We visited a president couple of weeks ago. And no, we didn’t travel to the White House. Instead, my wife Marge and I, with our son as the able and willing tour guide, spent a day in historic Hyde Park on our vacation, a pristine town of 1,908 residents in New York’s picturesque Hudson River Valley.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, known just as FDR to many, America’s longest serving president, was born and is buried here. His home, and that of his wife Eleanor, are National Historic Sites. President Roosevelt donated his home and 33 acres to the American people in 1943 on the condition that his family would be allowed to use it after his death. It was transferred to the Department of the Interior on November 21, 1945, after the family relinquished their lifetime rights and today it is a 290-acre national historic site.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, which we found fascinating, tells the story of the two greatest crises the United States has faced: the Great Depression and World War II. But since this was to be our first experience at a Presidential Library we really didn’t know what to expect. Well, Presidential Libraries are not really libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, preserving the written record and physical history of our presidents, described by President Ronald Reagan as "classrooms of Democracy," and they belong to the American people.
The FDR Presidential Library was the first of 13 such libraries. Designed by FDR himself in the Dutch colonial style it opened in 1941 and was the only one used by a sitting president.
"The dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith…a nation must believe…in the capacity of its own people to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future." — Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Library Dedication, June 30, 1941.
As you navigate the library you follow the path of our 32nd president, and the only president to serve four terms of office, through the Great Depression, The New Deal, his fireside chats, Pearl Harbor, World War II, his death and ultimately his legacy.
The heart wrenching exhibits revive memories for those who lived through the Great Depression.
"On the farms, in the large metropolitan areas, in the small cities and villages, millions of our citizens cherish the hope that their old standards of living and of thought have not gone forever. Those millions cannot and shall not hope in vain." — Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933.
The President’s fireside chats touched the hearts of the nation.
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." — Franklin D. Roosevelt 1937.
And the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor brought the country into war.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy," the President said to the nation.
And the nation mourned as the President was laid to rest on April 15, 1945 in the Rose garden at Springwood in Hyde Park, New York. "Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House," wrote The New York Times.