The Roosevelt Home Garden

Two boys stand near a cart hold produce from a garden.
Franklin Jr and John Roosevelt Proudly Display Produce from the Home Garden

Courtesy FDR Presidential Library

Quick Facts

The Home Garden, nearly two acres in size, was a central part of life for the Roosevelt family. FDR grew up playing in the garden and savoring its bounty. His children and grandchildren helped work the garden, pulling weeds and harvesting its fruits and vegetables. FDR's memories of the garden helped shape his values and sense of identity.

Large home gardens like the Roosevelt's garden were typical features of the diverse, self-sustaining Hudson River estate farms. These farms grew a variety of crops in gardens, fields and orchards and maintained livestock like chickens, hogs and cattle to provide meat as well as eggs and dairy products for the table.

Model Farming in the Hudson Valley

In contrast to the yeoman farms of the Hudson Valley region, agriculture practiced by gentleman farmers (those for whom farming was not their primary occupation) on the riverfront estates did not generally operate to produce a profit, but rather to supply their estates and often showcase model agricultural practices. As Munsy’s Magazine reported in an 1899 article on these estate farms: “We read much of the poultry, the eggs, the milk which come to the market from the ‘farm sides’ of some of these estates along the Hudson. In spite of these sales, the gentleman farmer generally finds that his agricultural operations are on the wrong side of the ledger. Next to maintaining a first class steam yacht the most expensive pursuit is conducting a country seat.”

Model farming practices followed a tradition of rural improvement among gentleman farmers that dated back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the countryside surrounding major Northeastern cities. Similar to the European landed elite, American gentleman farmers often considered their estates models of enlightened husbandry for the surrounding population. Here, they introduced such advances as horticultural experimentation, improvements in livestock breeding, and use of fertilizers. During the mid- and late-nineteenth century with advances in scientific agriculture juxtaposed by the decline of their neighboring yeoman farms, many gentleman farmers sought to impart methods of efficiency, science, and profitability. The didactic impact of the model farms, however, was often limited. Model farms instead tended to provide a source of employment for impoverished yeoman farmers, and also lent the appearance of a thriving farm economy to an otherwise declining agricultural region.

Most of the grand country places that were established during the mid and late nineteenth century in the vicinity of Hyde Park included farms, and by the resources that were put into them, they were not necessarily “model,” although some made a more concerted effort to impact agricultural improvement to area farmers. Despite their size and opulence during this period, many country places in Hyde Park still reflected the earlier patterns established by tenant and free hold farmers in the eighteenth century, and tended to follow the pattern of house and pleasure grounds on the west side of the road closest to the river, known as the “park” and the farm on the west or upland side of the road. As Munsey’s Magazine described in its 1899 article about the estates, “Most of the properties along the Hudson are divided into a ‘park side’ and a ‘farm side.’ The division is generally made by a country road.” 

The Roosevelt Home Farm

FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, established the center of his farm operation across the Post Road on the eastern half of a 116-acre tract he purchased in 1868. Called the “Home Farm,” the existing eighteenth-century farmhouse and barn provided Springwood with an estate farm. As a gentleman farmer, Roosevelt practiced diversified agriculture that provided a range of products for his family. He maintained dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and horses, and raised fodder crops in the fields. The vegetable garden (or home garden) was on the west side of the road, north of the big house. Although the farm was centered on the east side of the road, agriculture did not disappear from the west side of the Post Road, where the front fields and the sloping ground west of the houses were used for growing crops such as hay, corn, and wheat.

James Roosevelt made a number of improvements to the existing farm. In order to meet progressive dairy farming practices, he added to the barn a rectangular silo with a gable roof, and a number of wings. He also probably added a number of small sheds that together with the barn and farmhouse enclosed a small barnyard bordered by a plank fence. 

The home garden provided a rich variety of food—potatoes, raspberries, peas, celery, cherries, apples, tomatoes, grapes, eggplants, currants, gooseberries, corn, onions, beets, cabbage, beans, carrots, watermelon, broccoli, leeks, lettuce, spinach, okra, and parsnips. The farm also was home to several beehives for the purpose of harvesting honey. 

Larger crops, such as rye, wheat, oats, and apples, milk, cream and butter from the dairy, and eggs and poultry were sold locally to offset some of the farm’s operating costs. 

Many employees were required to manage the farm and estate operation. The Roosevelts employed a farm manager (Gilbert Logan) and several farm hands, a head gardener (William Plough), groundskeepers, a poultry man (Mr. Gallinger), dairymen, stable groom and coachman (Mr. McFarland and Mr. Cellar), and numerous seasonal laborers as needed.

Soil Conservation in the Home Garden

Just a few years ago, the Home Garden site was a parking lot, built in the 1940s to serve the large crowds visiting the President's home, library, and museum. More recently, efforts to bring back the Home Garden began when parking was relocated to the north of the garden site. Restoration is currently focused on soil health, the foundation of productive gardening. The earth uncovered beneath excavated concrete was dificient of nutrients, structure, and living organisms necessary for a garden to thrive. Park horticulturists are adding compost, cover crops, and organic matter crucial for healthy plant growth. As fertility improves, Roosevelt vegetable crops will grow here in abundance once again and serve the local community. 

Last updated: March 25, 2020