Top Cottage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at Top Cottage
The back porch at Top Cottage
Henry Toomb's exterior design of Top Cottage, listing FDR as the chief architect
The living room in Top Cottage as it looked in 1945
Sara Delano Roosevelt, the president's mother, sitting with King George VI (to her left) at Top Cottage when her son and daughter-in-law served King George and Queen Elizabeth hot dogs and beer
Backstory and Context
In 1938, FDR, along with his favorite architect Henry Toombs, began sketching a handicap-accessible cottage located deep in the hills of Hyde Park for him to retreat from the pressures of the presidency, and a place for him to live after he left the office. As with his home in Warm Springs, there are no steps leading into the cottage and the rooms are simple but spacious, leaving plenty of room to maneuver his wheelchair. Roosevelt also made the specific request that all windows be low to the ground, allowing him to have a panoramic view from inside.
The simple Dutch cottage, just over 4,000 square feet if you include the porch, was completed in 1939 and would serve as FDR's retreat for six years. It was a place for him to "escape the mob," as he described it. The cost was just under $17,000, with FDR doing everything he could, including substituting asphalt shingles, to keep the price under $18,000. When The New York Times dubbed Top Cottage FDR's "dream house," he rebuked the quote, saying it was simply "the Roosevelt Cottage on Dutchess Hill."
The first major event Top Cottage played host to was the visit of the King and Queen of England in June 1939. FDR and Eleanor decided on an unconventional but all-American menu: hot dogs, ham, turkey, and beer. The whole day was starkly different from a state dinner, but it was true Roosevelt. FDR's cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, recorded this event as well as many other visits with dignitaries such as Winston Churchill, Mackenzie King of Canada, and the king of Greece in her diaries that were later published by Geoffrey Ward. At Top Cottage, FDR was free to make his notoriously awful martinis for guests, and he insisted on buttering the toast for his visitors. There, the president of the United States would sit and reminisce of simpler days from his childhood, then change the topic and speak of world peace.
Unfortunately, Roosevelt's sudden death in Warm Springs put an abrupt end to his plans of ever residing in Top Cottage. Daisy, an archivist at the FDR Library, went to Top Cottage to inventory all of the furniture. The Roosevelt's son Elliott and his actress wife Faye Emerson moved into Top Cottage and made a few changes before divorcing and selling the house, and it's original furnishings. Decades later, the Beaverkill Conservancy took over Top Cottage and restored it to the best of their ability before handing it over to the National Park Service. Today, visitors are able to sit on the porch of FDR's cottage on Dutchess Hill and listen to stories regaled by Park Service rangers about the extraordinary individual who entertained some of the most luminous figures of the 20th century at that quaint, Dutch cottage.
Americans With Disabilities Act. In Roosevelt History. July 26, 2012. Accessed July 10, 2018. https://fdrlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/2421/.
Blumenthal, Ralph. A Pied-à-Terre Designed By a President; F. D. R. Never Slept Here, But Entertained Dignitaries And Enjoyed Rendezvous. The New York Times. June 14, 2001. Accessed July 10, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/14/arts/pied-terre-designed-president-f-d-r-never-slept-here-but-ent....