The Hyde Park Explorer Podcast
Enjoy these episodes of the Hyde Park Explorer podcast series as you walk the trails.
Length: 2 miles, round-trip
Blaze: Green and white Hyde Park Trail Marker
Trailhead Location: Trailhead is located south of the historic core, beyond the access road to the parking lot.
Terrain: Moderate walking on woodland paths with some steep hills and rough surface in spots.
Summary: The trail follows a road built by FDR in 1940. Follow the Hyde Park Trail blazes (green leaf).
History: This trail takes you to the highest point on the Hyde Park Trails. When you reach the summit, you will have made the same climb that kings and queens and a host of foreign leaders made during some of the most critical days of the 20th century. Top Cottage, FDR’s humble hilltop getaway hosted pivotal meetings that shaped world history. It also provided guests with a dramatic vantage point from which to view the natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley, FDR’s cherished home.
Trail map available here.
Rules & Regulations
Trail is open daily sunrise to sunset.
Bikes are not permitted on any trails at this site.
Garbage cans are not available. This is a Carry In,Carry Out trail.
Stay on marked trails only.
Hunting, trapping, or possession of firearms prohibited.
No Fires, camping, or swimming.
Pets must be leashed; You must clean up after your pet.
Removal or disturbance of flora, fauna, or cultural resources is strictly prohibited.
Motorized vehicles prohibited.
In Case of Emergency Call 911
Report Safety & Security Issues to (845) 229-9380
Report Trail Maintenance Issues to (845) 229-1521
Enjoy these episodes of the Hyde Park Explorer podcast series as you walk the trails.
When you are the President of the United States, there is no vacation from the immeasurable responsibility of the office. But the trail you are about to climb leads to a place that, for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came as close to a retreat as possible.
NARRATION/JOE: When you are the President of the United States, there is no vacation from the immeasurable responsibility of the office. But the trail you are about to climb leads to a place that, for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came as close to a retreat as possible, especially during World War Two. This is the road to Top Cottage, the highest point in the Hyde Park Trail System, rising 450 feet above the Hudson River. It was a place remote enough to help the President detach from the duties of his office by immersing him in the beauty of his native Hyde Park forest.
The road to Top Cottage is paved in history. It was FDR who laid out this steep path to the top of Duchess Hill, the summit where Top Cottage now stands.
Today you join the hundreds of visitors who have traveled this road, including the former King and Queen of England, Winston Churchill, along with Roosevelt family and confidants. As you climb this rough trail, think about those travelers who made the climb to the top by car, chauffeured by the President himself.
Since the President’s death in 1945, the 1,525-acre family estate has undergone extensive transformation.
Since the President’s death in 1945, the 1,525-acre family estate has undergone extensive transformation. What was once a rural landscape of farmlands and forests today is characterized by suburban neighborhoods and commercial developments. Protection and progress were often at cross purposes. Decisions made by Roosevelt heirs and other private interests as to the future of the land gave rise to the formation of several grass roots organizations that worked to preserve the remaining acreage of historic Roosevelt properties. They helped establish balanced use that would benefit the past, the present, and the future.
In fact, when you choose the trail to the right to continue your journey to Top Cottage, note that it was built through the effort of youth conservation groups, such as the Student Conservation Association, the newest partners in stewardship of the Roosevelt lands. FDR would be proud!
The reminiscences of Daisy Suckley, cousin and close companion of FDR, remind us of a man who understood, valued, and preserved nature, sharing its restorative benefits with close friends, his Hyde Park community, and the entire nation.
NARRATION: The reminiscences of Daisy Suckley, cousin and close companion of FDR, remind us of a man who understood, valued, and preserved nature, sharing its restorative benefits with close friends, his Hyde Park community, and the entire nation.
Notice the stone walls that follow the contour of the hill crest. These are fashioned from native fieldstone, and form a corner alongside the trail. The walls work in accordance with their surroundings, creating a manmade boundary line appropriately shared with nature. This considerate approach to the land extended into FDR’s commitment to making wise use of natural resources, a practice he employed on his own property by planting nearly half a million trees, and, nationally, through programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, which vastly improved the nation’s parks and trails - and planted millions of acres of trees in farms and forests. To quote FDR…
(read by narrator) “Every American who loves his country should take to heart the earnest and sensible plea for a vigorous, continuing national policy of conservation. As for myself, I am dedicated to this cause.”
Lamenting his lack of private time on his trips from Washington to Hyde Park, FDR began talking about “building a small place to go to escape the mob.”
During his second term as President, FDR began planning in earnest such a retreat, with help from his sixth cousin and close confidante, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. They talked of a simplistic lean-to, a place where the President, during his visits to Hyde Park, could venture during the day, and return to Springwood in the evening; and a place to use after his term in office. Their sketches became more and more detailed, and soon, the lean-to plans resembled those for a more traditional home, with several rooms and a wide front porch. Roosevelt enlisted the expertise of architect Henry Toombs, the man who renovated FDR’s cottage at Warm Springs, Georgia, to refine and execute the designs.
