Kykuit, Springwood, and the Clinton Wedding in Rhinebeck
Richard J. Garfunkel
This Saturday we spent the afternoon with Marc Soucy and Nancy Jenkinson from Boston. They were down in Westchester on a serendipitous trip to see some of the sights. Linda had suggested Kykuit, the Westchester home of the Rockefeller Clan which is situated right on Route 9 in the Village of Sleepy Hollow, which previously had been known as North Tarrytown. Kykuit was built by John D. Rockefeller in 1902, and has been the home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Kykuit means “high point” in Dutch and has breathtaking views of the Hudson River. Kykuit is home to beautiful furniture, paintings and sculptures. The grounds contain wonderful terraces, fountains, gardens, and a large collection of 20th century sculpture. Kykuit also has a large collection of antique cars and horse drawn vehicles.
Meanwhile, Sleepy Hollow is a village in the Town of Mount Pleasant, which originally was named North Tarrytown which was a product of the merger of the neighborhoods of Beekmantown and Sleepy Hollow in the 19th Century. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan and just north of Tarrytown, which is the Town of Greenburgh. The village decided to change its name in 1996 when residents voted to have it changed to honor the Washington Irving story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
After our usual tennis games in Armonk, our trip back to our home in Watch Hill, our showers and change of clothes, we headed over to Kikuyu to meet the Marc and Nancy and led them (in their car) to the Hyde Park, and Springwood, the ancestral home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The trip usually takes one hour and the Taconic Parkway was smooth sailing until the exit for Route 55 West. After reaching Poughkeepsie, it’s only another four miles up Route 9 to Hyde Park and the Roosevelt homestead and library.
We toured the Henry A. Wallace Center, the Rose Garden and the graves of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, walked around the mansion, named Springwood, and looked down the valley towards the Hudson, which was blocked from view because of the trees near the banks of the river.
The estate, which also comprised about one square mile of land at the time, was bought in this condition by Franklin D. Roosevelt's father, James Roosevelt, in 1866 for a price of $40,000. At this time, a stable and a horse track had been built already, which was important to James Roosevelt since he took a great interest in horse breeding. From right after the purchase until his death 34 years later, James Roosevelt had many improvements of the house carried out. He enlarged the servants' wing of the building and added two rooms. He also had a spacious carriage house built in the vicinity.
In 1915, Franklin D. Roosevelt together with his mother Sara undertook a final major enlargement and remodeling of the home. Franklin D. Roosevelt contributed many ideas for the new design, but since the building work was paid for by his mother Sara, she had to find compromises which also took the financial aspect into account. She commissioned the design work the firm of Hoppin and Koen from New York City. The size of the house was more than doubled by adding two large fieldstone wings (designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt), a tower, and a third story with a flat roof. The clapboard exterior of the house was replaced with stucco and most of the porch was replaced with a fieldstone terrace with a balustrade and a small columned portico around the entrance. These alterations gave the exterior of the house the look of a mansion in Colonial Revival Style. The interior retained much of the layout of the old family home and was designed primarily with housing Franklin D. Roosevelt's growing collections of books, paintings, stamps, and coins. The remodeling work was finished within one year in 1916. Franklin Roosevelt also changed the appearance of the surrounding land by extensive planting of trees. Between 1911, when the large scale planting started and Roosevelt's death in 1945, more than 400,000 trees were planted on the estate.
After eating lunch at the Nesbitt Café, which was ironically named after the White House’s director of “cuisine,” Henrietta Nesbitt, whose food never really agreed with the President, we headed over to the FDR Library.
By the way, Henrietta and her husband, Henry F. Nesbitt, had been neighbors of the Roosevelts in Hyde Park, New York. Eleanor Roosevelt and Nesbitt met through the formation of a local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Mrs. Roosevelt, heavily involved in her husband’s campaign for governor of New York, asked Nesbitt to make baked goods for the Roosevelt’s growing social functions at Hyde Park. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the White House in 1932, Mrs. Roosevelt asked both Nesbitts to work for them in the White House. Henry Nesbitt tracked the household accounts as chief steward. Two sets of books had to be kept as the government only paid for state dinners and receptions; all other meals were charged to the Roosevelts. After Henry Nesbitt’s death in 1938, Mrs. Nesbitt took over these duties with the help of an assistant.
