Students Reflect on Hyde Park

Writing, history, and fun converged this summer in PROJECT WRITE. A dozen area secondary school students spent a week at the RooseveltVanderbilt National Historic Sites in Hyde Park in a program sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writing Project and the National Park Service.

Working with HVWP teacher consultants Dawn Vandervloed and Eric Fiore, teachers at Washingtonville HS and LaGrange MS respectively, and National Park Service education specialist Susanne Norris, students explored and wrote. We are pleased to share this small sample of their work.


A Better Lifeby Julia Stillman

As Franklin and Eleanor are going through their mail during the Great Depression they find a picture that speaks to them.

A picture of a couple walking down a dirt road, going somewhere they have never been before. Traveling. Walking past signs and advertisements, welcoming them to a new place. Passing empty fields and farms with no animals to be seen. Hoping the place they are going will be the beginning of a new, better life. Packing a bag and leaving.

Going somewhere, trying to find a new life. Not knowing where they are going, or where life is going to take them, but hoping they will find their way.

Stopping along the way to see where life used be, and hoping wherever they are going there will be life. A couple, not looking back to see where they have been, but looking forward to find hope. Leaving everything behind except one bag to keep them alive. Taking the chance of never seeing their family again to try and find a better life.

This photograph inspires hope in Franklin and Eleanor. To do something for these people. To help them stop traveling. They had to help people get jobs and help the country get through this terrible time of wandering.


Toward Los Angeles, California by Dorothea Lange, March 1937, for US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Repository: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC, Reproduction #: LC-USF34-016316-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) LC-USZ62-129109.

khari wilmore

In the Footsteps by Khari Wilmore

In the footsteps of Eleanor and FDR

Hiking day by day through the woods,

Appreciating nature (maybe not all of nature, bugs, humidity, mud, the burn in my legs)

Figuring out who they were; the House, Val-Kill, Top Cottage, the Museum

Not letting go of the history

Keeping the past alive for the future

Learning about them and myself in the process

Eleanor and Franklin would be glad that their ideas are still in existence.


Modesty by Jackie MacAvery

The Vanderbilts and Roosevelts were very different families. Both were very wealthy, but their most prized traits were not the same. The Vanderbilt family was very proud of their wealth and it was clear to see. Their mansion was huge and incredibly elegant with lovely gardens. I love the lions engraved on the stone of the building,and the large pillars holding up the architecture. Their mansion resembles a palace. They owned acres and acres of beautiful land and a magnificent carriage house the size of two normal homes today.

The Roosevelt’s, however, did not feel they needed to display their wealth. Their home at Springwood was much less grand than the Vanderbilt mansion. It was big, but not as large. Springwood had two wings added onto the original building but it was still small in comparison. Behind it, is a steep hill, leading down to a valley and a stream. At the windowsills are boxes of beautiful green plants. The mansion is stone like the Vanderbilt’s mansion but doesn’t have engraving like the lions. It doesn’t resemble a palace, but more of a busy, homey, family house.

The Roosevelts, on the other hand, took more pride in their deeds and loyalty to the country. For example, the Roosevelt’s helped as much as possible, to pull the country out of the Great Depression, and to help internationally in World War II.

I can’t say I blame the Vanderbilt’s for being proud of their wealth, but I hold a strong appreciation and respect for the Roosevelt’s modesty and commitment to country.

07-19-05 12. vama gardens photo nps wd urbin 300dpi 8x10

Vanderbilt Gardens in summer. Photo by Bill Urbin, Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, National Park Service.

andrew zee

Eleanor’s Home by Andrew Zee

Val-Kill Cottage is the home of Eleanor Roosevelt. She loved to be there because it was comfortable, relaxing,and peaceful unlike her experience at Springwood. But the main thing that completed ValĀ­ Kill was Eleanor herself.

She was kind and cared for others. She was a good mother and wife. Even though Franklin cheated on her she stayed by his side to protect how the public viewed him. She cared about world events and Hyde Park.

She would invite strangers she met during the day into her cottage for dinner. She would throw picnics where anyone could come and have fun. Many times she would invite important figures to her house to unwind and talk. She made Val-Kill cottage feel like a home to everyone.

rachel ombok

Light a Candle by Rachel Ombok

Eleanor Roosevelt served as an important role model. She never sat idly by doing nothing. Even during meetings or resting at her home, Val-Kill, she would knit to keep herself busy.

Eleanor was always engaged in trying to change the world. One way she did this was through her newspaper column, “My Day.” In the articles, Eleanor explained how her day panned out and what had happened. She had also wrote about politics and her thoughts about the things that were changing around her. She was a supporter of human rights. She believed that all people should be treated equally.

Not everyone liked her but she didn’t care what other politicians said about her choices. She didn’t worry about the press or the dangers it could do to her image. Sometimes her husband, Franklin, didn’t agree with her.

Eleanor’s mind set was on getting the job done wherever she went. Eleanor traveled to many places during the war and depression to help people in need and to hear what they had to say. She was very caring and gave everyone she met respect. Eleanor wanted to do what was best for people. She put people first and always saw the positive. She said, “It is better to light a candle, than to curse at the darkness.” She was a true inspiration.

Student photos by Susanne Norris, Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites.

Get your students writing too!

The chance to write about something they know and love can motivate student. The possibility of being published and winning prizes could be the icing on the cake. The deadline for THV’s Writing About Place contest is Monday, November 4. Any K-12 aged student who lives and/or attends school in the Hudson Valley is eligible. Get the details here.