Top Cottage: FDR’s Mountain Retreat Exudes the Simple, Elegant and Functional
FDR the architect? Not too many people know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, was an architect by avocation much like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Who hasn’t heard about Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello and Poplar Forest?
FDR’s Top Cottage, atop the hills of New York’s Dutchess County, has definitely taken a back seat to these two grand and stately Virginia homes. It sits in a secluded and quiet area with views of the Catskills and Hudson River Valley. In 1937 FDR sketched the plans for his personal hideaway from the constant activity in Hyde Park and then built it in 1938. From its fieldstone walls and roofs, historians note that Top Cottage is the expression of FDR’s interest in Dutch colonial architecture.
The original sketch for Top Cottage - with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature – illustrates a two-bedroom plan with a terrace, porch, living room, kitchen. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
Nestled in a secluded area, the home was a perfect retreat for the President and his family. Source: National Park Service
Since the President was almost always in his wheelchair during those years, he constructed a modest but elegant one-story, two bedroom home with a front porch and a terrace – with all points of the house easily accessible to him in his wheelchair. In addition to its architectural style, Top Cottage is one of the first homes created for a person with disability; and only one of two homes designed and built by a sitting president. Jefferson completed the construction of Poplar Forest while he was in office.
In this private retreat, FDR and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt hosted social functions and entertained dignitaries and royalty including the Queen of England, the Crown Princess of Norway, King George II of Greece, Winston Churchill, and General de Gaulle.
A view of the porch at Top Cottage (left) and President Roosevelt with his guests. Source: http://www.nps.gov/hofr/planyourvisit/top-cottage.htm
Beyond Top Cottage, President Roosevelt supervised the renovation of Springwood, his childhood home. He designed several homes in Dutchess County as well as his presidential library. And again, what most of us don’t realize is that FDR was very much involved in the building of the Pentagon --- choosing its location and voting for its unusual shape.
Much like Washington and Jefferson, the other two U.S. presidents who were so immersed in architecture, FDR also left his lasting legacy in the field.
So, hats off to FDR and all the U.S. Presidents we are honoring this day!
National Park Service
National Archives: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum