Where to: Hyde Park

The Culinary Institute. (photo by Will Dendis)

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

Hyde Park is known the most as the home town of Franklin D. Roosevelt, perhaps the most important single human being of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s life and deeds touched virtually everyone in the world in the 1930s and 1940s. His legacy (The New Deal, Social Security, leadership in the Second World War, and establishment of the United Nations) affects the fate of billions around the globe to this day.

Everybody’s gotta be from somewhere. FDR grew up in the family home of Springwood. The Roosevelts were about fourth on the list of rich Hyde Park families. The old homestead, meticulously preserved by the National Park Service as it looked during Roosevelt’s presidency, is intimate for a Great Home, allowing visitors to humanize the Great Man and get a real feel for how he and his family lived.

The Henry A. Wallace Visitors Center, the public gateway to the Roosevelt compound, includes a museum telling the story of the Roosevelts and the nation’s first presidential library. When you’re done soaking in the history and have taken a walk around the site’s 300 acres, you can pay your respects to FDR himself — he and Eleanor lie side by side in the Rose Garden. For much of his twelve-plus years in office, Roosevelt only wanted to get back to Hyde Park and Springwood, the place he loved best. Come and see what he thought was so special.

The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt (plug 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, into the GPS) is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seeing the home requires joining a guided tour, which can sell out on weekends and during the peak summer months. For up-to-date information on tours, call 229-5320. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum operates on the same schedule as the home. Combination tickets for both may be purchased for $14; getting into the museum alone is $7 (Children under 15 get into the museum free). The visitors’ center is the jumping-off point for the “Roosevelt Ride,” which will pick you up at the Poughkeepsie Metro-North station and shuttle-bus you around Springwood, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home at Val-Kill, Top Cottage and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. Reservations for the ride are required; call 229-5320.

 Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

The one percent today hasn’t got a thing on the upper crust of the one percent of the Gilded Age. At the very top of the pyramid of the American rich of the late-19th and early-20th century was the Vanderbilt family. Cornelius “The Commodore” made millions on railroads and steamships. The house in Hyde Park was built by Frederick Vanderbilt, a grandson of the commodore and a 61-year member of the board of the New York Central Railroad. It’s not by any means the largest house in the family portfolio, but its impeccable Beaux-Arts excellence, both outside and inside, lends visitors a taste of the power and beauty the barely restrained capitalism of that era afforded the Vanderbilts.

The Vanderbilt Mansion. (photo by Dan Barton)

The house is splendid in its own right, but the 211-acre grounds offer delights of their own. Some of the best views of the valley are found here. The Italian Gardens, modeled on a Renaissance palazzo, have been partially restored over more than 30 years. A walk down to Bard Rock (you can take your car on weekdays) offers a chance to get close to the river, and the grounds are the northern end of the Hyde Park Trail, which starts at Val-Kill and loops through all of the town’s highlights.

The grounds are free to enter and enjoy every day until sunset. Many locals like to pick up a snack from the down-Route 9 Dairy Queen and drive to the scenic overlook to get their munch on while enjoying the majestic view. Getting inside the house, much easier today then when the Vanderbilts were the richest family in town, is via a guided tour; offered at 9 and 10 a.m., noon, and 2 and 4 p.m. That schedule is subject to change, so make a reservation at 877-444-6777 beforehand. Admission to the house is $8. Plug in 119 Vanderbilt Park Road, Hyde Park, into the GPS to get there.

Staatsburgh State Historic Site

Up the road a bit from the Vanderbilts, Rogerses and Roosevelts lies another big fancy house. Formerly known as Mills Mansion, for original residents and power couple of Ruth Livingston and Ogden Mills, it reverted to its original name, Staatsburgh, about five years ago.

About half the size of the Vanderbilt Mansion, Staatsburgh is also a leading example of the Beaux-Arts school, but its wood paneling and slightly less opulent appointments make it a different experience from its largely-marble neighbor to the south. Of the many historic homes which dot the river, perhaps Staatsburgh gives the most Downton-Abbey feel. Acres of grounds and trails make the site, ensconced in Norrie State Park, a fantastic choice for both history and exercise.

Tours are available Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through October; admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Call 889-8851 for more information. Enter 75 Mills Mansion Road, Staatsburg, into your GPS to get there.

Culinary Institute of America

For decades, it’s been the country’s leading school for all aspects of haute cuisine, and you can participate in and benefit from the learning process. The former monastery at the bottom of Hyde Park offers its really good food to the public in a number of settings — the ultra-formal Escoffier Restaurant, which focuses on the finest of French dining; American Bounty, where the best in New World dishes can be found; Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, with five separate dining rooms to exult Italian cooking; St. Andrews Café, where the emphasis is on healthy cooking; and the Apple Pie Bakery Café, where the baking and pastry-arts students share the best of their assignments.

The CIA’s many options vary very widely in price and level of formality and reservations are at least suggested and often essential — and often pretty far in advance — to getting a table. (Except the Apple Pie Café, where you can just show up without prior arrangements.) Call 471-6608 or log on to https://secure.culinary.edu/Reservations/ChooseRestaurant.cfm to get signed up. Plug 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, into your GPS to get there.

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