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Women's History Month: Meet the Women Who Saved Their Estates

Now Landmark Museums & Historic Sites!

March is Women’s History Month, and there are plenty of amazing Dutchess County women to celebrate. Visit these sites where many different women made history and become inspired!

Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than The First Lady and wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She was an advocate for an expansion of women’s roles in the workforce, for civil rights for African Americans, as well as rights of World War II refugees.  Harry S. Truman referred to her as “First Lady of the World” in regards to her advocacy for human rights.

In the 1920s, Eleanor Roosevelt joined a group of independent-minded women dedicated to shaping politics and policy. New expectations ignited a stirring friendship with activists Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman. They created jobs, influenced party politics, and advanced social reforms. Val-Kill embodies their pioneering spirit. As FDR advanced politically, Eleanor's influence grew in both the Democratic women's movement and the president's administration. In Val-Kill's relaxed atmosphere, the Roosevelts gathered advisors, reformers, dignitaries, and movie stars to address issues of the times. Franklin and Eleanor built alliances and shaped national politics. Eleanor transformed the role of first lady, bringing decades of women's social reform work to the national political agenda. For the rest of her life, Val-Kill remained a source of inspiration and a gathering place for those who shared her vision.

These stories are presented in "Eleanor Roosevelt and Val-Kill: Emergence of a Political Leader," a permanent exhibit in the Stone Cottage at Val-Kill, which examines Eleanor's world during the 1920s and ‘30s and the influential people she worked with to shape a national political agenda during the New Deal. After her husband’s death in 1945, she remained active in politics. She became a delegate for the United Nations and the first Chair for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  Other exhibits are located in the Playhouse.

"The greatest thing I have learned is how good it is to come home again," said Eleanor Roosevelt

This simple statement expresses her love for her modest Val-Kill home. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, is open from November to May 1, Thursday-Monday, with guided tours at 1pm and 3pm, as well as May 5-October, daily 9am to 5pm, with tours all day.  Admission is $10; age15 and under are free. The grounds are open daily sunrise to sunset at 54 Val-Kill Park Road in Hyde Park. The tour begins with a terrific introductory film, followed by a 45 minute tour of Val-Kill Cottage. You can also visit the nearby FDR Home National Historic Site.

Janet Livingston Montgomery, the wife of Richard Montgomery, the man often called The First Hero of the American Revolution, was a strong powerful woman.  Richard was killed at the Battle of Quebec in 1775, only two years after they were married. Janet remained interested in politics throughout the war, and was a harsh critic of loyalists. In 1802, she shocked her family by purchasing a 434-acre farm, and building a new home that she called Montgomery Place against the spectacular backdrop of the Catskill Mountains. Janet entertained family and friends, and planted many flowers, trees and fruits on the property.  She even established a successful commercial nursery adjacent to her estate.  Janet died at Montgomery Place in 1827 at the age of 85. 

You can visit the lovely grounds, gardens, woodlands and trails of Montgomery Place, now owned by Bard College, any day for free. Renowned architects, landscape designers, and horticulturists worked to create an elegant and inspiring country estate consisting of a mansion, farm, orchards, farmhouse, and other smaller buildings. Guided tours of the mansion are offered Saturdays from June 3 through October 21, with tours at 10:30 am, 11:30, 1:30, and 2:30 pm. The cost is $10 and no reservations are required. Private tours are offered for groups of five or more at $20; children under 3 years old are free. 

Margret “Daisy” Suckley was born and raised at Wilderstein overlooking a bend in the Hudson River in Rhinebeck. Daisy was a distant cousin to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, traveled with him extensively and was even with him when he died in Georgia.  Suckley raised Scottish terriers, and gave a black one named Fala to FDR, and Fala soon became famous.  Suckley co-authored a children’s book about the famous Scottie. Suckley was a close friend and confidant of FDR. Suckley played a key role is setting up the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library, and worked there until she retired in 1963. Suckley died on June 29th 1991, in her 100th year. The letters they exchanged during their friendship, discovered in a black battered suitcase at Wilderstein, provide one of the best resources for understanding the private side of Roosevelt’s life during his presidency.

Through 1991 three generations of Suckleys occupied Wilderstein, amassing personal and ancestral effects that attest to the lively social history of the estate, its family and their relationship to the Hudson Valley. The books, letters, photographs, furniture, paintings, art objects and china – some ordinary and some exquisite – are intriguing to the scholar and the casual visitor alike. You can visit the 1888 Queen Anne mansion Wilderstein and its Calvert Vaux-designed grounds any day from 9am to 4pm, and the mansion is open for tours May 3 –October 28, Thursday-Sunday, from 12 to 4 (last tour 3:30) pm. Tours are $11, and $10 for seniors and students, children under 12 are free. Take in their outdoor sculpture exhibit from May 1– October 31.

Annette Innis Young was born in Poughkeepsie, and when she was ten years old her family moved to Locust Grove Estate. Overlooking the Hudson River, the 200-acre estate includes an Italianate villa designed in 1851 for artist and inventor Samuel Morse by architect A. J. Davis.

Beginning in 1895 new owners William and Martha Young redecorated the mansion with their vast collection of art and antiques, and added new gardens.   Young was the last surviving member of her family, after her brother’s death in 1953, and she felt obligated to preserve the family legacy.  She devoted her time to charity work for the Gallaudet Home for the Deaf, the Dutchess County Association for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Old Ladies/Vassar-Warner Home, the American Bible Society, Colonial Dames of New York State, DAR and the Dutchess Historical Society.

Young died in 1975, and in her will she established a trust to maintain Locust Grove Estate. The property opened for tours in 1979. Today Locust Grove, with miles of carriage roads, landscaped grounds, historic gardens and Hudson River views, is an independent not-for-profit museum and nature preserve. Inside the historic mansion, step back in time to the early years of the 20th century; the Young family’s collection of Hudson River School paintings, early 19th-century American furniture, and personal possessions are still in place after more than a century.

Visit the grounds and house daily from May 1 –October, or on weekends in April, November and December. House tours are $11 or $6 for children ages 6-18. The grounds, gardens and trails are open 8am to dusk every day.  They host art exhibits and special events including Sunset Sensations Food & Wine Parings every second Thursday at 5:30pm.

Roger and Catheryna Rombout Brett built their homestead about 1709 on property inherited from her father, Francis Rombout. She received his one-third of the original 85,000-acre Rombout Patent. The original document is on display at the homestead. Catheryna Rombout Brett became a successful businesswoman after her husband’s early Hudson River drowning in the early 18th century. She remained in the wilderness and took control over their home and property that came with it. Brett managed her own estate and her own wealth, something she would have been unable to do if she had remarried. Along with 21 men, Brett organized the first producers' co-operative, and was an equal partner with the men. Brett raised her three sons by herself, and lived at the homestead with her son Francis until she died in 1764. She was a generous patron of her church and is buried under the pulpit of the First Reformed Church of Fishkill.

The 17-room Madam Brett Homestead was inhabited by seven generations of the Brett family for nearly 250 years. The tour allows you into all 17 rooms and to experience the period furnishings actually used by this extraordinary family during nearly 250 years of life in the Hudson River Valley. Open houses are held from 1-4pm (allow 45 minutes for a tour) on the “Beacon Second Saturday” of the month, April through December. The property's six acres remaining from Madam Brett's original inheritance of over 28,000 acres, feature a garden, woodlands, and a meandering brook. Located at 50 Van Nydeck Avenue, at the corner of Teller Avenue, and one block off Main Street in Beacon. Admission is $5, $2 for students. 

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