FDR, Hyde Park’s town historian

Courtesy of WikipediaA youthful Franklin Roosevelt at Harvard.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR); a history nerd. Who knew? Recently I came across a letter from the late President dated January 5, 1927 (Five years before he ascended to the presidency) to Alex. C. Flick, the New York State Historian. In it FDR was submitting his annual report as local historian of the Town of Hyde Park. The letter also Cc’d Edward S. Foster, Supervisor, Town of Hyde Park, Dutchess County.

Roosevelt’s accomplishments were impressive. He tells the State Historian that he has arranged to publish the “Records of the Town of Hyde Park, 1821-1875.” In addition Roosevelt mentions that has been the acting chairman of the committee on publication appointed by the Holland Society of New York and New Jersey. Part of this work included data on all the houses in the Town of Hyde Park built by or under the influence of Dutch owners.

FDR concludes his letter with the following: “It is recommended to the supervisor and to the Town Board that a letter be addressed to those families still in the town of Hyde Park who are descended from the early settlers, asking them to give information to the Town Board and to the Local Historian relating to any old documents, letters, maps, and deeds, etc., which may be in their procession. It is hoped in this way to obtain additional material relating to the history of the town as very little material has so far been brought to light.”

Interestingly, the following year, Roosevelt agreed to run and won the Governorship of New York State. The letter is typed on stationary from Fidelity Deposit Company of Maryland in New York City where FDR worked for a period after contracting what was believed to be poliomyelitis in 1921.

From a young age Roosevelt was interested in the history of the Hudson Valley and his Dutch genealogy. Confronted by a writing assignment as a nineteen-year old sophomore at Harvard University he chose to write on Dutch immigration to the Hudson Valley and his Dutch roots. He was inspired by his father’s stories as a child.

Notes from the Poughkeepsie Public Library tell us more about FDR’s interest in history and credit him as one of the creators of the Dutchess County Historical Society. In the 1920s he began serving as the appointed historian of the Town of Hyde Park and collected as many early records of the area as he could find. The library’s research reveals the following: “This passion for history carried into his most important role as the 32nd President of the United States. What’s interesting to note is that during his twelve years in office he still remained the town historian and even though he was President of the country, he was still only Vice President (one of many) of the Dutchess County Historical Society.”

We can see through a series of events in FDR’s life that one of the most powerful men in the world was still capable of geeking-out over historical facts that concerned his beloved Hyde Park.

News and Notes: Authorities continue to be concerned that not enough people will get the Covid-19 vaccine to achieve herd immunity. I just heard an interesting story that has been widely reported recently. In 1954 the New York Department of Health launched a massive campaign to promote the vaccination against polio. About the same time some people, including influential columnist Walter Winchell, were warning against getting the vaccination saying it “may be a killer.” To encourage people, particularly young adults, to get the shot; in 1956 Elvis Presley received the polio vaccine on live TV on The Ed Sullivan Show. Presley was hugely popular at the time and his action may have been an impetus for young adults to get the vaccine. Polio has been considered eradicated in the United States for over 40 years.

To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail gchistorian@gmail.com or visit him or on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”

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