As a trusted friend and collaborator on the design, Daisy made many visits to the Top Cottage retreat. National Park Service Guide John Fox introduces us to the woman who helped bring FDR’s architectural vision to life…
SOUND BITE JOHN FOX: Margaret Suckley grew up in the Hudson River Valley.(EDIT) FDR and she had known each other since childhood. The relationship was the ordinary distant cousin relationship until the mid 1930s, and it’s in the 1930s when she becomes his confidante on a number of matters and he tells her his hopes, his fears, his plans--political--and decisions that need to be made-- wartime decisions that need to be made- and so it becomes a partnership.
NARRATOR: Theirs was a unique friendship that has been immortalized in the stone of Top Cottage.
While FDR proclaimed the Tulip Tree his favorite tree, he nevertheless made special journeys to Hyde Park in spring when he learned that the dogwood was in bloom.
NARRATION: While FDR proclaimed the Tulip Tree his favorite tree, he nevertheless made special journeys to Hyde Park in spring when he learned that the dogwood was in bloom. These trips to Top Cottage often inspired fascinating conversation, as Daisy Suckley, FDR’s confidant, recalls in her diary entry of May 19, 1944, less than three weeks before D-Day…
FRAN MACSALI (READS DAISY QUOTE): “About 11:30am the “P” came, suggested we go to the Top Cottage instead of his coming into the Library, to see the dogwood. We put a couple of chairs in the sun, north of the porch, and just talked, quietly, about the view, the dogwood, a little about the coming invasion in Europe…”
NARRATION: Sadly, much of the dogwood that populated Hyde Park forests has fallen victim to fungus disease. Along this stretch of trail, look for dead trees with a distinctive bark of dark gray, brown or black broken into small square or rectangular blocks. These are the once-glorious dogwoods.
Spring may have been the President’s favorite time of year to witness nature’s handiwork in his woods but each season held its own appeal, its own reason to make the climb up Dutchess Hill. It was FDR whose love of all trees--in every season--guided and inspired a nation to become aware of the value of this natural resource. In his words, “Forests are the country’s most precious heritage.”
Top Cottage was one of several homes used by the Roosevelts, yet it was never intended to serve as a full-time residence. It would be a place where he could experience solitude, or invite select companions.
Top Cottage was one of several homes used by the Roosevelts, yet it was never intended to serve as a full-time residence. It would be a place where he could experience solitude, or invite select companions. Comfortable furnishings were considered. Here, National Park Service Interpreter John Fox quotes Top Cottage architect Henry Toombs, on the President’s taste in décor…
SOUND BITE/HENRY TOOMBS (READ BY JOHN FOX): “This love of simple surroundings – a bright fire, always a cluttered room of books, papers, a few ship models and odds and ends, sometimes a curious, but seldom a really “fine” thing, formed the unstudied background he liked to life in. The results were homelike, personal, unpretending, live-able.”
NARRATION: Making the ascent to Top Cottage was often a perilous journey, especially for passengers unaccustomed to FDR’s driving style! He enjoyed driving guests to his hilltop home, behind the wheel of his specially-equipped, hand-controlled car. Being thoroughly familiar with the roads through Hyde Park forests gave the President a confidence that also unnerved those paid to protect our nation’s leader, as Daisy Suckley’s diary reveals…
FRAN MUSCALI: (READS DAISY SOUND BITE): “Starting off again, he turns to the right on a steep, curving road past a gravel pit. He recalls with amusement that he once went into the pit to turn the car around, and was ‘lost’ by the Secret Service men who passed the entrance without seeing him and ‘had a fit’ before finding him, safe, back at the house.”
NARRATION: But no one passenger experienced fear quite so intense, or expressed it as eloquently as the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth of England, who visited Top Cottage with her husband in 1939. National Park Service Supervisory Park Ranger Franceska Urbin shares the Queen Mother’s reaction to FDR’s driving….
SOUND BITE: and he loved to speed through those trees, I think he felt that he’d be impressing his guests by whipping around those curves just as fast as he could and up these little hills throughout the property. But when the Queen of Great Britain was traveling with him, she found it pretty scary. And at one point she said it was more frightening than the bombing of Great Britain during the war. She really though that this would be the last day of her life!
NARRATION: Fortunately, history tells us that for all who visited Top Cottage, getting there was always worth the trip.
While never designed to be a residential home, Top Cottage nonetheless received an astounding list of visitors.
While never designed to be a residential home, Top Cottage nonetheless received an astounding list of visitors. It was the President’s intent to entertain all guests–from kings to commoners–in a similar spirit of warmth and fellowship–demonstrating an informal country gentility that reflected FDR and Eleanor’s Hyde Park roots, and their expansive gift of hospitality. And everyone’s favorite gathering place … right where you stand…the west porch. Frank Futral, Curator at Roosevelt Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, explains…
FRANK SOUND BITE: I think that the porch is probably “the” living room at Top Cottage, more than the indoor room. The porch is large and so there’s plenty of room to have comfortable furniture, to have several people gathered around the table. We have wonderful photographs of FDR entertaining his friends–he has the most wonderful, relaxed look of all the images we have of him, on that porch at Top Cottage. A contrast to some of the other presidential snapshots we’ve seen.
