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Breakfast nook in dining room - FDR National Historic Site - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17 | by Tim Evanson
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Breakfast nook in dining room - FDR National Historic Site - Springwood Estate - Hyde Park NY - 2013-02-17

Looking due west through the dining room at the breakfast nook at the Springwood estate of Franklin D. Roosevelt. All furnishings are original, and the house remains unchanged since the day Eleanor Roosevelt vacated it in 1946.


The table is local stained wood (probably American chestnut) and the chairs are bentwood with rattan seating. Most of the dinnerware and serving dishes in the home are from China, although the glassware is definitely American.


This is at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. The claim of Native Americans to the area was ignored by King William III and given to nine New York City businessmen in 1697, and called the "Great Nine Partners Patent". A two-story wood frame house facing east was built on the property sometime between 1790 and 1805. It was 46 feet by 39 feet with a heavy timber frame. Crude bricks were mortared in place between the framing timbers. The house was covered in wide clapboards, with minimal decoration in the Federal style. The windows were two rows, each three panes wide. There were two sashes (one window above, one below), and both could be moved. (In jargon, this a "six-over-six double-hung sash".) These were symmetrically placed in the façade. (The house still features some of these in the central part of the building.) It also had a full basement.


Josiah Wheeler purchase a one-square-mile portion of the property in 1845. Wheeler added a three-story tower to the south end and a two-story servants' wing to the north. The Wheelers also added a garden to the north and east of the house and planted a hemlock hedge around it. (This hedge survives to this day.) Wheeler also added acreage to the estate, enlarging it to 110 acres. He also added a large stable (1850), laundry house (1850), small ice house (1847-1865), and gardener's cottage (1845-1865).


Franklin Roosevelt's father, James Roosevelt, bought Springwood in 1866 for $40,000 (at a time when a factory worker's earnings were $325 a year ). Roosevelt added two elements to the dining room: One was a deep bay (now the breakfast nook) to enlarge the dining space. The other was a two-story, modified hexagonal tower to the north of this nook. On the first floor, this tower was accessed via a door in the breakfast nook, and contained a smoking room. On the second floor, there was a small bedroom accessible from the "Chamber #6" bedroom. When the drawing room was refinished and new furniture added, the old furniture went into the south parlor. A delicately carved mantelpiece was installed there in 1887 to add class. In 1892, the main staircase leading from the lobby to the second floor was installed, and a year later the verandah was extended around the southwest and south parts of the house. James Roosevelt also added another 490 acres of land to the property, and not only farmed the property but used it for forestland. He also added a very large kitchen garden (1880), coach house (1886), duplex house (for staff housing; 1895), and large ice house (1898).


Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882. The Roosevelts had no other children, and James Roosevelt died in 1900. (Franklin had an older half-brother, "Rosey", who lived in a mansion just south of Springwood.) Franklin married his first cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1905. Sara had a "life estate" in the house. This meant that she could live there until she died, although the mansion belonged to Franklin. FDR's first child came in 1906, and he and Eleanor had five more over the next 10 years. With a rapidly expanding family, and Sara living in the house, major changes were needed. Springwood was electrified in 1908. In 1915, a massive upgrade was made to the structure, designed by Hoppin and Koen of New York City. The clapboards were removed and the exterior of the house finished in stucco. A new tower was constructed around the south parlor to match the north tower, and stone north and south wings added to the building. The south wing had a library on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second. The north wing had a large new kitchen in the rear (complete with "cold room"), and a servants' hall and small classroom (that later became FDR's study) for the children in the front. A loggia was added to the front of this wing, and a porch to the north side. On the second floor of the north wing were eight small servants' bedrooms, two new baths, a trunk room, a tiny valet's room, and a new servants' stairs. An entirely new third floor was added over the main building that contained a large playroom, nursery, three bedrooms, two baths, and two tiny "visiting servants" bedrooms. The third floor also featured elliptical and half-round windows capped with swags. The main entrance was also gussied up, with a four-columned portico. Window panes in bo0th new wings were eight-over-eight double-hung sash windows, and a roof balustrade placed atop the entire structure. Over time, Franklin also added a greenhouse (1906), garage (1911), rose garden (1912), and pump house (1916), and added another 900 acres to the property. During his lifetime, Franklin Roosevelt planted more than 200,000 trees (some in tree farms, others in orchards, some as reforestation projects) on the estate.


Until 1941, the two ice houses were filled with ice from the two large artificial ponds on the property. FDR claimed the ice had a special taste that made cocktails better. The night before each election day, Roosevelt's neighbors came in a torchlight parade to the front of the house to wish him good luck. He spent every election night in the dining room with his advisors. From the study in the north wing, Roosevelt delivered some of his famous "fireside chats".


James Roosevelt, his first wife Rebecca Rowland, and his second wife Sara Delano were art collectors. Franklin, too, was a collector – albeit of naval prints and taxidermied animals. Springwood contains family heirlooms going back more than 200 years; numerous pieces of porcelain, jade, wood, and painting from China; an extensive collection of family portraits (some by famous painters, like Gilbert Stuart); and statuary (bronze and marble).


The only building at the Springwood estate which is not original is the large Stables. The original structure burned to the ground in 1971, and was replaced by a steel-beam reproduction in 1974.


Interestingly, the Greenhouse (which cost a staggering $3,700), has three sections. The south and largest section is a hothouse for roses. The middle section is sealed to create moisture for ferns, and the northern section is cooler for plants like carnations. It remains in use today, providing plants for Springwood.


The Gardener's Cottage and Duplex House are both used as employee residences today.


In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt donated the Springwood mansion and 33.23 acres of land around it to the United States. He also donated 12 acres of land for a library, and designed and constructed on that land a presidential library. Congress accepted the donation by passing the Historic Sites Act of 1935 and legislation accepting the library building in 1939.


About 600 feet to the northwest of the Springwood mansion is Bellefield, the mansion of the Newbold/Morgan family. Originally constructed about 1795, the 16-room house was greatly enlarged between 1840 and 1860. Thomas Newbold, a wealthy local investor and state legislator, purchased the residence about 15 acres of land in 1885. The Newbolds, and their descendants the Morgans, were good friends of the Roosevelts. It is used for employee housing and office space today.


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Taken on February 17, 2013