Top Cottage
Interactive map showing Top Cottage’s location
LocationHyde Park, NY
Nearest cityPoughkeepsie
Coordinates41°45′54″N 73°53′19″W / 41.76500°N 73.88861°W / 41.76500; -73.88861
ArchitectHenry Toombs and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Architectural styleDutch Colonial Revival
NRHP reference No.97001679[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPDecember 9, 1997
Designated NHLDecember 9, 1997[2]

Top Cottage, also known as Hill-Top Cottage, in Hyde Park, New York, was a private retreat designed by and for Franklin D. Roosevelt.[3][4][5] Built in 1938 to 1939, during Roosevelt's second term as President of the United States, it was designed to accommodate his need for wheelchair accessibility. It was one of the earliest such buildings in the country, and the first significant building designed by a person with a disability.[4]

Although it was meant as a retreat, FDR also received notable guests at the cottage, including Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. After half a century in private ownership, the property was restored and given to the National Park Service, which today operates it as part of the nearby Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Top Cottage was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.[2][6] Guided tours of the cottage are available from the main site but private vehicles are not permitted.

This building is the only building designed by a sitting U.S. president other than Thomas Jefferson, who designed several at his home in Monticello, Poplar Forest, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia State Capitol.[4]

Building and site

The cottage is in the Dutch Colonial Revival architectural style, built of fieldstone. It is one of several buildings in Hyde Park and surrounding communities that FDR ensured were built in that style, which he hoped to revive in the region. It is located at the end of Potters Bend Road, a residential street in a rural area of Hyde Park, at the top of the 500-foot (152 m) ridgetop unofficially known as Dutchess Hill where Roosevelt had played as a child.[3] In FDR's time, it had commanding views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, now obscured by trees.[6]


Floor plan as sketched by Roosevelt
One of Suckley's photographs of Roosevelt with Ruthie Bie (later Bautista), then three years old, the daughter of the property caretakers and Fala (1941)

Although Roosevelt built a vacation house in Georgia at the end of his term as governor of New York (near the hot-spring estate in Bullochville, Georgia that he had bought in 1927 and renamed Warm Springs), he had never owned a year-round home of his own. He had moved into his mother's house at Hyde Park, enlarged for him and his family, and otherwise lived in family townhouses in New York City, rented houses in Albany and Washington, D.C., or official residences such as the New York State Executive Mansion and the White House.[7][8] In 1933, Roosevelt realized the family home in Hyde Park did not offer him sufficient distance from the pressures of the presidency. He realized he would need a more isolated retreat, "a small place to go to escape the mob..."[3]

Two years later, Roosevelt and his cousin Margaret Suckley spent some time together on the top of the hill, with a view over the Hudson River to the Catskill Mountains, and were both impressed by the possibilities. He would refer to it as "Our Hill";[9] she as "the nicest Hill in Dutchess County".[10] In October of that year he suggested it would be the perfect spot for "a one-story fieldstone two-room house ... one with very thick walls to protect us." She responded enthusiastically, with a sketch that looks similar to the finished building.[9]

Roosevelt at first envisioned it as where he would live after his presidency, and bought the 118-acre (48 ha) hillside parcel in 1937, after his re-election. By that point in his life, he needed to use a wheelchair for much of the time due to his paralytic illness and could only walk short distances with great difficulty and assistance, a fact he and others concealed from the public. He designed the cottage to accommodate the wheelchair, with one flat floor and everything he could want or need located within easy reach of someone in a sitting position. Top Cottage is the only presidential residence, other than Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and Poplar Forest, designed by a president. It is also the first significant accessible building designed by a disabled person.[11]

Roosevelt began submitting sketches to architects in 1938.[4] He commissioned architect Henry Toombs to help finish the design, who suggested Roosevelt be credited as architect despite his lack of professional training or experience,[12] angering some Republican architects when an article about the cottage doing exactly that ran in Life magazine.[13] There are some indications that Toombs was the architect but suggested he be listed only as the associate with Roosevelt being credited as the architect.[4] Crediting Roosevelt as the architect brought criticism from others, including John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright said, "awaited 'pictures of 'Doctor' Roosevelt performing an appendectomy.'"[4]

At the time when houses cost $1,000 the cottage cost $16,599, but in the end, it is thought that Roosevelt never spent a single night at the cottage; despite being designed after becoming disabled, his mother's larger home was more suitable for Roosevelt's disability.[4][7] The design had many other problems; the ventilation was faulty, the bedrooms were too small, and it had only one bathroom and no closets. Nonetheless, when guests visited Hyde Park, Roosevelt always showed them Top Cottage first.[7] Modern renovations to the cottage, allowing it to open to the public, cost $1,500,000, including $750,000 to buy the cottage.[4]