NARRATOR: While Top Cottage was originally envisioned as a personal retreat for close friends and associates, during the Second World War it became the setting for informal picnics, teas, and discussions with world leaders that figured importantly in diplomacy. National Park Service Guide John Fox…
JOHN SOUND BITE: Starting in 1939 within two months Roosevelt entertains the Royal Family of Norway, the Royal Family of Denmark, King and Queen of England, then followed by a succession of world leaders including the King of Greece, Winston Churchill. It’s a very impressive list. So conversations ranging from every day ordinary to great consequence…in a very pristine setting, in a place where people could unburden themselves candidly, and I think that the place that you are looking at explains why it is such a perfect place for FDR to relax, to use as a sanctuary, but also as a place to conduct business with people who are making the most critical of decisions during the war.
NARRATOR: But perhaps the most famous gathering is “The Hot Dog Picnic.” National Park Service Supervisory Ranger Fran Macscali tells why…
FRAN SOUND BITE: Top Cottage is probably most famous for the hot dog picnic for the King & Queen of Great Britain in June of 1939. And it’s most famous for that because the press made it that way. The Roosevelts would be serving the royals other foods, like turkey, ham, and the trimmings, but they also wanted them to experience a typical American food–and what’s more typically American than the good old hot dog? The Queen and the King had never had a hot dog before, so this was their first experience with this very unusual food and they were served these hot dogs on this very elaborate silver tray. When the Queen saw the hot dogs on the tray, she turned to FDR and said, “how does one consume one of these?” and he turned to her and responded, “well, you put it in your mouth, you keep chewing and you keep pushing. And that’s how you eat the hot dog.” Now after the picnic the headlines in the papers read “Roosevelt Served Royals Hot Dogs”–and that was quite a scandal for the day.
NARRATION: One of the most impressive views of the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley is from the west porch. Keeping the landscape around his home natural and informal created a seamless view into the valley below Dutchess Hill. From here, looking east to west, you can see much of the 1,525 acres that comprise the Roosevelt lands. In order to provide a better view, some of the trees have been thinned and trimmed, what FDR referred to as “windows” to expose distant vistas. His intent was replicated when the landscape was restored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in 2002. Now you are sharing the same vista once enjoyed by FDR.
FDR had great input in the overall design of Top Cottage, which came from his life-long passion for history. He worked to preserve and interpret the past, making it valuable and relevant to future generations.
FDR had great input in the overall design of Top Cottage, which came from his life-long passion for history. He worked to preserve and interpret the past, making it valuable and relevant to future generations. His love for the history of the Hudson Valley resulted in his being appointed historian for the Town of Hyde Park in 1926. An active preservationist, FDR honored the architectural integrity of the Hyde Park community by designing structures in the Dutch Vernacular style, which reflected the region’s cultural heritage. Top Cottage is also influenced by the Dutch Vernacular. Curator Frank Futral, from Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, notes its characteristic style…
FRANK SOUND BITE: Some of the characteristics of the Dutch Vernacular Tradition would be the shape of the roofs, the gables, the sort of steep pitched roof, porches…
NARRATOR: Inside, Top Cottage features a large living room, kitchen, and two first floor bedrooms. The furnishings are simple, comfortable, and functional, much as they were in Roosevelt’s day. Frank Futral explains…
FRANK SOUND BITE: What visitors see today is a recreation of, or a reference to the room–this is a place where we want people to come in and sit down, therefore we’ve decided not to furnish it with original furnishings.
NARRATOR: After FDR’s death in April, 1945, his son, Elliot, moved into the dwelling with his wife, actress Faye Emerson. Their renovations turned the former daytime retreat into a live-able home. In the 1950s the cottage and property were sold to a private owner. In the mid-1990s came news that the cottage was again up for sale…fortunately, the Open Space Institute made an offer to save the historic dwelling, and later sold it to the National Park Service…
FRAN SOUND BITE: It would have been a shame had it been sold outside the park service because it was an important part of the Roosevelt story–it was the final chapter in the Roosevelt story. It’s a place that people can come to and really learn about FDR the private person, and also learn a little bit about what was happening during the war years. And it’s amazing how, when people are on that porch, and are seated where FDR was seated, and see that magnificent view, it kind of opens them up to sharing their thoughts and ideas, and to generate discussion. It really is an atmosphere up there, which FDR realized, I think, too.
NARRATOR: We hope you have enjoyed your Top Cottage experience. Take some time to continue exploring the property and reflect on the man whose love of history created a living legacy for the future.
Last updated: September 17, 2020