For The Experience
Hyde Park, New York
I love Hyde Park! As the world goes careening almost out of control into the future, it becomes more and more difficult to find places that are at least somewhat frozen in time. Places where the simple pleasures that our grandparents talk about are still appreciated. Such places do exist. Hyde Park, New York is one of those rare and special spots.
Hyde Park is a throwback from the high flying times of the rich and wild in the early 1900's, perched along the banks of the beautiful and iconic Hudson River. This neighborhood was once home to such families as the Delanos, the Vanderbilts, and of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This is your chance to take a walk through some history and glamour, as well as enjoying some things that are all but gone from the world. The Vanderbilt Mansion and the entire property surrounding FDR's house, as well as a couple of less noted homes like the possibly haunted Hyde Hall are open to the public. Both the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt properties have beautiful homes, wonderful gardens and great views of the river.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's property includes home, gardens, out buildings, visitor center, and library with museum. Now, the library is unusual for a presidential library. It's the first presidential library, and it was built while FDR was still in office. The best part is why. FDR was not making a monument to himself; he just needed a place to keep his some 21,000 books. If you ever wondered about our 32nd president, there is also a movie that tells a lot about him and his family that shows every thirty minutes in the visitor center all day long.
FDR's house is an expanded version of his family home. The old house was just too small and was so antiquated that FDR had to expand it and update it for more modern times. The best part of this expansion for me was that the architect who redesigned the house created a labyrinth. One bedroom leads to another and closets are next to the hallway. It's different. The guides are very knowledgeable and have interesting stories to tell from the Roosevelt's lives. They even include Teddy Roosevelt in the stories. It's a great way to spend the afternoon.
If the Roosevelt homestead isn't enough you can go right up the street to the little Vanderbilt Mansion. You can even get your ticket at the FDR Visitor Center before you leave. Finished in 1899, the mansion owned by Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt is the smallest of all the Vanderbilt mansions at only 54 rooms, spanning five stories from basement to attic, with only one wing. Even though it's lacking in size, it lacks nothing else. The furnishings are every bit as lavish as they are in every Vanderbilt Estate. The gilding is in place and all the wood is hand carved. This home even has a room with thrones for the royal effect. The gardens are still maintained to perfection and you can still enjoy fountains and stunning views of the river. What's the best part of visiting this estate? The stories. Not only did Frederick Vanderbilt leave it all to a niece because he and his wife had no children, but the niece donated it to the National Park Service giving FDR the idea to house his secret service agents there, and those agents spent significant time living in the attic during WWII.
The estates in the area are fascinating, but you can't plan a whole trip just for that. The Hyde Park area has some other little things that make a trip here ultra enjoyable. If you like to cook, visit the C.I.A. That's the Culinary Institute of America, one of the most respected culinary arts schools in the country. This wonderful institution has been training amazing chefs, including some you watch on TV, since 1946. At the C.I.A. there are restaurants with amazing gourmet food. There's a bakery too. It's a fabulous place to eat.
If you like to cook, why not join in the fun? That's right; you too can learn to cook great food. The C.I.A. offers non credit one day courses for food enthusiasts. There are a lot of course choices, such as artisan bread, grilling, meats, Indian food, etc. Each course is taught by one of the institute's high caliber instructors and the fees are very reasonable.
Hyde Park is a cooking town. There are restaurants all over the area—all of them brimming with eager young chefs in training, and some of them very well known. The Eveready Diner is a throwback to the 1950's and beyond. Its metal exterior draws you in. The interior is period as well with a little Art Deco touch. They have great diner fare that has landed them in the Zagat Guides and on "Diner's, Drive-Ins & Dives" on the Food Network. The staff is friendly, the music is oldies, and you can even get an egg cream.
When you're done eating your meal, there are other things to do. There's an authentic roller skating rink right out back. Roller Magic is a franchise that has been bringing roller skating back to the northeast. They have several rinks in the area, and they have a great one in Hyde Park. There is also the Hyde Park Drive In Theater right up the street. Many of the activities in this area are old fashioned and can be a great escape from the malls and video games of the modern age.
Enjoying Hyde Park is easy. It's delightful. But, if you want more, there's another interesting spot a few miles down the river in Poughkeepsie. There you will find an old railroad bridge that crosses the Hudson. It's hundreds of feet above ground and since 2010 it's been a state park. The Walkway Across the Hudson is one of the most creative repurposing projects I've ever seen. They made a sturdy cement walkway out of the old bridge and created a spot with some amazing views. You can see the Catskill Mountains to the north and can see almost all the way to West Point to the south. It's one of the best walks in the northeast.
There are also two boats in the area that you can take a cruise on. In Newburgh to the south you can take a cruise on the River Rose, an authentic paddle wheeler. To the north in Kingston, you can catch the Rip Van Winkle, a more modern river cruiser. Both are relatively inexpensive ways to see the Hudson River Valley area from the water. There's not a more relaxing and scenic way to spend an afternoon.
So, let's review. Learn to cook at the Culinary Institute of America, visit historic homes like you won't see anywhere else, take a walk hundreds of feet above the Hudson, go roller skating, see a movie at a drive in, go to an old time diner for critically acclaimed food, and take a river cruise. Come and see Hyde Park and the area. You'll never forget it. Enjoy!