Top Cottage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
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In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt was making plans for life after the presidency. The war in Europe was not yet raging and FDR was not expecting to serve more than the traditional two terms in office. With the urge to get away from the family's main home in Hyde Park, FDR wanted his own cottage similar to that of Eleanor's at Val-Kill. Designed by the president and architect Henry Toombs, Top Cottage was Roosevelt's vision. From 1939 until his death in 1945, Top Cottage served as not only a get away but a place of international diplomacy, hosting Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Canada, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and most famously, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. In 1940, FDR was elected for the unprecedented third term, then a fourth term in 1944, leaving him little time to retreat to the cottage where he found solace and peace. When he died in April 1945, he had never spent one night in Top Cottage. Top Cottage was occupied by his son Elliott for a few years after FDR's death. In 2001, Top Cottage was finally opened for public tours. Though few original furnishings are on display today at Top Cottage, the cottage is a reminder of what a simple man the aristocratic president from the Hudson Valley really was.
Backstory and Context
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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....