Martin Van Buren National Historic Site Kinderhook, N.Y. Visited: July 22, 2006 NPS Site Visited: 317 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Lindenwald, the longtime home and farm of our 8th president, Martin Van Buren.
BEAUTY (3/10) Lindenwald is a sinfully ugly yellow mishmash of unfortunate architectural styles: Italianate, Gothic, Palladian and Georgian because each renovation and addition to the house ushered in a new style. Couldn’t they just decide on one?
Lindenwald’s interior holds greater interest than the dismal exterior not because of spellbinding design but because it breathes the personality of old Marty, a son of a tavern keeper unsuccessfully hoping to be remembered as wealthy, learned man of manners and genius. A man of the people hoping that money could transform him into an aristocrat or a patrician.
The most stunning example of his social desires is the formal dining room, located in what would be the receiving lobby in most mansions of the time period. The wallpaper surrounding the 15-foot long dining table depicts an elaborate fox hunt presumably taking place in a rich Tuscan landscape.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10) Martin Van Buren NHS describes its honoree as the first president born an American (meaning post-1776), the creator of the Albany Regency, New York first political machine, and an important contributor to the birth of the two-party American political system.
While these legacies may be lasting, they are in stunning contrast to the republican vision (unrelated to today’s Republicans) of the Founding Fathers. Andrew Jackson and Van Buren, his Vice President, were the first two American presidents born to neither Virginia landowners nor Massachusetts patricians. But personality-wise, Van Buren was no Andrew Jackson.
Martin’s one term in office saw few positives, the worst of which being the Panic of 1837, America’s direst financial crisis to that date.
CROWDS (7/10) We were the only two people who traveled to Lindenwald that rainy summer morning. Our unique interest meant a private extended Ranger tour where we learned every possible thing we could ever want to know about Martin Van Buren.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) Martin Van Buren NHS is located in Kinderhook, N.Y., about 20 miles south of Albany and only six miles south of I-90 exit B1 along New York Route 9H, the same road I-90 exits onto. Should be easy to get to, right? Wrong.
Route 9H weaves in out and even becomes U.S. Route 9. There’s traffic circles, forks in the road and lots of confusion. Our advice: drive slowly, look for the signs and stay on 9H.
In addition, nearby are New York Routes 9J, 9G and 9W. These are three different and largely unrelated roads. Do not confuse them or mix and match them. You will get lost. Also, Martin Van Buren NHS is open for house tours only half the year, from mid-May through October. We missed out in April 2004 and had to come back.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) There have not been many historical treatises to remember Mr. Van Buren. The Site carries all five of the texts that are currently in print. There is not much else for sale here aside from some Dover Thrift Edition of early 19th Century literary classics (a nice touch) and a few books on the history of the Presidency. We also liked the pen and ink reproductions of Van Buren-related political cartoons. But we didn’t buy any; where would we put them?
COSTS (3/5) Entry is $4 per person or $9 per family. Entry is free with the National Parks Pass.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5) We ran into three different Rangers at Marty World (what the Home of FDR NHS Rangers called this place) and enjoyed great conversations with all. We hardly minded the Site’s makeshift Visitor Center/Bookstore: a converted portable classroom unit.
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) We relaxed in the portable unit, watching the brief introductory film and chatting with Ranger #1 until Ranger #2 came to fetch us for the house tour. Since the rain had stopped, we lingered outside as he briefed us on some Van Buren basics. Conversation soon turned to the cultivation of political machines and parties, an explanation of the term “patroon” and the aesthetics or lack thereof of the Albany Egg. Almost an hour later, we needed to gently prod our Ranger back on track and into the house.
The house tour was equally tangential and fun. We aren’t sure whether our customized tour followed the usual room pattern. We are fairly certain that we saw every nook and cranny of Marty World. The next tour group was just coming in as our Ranger excitedly asked, “do you guys want to see the basement?” And with that we scurried down the stairs to check out the unfinished kitchen, some servants’ rooms and piles and piles of what must have been meticulously catalogued period pieces that had yet to be unwrapped and placed in the main rooms of the house. Martin van Buren: Behind the Scenes. How cool!
FUN (7/10) We had a terrific time because of our terrific guided Ranger tour. Often at National Park Sites, as the historical personality or incident becomes more obscure, the Rangers on duty delve into the history, its obscure facts and grander scope, with greater fervor. They understand that you just don’t happen upon Martin Van Buren’s country home. At Lindenwald, our historical curiosity was rewarded with high level discussion and earnest answers to our many questions. The Rangers even told us the best place to buy the area’s culinary contribution to the world: apple cider doughnuts.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10) Is there any reason to make the special trip up the Hudson to visit Marty World? Not really. But then again, where else can you learn about Martin Van Buren, the first forgettable American president.
USA-C2C.com is an independent website, not affiliated in any way with the National Park Service, the National Parks Foundation or any of their partners.