Mrs. Nesbitt proved to be an indefatigable worker and her position involved not only care of the house, but oversight of the servants, meal planning, and the purchase of supplies from her command post on the ground floor of the historic residence. The Roosevelts were socially active and entertained over 10,000 persons during the 1937 season at the White House.
Nesbitt became a minor celebrity through her position and gave newspaper interviews about her menus. She also appeared on a radio program with other White House staffers to discuss the running of the presidential mansion. Her plain home-style meals were never widely appreciated at the White House and both President Roosevelt and visitors complained about the quality and variety of foods that were served. A 1937 New York Times article stated “any man might rebel against being served salt fish for luncheon four days in a row.” Roosevelt had a food rebellion the prior week and said that the “kitchen had better not send him any more liver for a while and he is also getting pretty tired of string beans.”
After our lunch we headed over to the FDR Library and Museum which was conceived and built under President Roosevelt's direction during 1939-40 on 16 acres of land in Hyde Park, New York, donated by the President and his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. The library resulted from the President's decision that a separate 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. Prior to Roosevelt's Presidency, the final disposition of Presidential papers was left to chance. Although a valued part of the nation's heritage, the papers of chief executives were private property which they took with them upon leaving office. Some were sold or destroyed and thus either scattered or los t to the nation forever. Others remained with families, but inaccessible to scholars for long periods of time. The fortunate collections found their way into the Library of Congress and private repositories.
After we toured the museum portion of the library, which is in the midst of not only putting together an new exhibit on the 75th anniversary of the passing of the Social Security Act in 1935, but a long-awaited renovation, we all decided to head north to Rhinebeck and the site of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding.
Rhinebeck, the home of a bit over 2000 residents, is only 10 miles north on Route 9. It is a wonderful, small town, artsy community, which is the home of the Beekman Arms Hotel. The village originally started as a European settlement which dated to 1686, when a group of Dutch crossed the river from Kingston and bought 2,200 acres of land from the local Iroquois tribes. Later, Henry Beekman obtained a patent for the land, and saw a need for development to begin. He brought into the area Casper Landsman, a miller, and William Traphagen, a builder. In 1703 the New York colonial assembly approved money for the construction of the King's Highway, later known as the Albany Post Road and today most of Route 9. The oldest building in the village is the Beekman Arms, built in 1700 and is reported to be the oldest inn in America.
The oldest house in the village is the Benner House, built in 1739.Rhinebeck was finally incorporated in 1834, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a native of nearby Hyde Park would play a role in the town's history during the later years of the Great Depression when he oversaw the design process for the new post office. He had long promoted Dutch-style fieldstone as a material for public buildings in the area, and told the architects to use Henry Beekman's house (burned in a 1910 fire) as their model and some of its remaining stones for the post office. He spoke at the dedication ceremony and helped lay the cornerstone.
It wasn’t easy finding a parking place in Rhinebeck, but eventually we found a open space in one of the municipal lots off Market Street, We strolled around, stopped into some of the shops, talked to the storekeepers, who were quite excited about the Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding. This wedding put Rhinebeck on the map, and thousands of visitors in the streets, eating at their restaurants, and buying local trinkets. We even stopped by at Gigi’s Trattoria, which hosted former President Clinton the day before. When it was heard that the president was having lunch there, over 1000 folks had gathered in front of the restaurant. When he finally appeared, a great roar of welcome came from the group of admirers and the president signed autographs and greeted all he could.
By the time we left, there were still hundreds of locals, tourists, reporters (Rehema Ellis of NBC was strolling around when I met her) and media hanging around the Beekman Arms and the adjoining area. Everyone was eager to see a celebrity or two. But, all who were invited were already ensconced at the Astor Estate and probably sitting down to dinner.
It was a long day, which started with tennis up in Armonk, so by 6:00 pm we decided to go to dinner back in Hyde Park, at the art-deco Eveready Diner. Which has been featured on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVolPZ8Vxj0 .We all had a great meal. I can only remember that I had a cup of matzo ball soup and a strip steak, but every one was quite happy and satiated. It was now close to 8:00 pm and we headed back to Tarrytown, and our friends made their way down to the Mid-Hudson Rover Bridge and their accommodations in Newburgh. By 9:00 pm we were back in Tarrytown, and ready for a well-deserved rest.