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FDR: Hyde Park historian

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The author and his grandson, Derek Cestone, visiting with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at Springwood, the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park.
September 12, 2017 - 11:36 am Updated: September 12, 2017 - 11:40 am

Most people know Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted Infantile Paralysis, more commonly known as polio.

As a result from 1921 until 1928 when he ran for and was elected governor of the state, Roosevelt stayed pretty much out of the public eye. During this interim period, he still worked behind the scenes supporting Democratic candidates and, at one point, worked for the New York City Office of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland.

What few people know is, for a time, he was the local historian for his hometown of Hyde Park in Ulster County.

Last year, I attended a seminar in Albany on “Preserving and Promoting the History of New York State” sponsored by the state Association of Counties, the Association of Public Historians of New York State and the Department of Education. While I was there, I discovered an annual report for 1926 to the New York Historian, Alex C. Flick, from the town of Hyde Park Historian Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A copy was also sent to Hyde Park Supervisor Edward S. Foster. To this day, as a county historian, I am required to send the state historian an annual report as well.

During the intervening year, Roosevelt prepared a volume titled “Records of the Town of Hyde Park, 1821-1875.”

He reported the following: “This will contain the official records of the town board and of the Road Commissioners during this period. This publication was undertaken because of the possible loss of these records through destruction of the Town Hall by fire, there being only one original of the records. This volume will be issued under the auspices of the Dutchess County Historical Society.”

Roosevelt also told the state historian for over a year, he had been acting as chairman of a committee on publication appointed by the Holland Society of New York and Jersey.

He went on to explain: “The Hudson River section of this work has been prepared by Miss Helen W. Reynolds, of Poughkeepsie, and includes data on all the houses in the town of Hyde Park built by or under the influence of Dutch owners.”

Finally, Roosevelt said he recommended to the supervisor and town board that families in Hyde Park descended from early settlers be contacted “asking them to give information to the town board and to the local historian relating to any old documents, letters, maps, deeds, etc.”

Roosevelt pointed out very little of this type of material has been brought to light so far.

The state historian wrote back to Roosevelt saying, among other things: “You seem to anticipate everything a local historian should do, and what is more you do it. Such cooperation is deeply appreciated, I assure you.”

Of course, such “gushing” might be anticipated when writing a letter to the former Democratic Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 1920.

I was not surprised to learn of Franklin Roosevelt’s interest in history. The Roosevelt family is one of the oldest Dutch-American families in the state. Further, a visit to his home, Springwood, in Hyde Park, quickly reveals like his distant cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin had an interest in almost everything.

He was a great collector and his home is stuffed with books, pictures and memorabilia. Franklin and Teddy were the type of people who threw themselves fully into everything they touched — including the presidency.

Elected governor in 1928, Roosevelt’s tenure as a municipal historian was short, but something that holds special interest for me.

Questions or comments? Contact David Dorpfeld at gchistorian@gmail.com.