The next year it would be host to the famous picnic where Roosevelt cooked and served hot dogs to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the first state visit to the United States by a British sovereign.[14][15][16][17][18][19][20] It was during the King and Queen's visit that Roosevelt broke protocol and proposed a toast to the Queen. She reportedly became flustered at the break in protocol and drank to herself.[4]

His original intention to use it as a retirement home were put on hold when he won an unprecedented third term the next year. But he continued to use Top Cottage as a retreat, bringing important visitors such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill there to discuss the atomic bomb,[3] as well as close friends like Suckley, who took the only two published photos of him in his wheelchair on the cottage's porch.[9]

After Roosevelt's death, his son Elliott Roosevelt lived there for a while.[4] He made some renovations, such as adding dormer windows and a mud room. Later he sold the house to the Potter family, who gave their name to the street leading to the home. It remained in their possession until 1996, when it was sold again to the Open Space Institute (OSI). The following year it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and the OSI began renovations, removing Elliott Roosevelt's additions and thinning some of the trees that had obstructed the view. In 2001, it was turned over to the National Park Service to be made part of the existing historic site. The house was opened to the public for the first time in 2001. It is used as a conference center, in addition to being open to the public.[4]

Location and further information

The cottage is located in Hyde Park, New York. It is open only to those with reservations.[4][21] Although the original furnishings were lost, in 2011 the Park Service furnished the main area with reproductions and antiques which match the original contents.

The cottage was subject of a review book, The President as Architect: Franklin D. Roosevelt's Top Cottage, was compiled by John G. Waite Associates, an Albany architectural firm specializing in restorations.[4] It is also prominently featured in the 2012 film, Hyde Park on Hudson.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007. Archived from the original on October 2, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Top Cottage". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. September 7, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d Rothbaum, Rebecca (August 4, 2002). "Top Cottage was FDR's hideaway". Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved December 7, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The New York Times, June 14, 2001. Ralph Blumenthal, A Pied-à-Terre Designed By a President; F. D. R. Never Slept Here, But Entertained Dignitaries And Enjoyed Rendezvous
  5. ^ "Home - FDR Presidential Library & Museum".
  6. ^ a b John F. Sears (July 1, 1997). "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Top Cottage". National Park Service and Accompanying 9 photos, exterior and interior, from 1996 and 1937-1939 2.93 MB ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help); External link in |postscript= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  7. ^ a b c Gunther, John (1950). Roosevelt in Retrospect. Harper & Brothers. pp. 107–108.
  8. ^ "Where did ER and FDR live?". The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.
  9. ^ a b c Ireland, Barbara (September 9, 2007). "At the Home of F.D.R.'s Secret Friend". The New York Times. Retrieved December 7, 2007.
  10. ^ "Top Cottage". Retrieved December 7, 2007.
  11. ^ "Top Cottage". The Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. Archived from the original on December 17, 2007. Retrieved December 7, 2007.
  12. ^ Toombs, Henry; Margeurite LeHand. "Henry Toombs Suggests FDR Should Be Listed As Architect For Top Cottage, With Reply". Disability History Museum. Retrieved December 7, 2007.
  13. ^ Rhoads, William. "FDR left mark on nation — and area's buildings". Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
  14. ^ Bell, Peter (October 2002), "The Foreign Office and the 1939 Royal Visit to America: Courting the USA in an Era of Isolationism" (PDF), Journal of Contemporary History, 37 (4): 603, 611, doi:10.1177/00220094020370040601, S2CID 159572988, archived from the original (PDF) on July 25, 2011, retrieved August 30, 2010
  15. ^ Thornton, Willis (June 5, 1939), "Royal tour confirms reality of 'King of Canada' idea", The Palm Beach Post, p. 5, retrieved October 14, 2010
  16. ^ Library and Archives Canada (2007). "The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King". Queen's Printer for Canada. pp. 247, 413–414. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |url= (help)
  17. ^ Bousfield, Arthur; Toffoli, Gary (1989). Royal Spring: The Royal Tour of 1939 and the Queen Mother in Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press. pp. 60, 66. ISBN 1-55002-065-X.
  18. ^ Douglas, W.A.B.; Greenhous, Brereton (1995), Out of the Shadows: Canada in the Second World War, Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd., p. 19, ISBN 1-55002-151-6
  19. ^ Lanctot, Gustave (1964), Royal Tour of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Canada and the United States of America 1939, Toronto: E.P. Taylor Foundation, ASIN B0006EB752
  20. ^ Tidridge, Nathan (2011), Canada's Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government, Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 26, ISBN 9781459700840
  21. ^ "Guest Rooms View All". November 3, 2011.

Media related to Top Cottage at Wikimedia Commons