Val-Kill in Hyde Park, NY
Visitor Information4097 Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, New York 12538
Phone: (845) 486-1966
One of the nation’s most influential and admired women, Eleanor Roosevelt blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. Val-Kill, the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady, was originally suggested in 1924 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt while picnicking with his wife Eleanor and her friends, Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook. FDR designed and built a year-round retreat for his wife to enjoy with her friends, and gave the three women a life interest in several acres on his estate in Hyde Park, N.Y. The property was named Val-Kill, Dutch for “waterfall” and “stream” and consisted of a Dutch Colonial house, Stone Cottage, designed by architect Henry Tombs and completed in 1925. Over time, its surrounding meadows and forests were enhanced to include a pond for boating, a pool, tennis court, stables, and flower gardens.
The following year, Mrs. Roosevelt and her friends added a small furniture factory in which they established Val-Kill Industries, where local farmers produced early American furniture, pewter, and woven goods in the off-season to supplement their income and prevent them from having to migrate to the cities. Mrs. Roosevelt’s experience with Val-Kill Industries helped shape her interest in Arthurdale and other New Deal efforts to create self-supporting rural communities.
When the factory closed in 1936 during the Great Depression, Mrs. Roosevelt remodeled the building as a residence. In its lovely pastoral setting, the modest Val-Kill Cottage is the only home that Eleanor Roosevelt considered her own. It is where she began to emerge as an individual and where she spent much of her life after the President’s death in 1945. Until her own death in 1962, the cottage was where she wrote, entertained world leaders, political figures and school children, and where she did much of her work as a delegate to the United Nations. Among the many personal artifacts, papers, and Roosevelt family heirlooms that remain there, are several examples of the furniture produced in the Val-Kill factory.
Today, Mrs. Roosevelt’s home is owned and operated by the National Park Service. In 1998, Val-Kill Cottage was designated an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures (SAT). In June 2000, then First Lady Hillary Clinton led a Save America’s Treasures Tour to Val-Kill which inspired the launch of the private volunteer effort Honoring Eleanor Roosevelt (HER), now sponsored by Save America’s Treasures at the National Trust. It is led by founding SAT Committee members Claudine Bacher of New York City and Carol Hillman of Boston. The group’s successful grassroots efforts have helped raise almost $1 million for projects at Val-Kill Cottage, including restoration of the Roosevelt grandchildren’s playhouse for use as the site’s first visitor center, repatriation of important Roosevelt family memorabilia, development of educational exhibits, and production of the film, “Eleanor Roosevelt: Close to Home” that chronicles Mrs. Roosevelt’s achievements and her legacy at Val-Kill and features the voice of acclaimed actress Jane Alexander. The group has also created the annual Following in Her Footsteps award to celebrate and honor those individuals whose work echoes Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy for the causes she held dear: human rights, equality for all, preserving the environment and social justice. Past recipients have included the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cathy Douglas Stone, and Geraldine Ferraro. In recognition of its significance, Val-Kill was chosen in 2004 from over 1,200 SAT projects across the country to participate as one of 12 sites featured in the “Restore America: A Salute to Preservation” partnership between HGTV, the National Trust and SAT. It also received a $75,000 grant for its participation in the program.