The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What is Val-Kill and why is it so important to Eleanor Roosevelt?

Answer:

[picture: Eleanor Roosevelt and Earl Miller, Val-Kill, 1934]The Roosevelt family loved picnics. One of their favorite sites was two miles from Springwood on the banks of Fallkill Creek. Late in 1924, as ER, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook picnicked with FDR beside the stream, the women noted wistfully that this would be their last outing for the year. FDR suggested that they build a cottage on the property that could be used as a year-round retreat. He drew up a lease giving all three of them a life interest in the property, hired an architect, Henry Toombs, and appointed himself general contractor. The three women shared the $12,000 construction cost and Stone Cottage was completed in 1925. Val-Kill served as a permanent residence for Dickerman and Cook, a retreat for ER, and a place to relax and entertain guests for the entire Roosevelt family. When FDR was not in residence at Springwood, ER stayed at the Val-Kill cottage with her friends. In 1926, the women built a larger building on the property in which they established a furniture making shop that produced colonial style furniture and later pewter and weavings. The purpose of Val-Kill Industries was to provide jobs for rural workers who were unemployed or under-employed because of a decline in farming. When the factory closed in 1936 during the Great Depression, ER remodeled the building as a residence. The rambling structure provided living quarters for herself and her secretary, Malvina Thompson, and guest rooms for the many children, grandchildren, and guests who would visit her there during the years that followed. After FDR=s death on April 12, 1945, ER made Val-Kill her home and lived there simply and without fanfare.

[picture: Eleanor Roosevelt jumping off diving board, Val-Kill, 1930s]ER considered Val-Kill to be her first real home. It served as a peaceful place where she could write and restore her energy, a relaxed gathering place for family and friends, and an informal, ongoing conference center where her children (who sometimes violently disagreed about politics) and many other guests debated the issues of the day. After FDR's death, ER hosted groups of young people, students from the Wiltwyck School (a school for delinquent youth for which she also labored to raise funds), members of foreign delegations to the United Nations, dignitaries such as Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy, and other visitors.

Today, ER's home is operated by the National Park Service and Stone Cottage houses the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill. Since 1984, when Val-Kill was opened to the public, it has served as a conference center where people gather to discuss some of the issues with which ER was concerned.