the Library today.

Top Cottage

Architectural design to accommodate FDR’s disability is also seen at Top Cottage, the Dutch Colonial style retreat FDR built for himself in 1938. FDR played a large role in the design of the building, which features a number of accommodations for FDR’s wheelchair. There are no steps to the first floor of the cottage, and a natural earthen ramp was built off the porch to provide access. Within the cottage, there are no thresholds on any of the doorways that might prohibit FDR from easily accessing any of the rooms, and all of the windows inside were built lower to the ground to give FDR clear views of the outside.

Architect's drawing of To Cottage exterior

Architect’s drawing of Top Cottage exterior

Top Cottage blueprint with FDR's handwritten notations

Top Cottage blueprint with FDR’s handwritten notations

View of the Top Cottage drawing room interior, 1945

View of the Top Cottage drawing room interior, 1945

Find more information about about FDR and polio on our Library’s official website.

June 11, 1939: FDR hosts a hot dog picnic at Top Cottage for King George IV and Queen Elizabeth of England.

Menu for the Picnic at Top Cottage with the British King and Queen


Did you know:

  • On June 12, 1939 FDR addressed the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY.
  • On June 10, 1940, FDR issued a proclamation of neutrality in the war between Italy, France and Great Britain.
  • On June 13, 1942, FDR issued the executive order establishing the Office of War Information and a military order establishing the Office of Strategic Services.

June 11, 1939: FDR hosts a hot dog picnic at Top Cottage for King George IV and Queen Elizabeth of England.

Menu for the Picnic at Top Cottage with the British King and Queen

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