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Mrs. Vanderbilt
Mrs. Frederick W. Vanderbilt

The Vanderbilts and the People of Hyde Park

The great estates along the Hudson played an important role in the economy of the small communities nearby. Employment was provided for many residents, and the wealthy owners took a benevolent interest and provided a guiding hand in the affairs and welfare of the villages. The Vanderbilts may be cited as typical examples, and in the finest tradition.

Mrs. Vanderbilt knew personally almost every person living in Hyde Park. Her employees, as well as the doctors and ministers of the community, kept her informed of events taking place there. They told her of those in difficulty; Mrs. Vanderbilt then visited the family named. If there was illness, she called in a doctor and nurses; if there was poverty, she sent coal and groceries. Those suffering from tuberculosis she sent to Saranac Lake and took care of all expenses herself.

She was interested in young people and saw to it that they had facilities for learning the domestic and industrial arts in the local school. For young men 15 and older, she organized and maintained a completely equipped clubroom in the village. For the young women in whom Mrs. Vanderbilt took a personal interest, she furnished funds for their complete education.

Each summer Mrs. Vanderbilt gave the school children of Hyde Park either a strawberry and ice cream festival or a cruise on the Hudson on a chartered steamer. Sometimes she joined forces with other wealthy residents and invited all the citizens of the town for a steamer cruise on the river; on one occasion this involved more than 700 people.

Through the Sunday Schools of the village, she arranged for each child to have needed clothes and toys at Christmas. And on Christmas day she would drive through the village in a sleigh loaded with gifts that she handed out to the children she met.

A reading room attached to St. James Chapel was established and maintained by Mrs. Vanderbilt for the people of the village. She was also responsible for bringing the Red Cross movement to Hyde Park in 1911; and in 1917, she was a prime mover in the establishment of the District Health Nurse Service.

With the outbreak of World War I, the Vanderbilts, James Roosevelt (a half brother of Franklin D. Roosevelt), and Thomas Newbold equipped, clothed, and armed for a 2-year period a Hyde Park Home Defense Company of 65 men. The Vanderbilts also arranged educational lectures, bringing to the townhall eminent authorities on various subjects. In 1920, Vanderbilt and Archibald Rogers jointly donated the money for a motion picture projector, thus bringing the first movies to Hyde Park. Other community projects drew Vanderbilt's support, including an $18,000 donation for Hyde Park's first stone bridge over Crum Elbow Creek on the Albany Post Road, just north of the village.

For their employees, the Vanderbilts sponsored a baseball team that, in its day, was one of the finest in the valley. Holiday parties for children and adults were held each year. Mrs. Vanderbilt sometimes visited the parties in person, mingling freely with the guests. Gifts to employees were the custom at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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Last Modified: Mon, Mar 4 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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