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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Capital Region’s Presidential Connections

Learn more by taking one of these easy day trips in the area.

New York State is home to numerous connections to our nation’s presidents; and the Capital Region is no exception. If you are looking to partake in a handful of adventures this summer that are fun, close to home and even a little educational, prep the family for day trips to some of the best presidential historic sites in the region.

Tripping to Lindenwald
If you head south a half hour to Kinderhook, you’ll find the National Historic Site of Martin Van Buren, our country’s 8th president, which includes his estate, Lindenwald, along with 12.8 acres of the original 225-acre farm.

A Kinderhook native, Van Buren purchased Lindenwald and 137 acres just a couple of years after his election in 1837, according to the National Park Service. After six years of making improvements to the home and purchasing more acreage, the farm grew to 225 acres in size, of which he cultivated 191. Van Buren lived in the estate for 21 years until his passing in 1862.

The home was restored to its appearance when Van Buren lived in it. He worked on two additional but unsuccessful presidential election campaigns from this estate and so everything in the home, from the grand table in the Main Hall to the layout of the study and parlor, looks like prime locations for Van Buren to have shown off his political prowess to guests. Be sure to take a guided tour of the mansion, and, if the weather is right, don’t leave without walking the three quarter-mile loop around the estate. Find operating hours at nps.gov/mava.

Paying homage to the General
Tucked in the Adirondacks on Mount McGregor, just an hour north of Albany and just beyond Saratoga Springs visitors can find the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, the final home for our nation’s 18th president.

Suffering from throat cancer, Grant spent the last six weeks of his life at the cottage with his family, working on his memoirs. He finished them just days before he died on July 23, 1885.

When you walk into the cottage you are transported to the late 1800s. The bed where Grant passed was left just as it had been that day, as was the mantel on which rests a clock showing 8:03am, the time he died. There are even original floral arrangements from Grant’s August 4 funeral.

After touring the cottage, be sure to head outside to take in the view of the Hudson Valley and Adirondacks. You can even see east to the Green Mountains and south to the Catskills at this vantage point. The view alone is worth the trip. Find operating hours and admission prices at grantcottage.net.

A self tour of Arthur’s early years
Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president of the United States, began his political career as a New York politician. He served as vice president to James A. Garfield and assumed the role of Commander in Chief after Garfield was assassinated in 1881.

While Arthur was born in northern Vermont, he spent a significant amount of his younger years in the Capital Region, as his father was a Baptist minister who bounced between congregations. According to historian Thomas Reeves, the Arthur family accompanied their patriarch across the Capital Region between 1839 and 1864, while he served churches in Union VIllage (now Greenwich), Lansingburgh, Hoosick, West Troy (now Watervliet), and Albany.

While there aren’t historic sites marking his every move (aside from one in Hoosick), take the family on a self-guided “Chet” tour across the region, visiting the cities of his childhood, and be sure to take a stop at Union College where he attended from 1845 to 1848. End your day by paying respects at his final resting place in Albany Rural Cemetery where the president is modestly buried.

Visit albanyruralcemetery.org to find the exact burial location.

40 miles to the presidency
Our nation’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, was the youngest in the nation’s history. A New York State native, he became governor of New York in 1899 but soon after was elected vice president under William McKinley. At just 43, he assumed the role of president in 1901 after McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt was a champion for the environment and spent ample time in the Adirondacks. In fact, Roosevelt was hiking Mount Marcy when he received an urgent message that McKinley had taken a turn for the worst and he was to make his way to Buffalo to take the oath of office.

Roosevelt set out on a long night time journey to be with McKinley. It was during this ride that McKinley died and Roosevelt became his successor. A marker can be found in Newcomb , about two hours north of Albany, commemorating this moment.

Today, the route he took is called the Roosevelt Marcy Trail. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, the 40-mile trail connects Long Lake to the North Creek Train Station, much of which makes for a great bike outing with plenty of sites to stop and see along the way.

For more information visit bikethebyways.org/roosevelt-marcy-byway.

The home of FDR
About an hour and half south of Albany, you will find Hyde Park, the hometown of our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt led a life of public service. He served in the New York State senate, was elected Governor of New York in 1928 as the Great Depression began, serving for two terms, and won the presidential election in 1933. He is the only president in the history of the United States to serve four terms.

Roosevelt’s home remained Hyde Park. Known as Springwood, the home along with its outbuildings and rose garden (33.23 acres in total) is now a National Historic Landmark. The guided tour of the house takes about an hour, providing you with every bit of detail about the storied history of the Roosevelt family. You can even see the room in which Roosevelt was born. Be sure to stick around after the tour and stroll through the rose garden, the final resting place for FDR and his wife, Eleanor. It’s open year round to the public.

If you’re not in a rush to hurry back home, head into the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, a project commissioned by Roosevelt himself. The library is self-guided so spend as much or as little time as you would like here observing mementos left behind by FDR. Find hours of operation for the historic site at nps.gov/hofr.

Rebecca Whalen
Rebecca Whalen
Rebecca Whalen is a contributor to Capital Region Living.

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