Feb 1, 2015

Presidental Places in New York State

Celebrate President’s Day with a visit to a presidential site. In the quiet little town of East Aurora, which ironically is west of Aurora, NY, is the law office of Millard Fillmore, the nation’s 13th president.  The small 1825 building has been restored to that era and includes some of the original Fillmore furniture.  Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Summerhill, NY. Today there is only a sign commemorating the event. It is another case of poor boy does well in America. He became obsessed with educating himself to the extent he became a lawyer, then vice president and president when Zachary Taylor died. During Fillmore’s term as president the Compromise of 1850 was passed and he sent Commodore Perry to “open” Japan.  

Fillmore has an interesting connection with Central New York. The archives in Penfield Library, SUNY Oswego, are the repository of some of Fillmore’s papers giving the college the distinction of being a presidential library.  It seems that Fillmore gave his papers to a lawyer friend in Buffalo with the instructions to burn them after his death.  The lawyer realizing their historical significance was unable to do so and the 10,000-plus letters ended tucked away and nearly forgotten at the Shepard Estate in New Haven, NY.  Upon the death of Charles Sidney Shepard in 1934 the estate passed to his two elderly cousins. They in turn willed the estate to the college in Oswego upon their death. The long forgotten papers came into the college’s Special Collection in 1967 and are available to historians. 

Another presidential site in New York State is Theodore
Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island. It was the home of our 26th president from 1885 until his death in 1919. Today it is a National Park. Teddy Roosevelt was born in NYC but enjoyed the bucolic scenery of Long Island and it is where he spent his summers prior to moving there. I remember thinking during my visit to Sagamore Hill that based on the artifacts in the house his life seem to dwell more on nature and adventure than running the country. We can thank him for preserving the pristine areas of the Adirondacks.  He set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves that all of his predecessors. 

One of the most visited homes in New York State is Franklin Roosevelt’s Springwood in Hyde Park. It was his home from 1933 to 1944. FRD wrote that when he was away from Springwood, “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River.”  On the grounds is the first US Presidential Library. 

On my “To-do” list when I am in NYC is to visit the site of Chester
A. Arthur’s residence. Located at 123 Lexington Avenue, it was the home of our 21st president before and after his rise to fame.  Arthur was vice-president for James Garfield and was elevated to the presidency after Garfield’s death eleven weeks after the assassination attempt. Arthur took the oath of office at his resident. Today it is a multi-use building with a commemorative bronze plaque to identify the building.

In Kinderhook, about 20 miles south of Albany, is Lindenwald, the home of Martin Van Buren, our eight president. It, too, is a National Park. He was one of the founders of the Democratic Party and ran his campaigns from the home.