Local news, art, history & entertainment in the mid-Hudson Valley
UNCOVERING THE POOL AT VAL-KILL
BY EMILIA OTTE
The National Park Service, having received funds from a government grant and private donors, will be continuing its restoration of the Stone Cottage Swimming Pool at Val-Kill over the course of the summer.
In May of 2016, the pool was uncovered for the first time in almost 40 years. The restoration work includes cleaning and painting the pool’s interior, removing and replacing the old pool cover, and installing a new pool pump and filtration system.
Half of the funding for the project comes from the federal government, in the form of a National Park Service Centennial Grant. Well-known philanthropists and longtime supporters of the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership (ERVP), Jim and Cathy Douglas Stone of Boston, donated the remaining cost of the project through a matching grant of approximately $33,000.
According to ERVP Executive Director Uri Perrin, Mrs. Stone was particularly moved by the idea of helping to recreate a central part of the Roosevelts’ public and private lives. While attending the “Following in Her Footsteps” award reception in March of 2015, Perrin showed some home videos of the Roosevelts enjoying the pool. “Cathy was really taken with bringing that back to Val-Kill,” Perrin said of Mrs. Stone. “The videos really inspired her.”
Val-Kill, the home of Eleanor Roosevelt, is located right around the corner from the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park. It remains the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady. The Stone Cottage Swimming Pool was built in 1935, replacing an earlier swimming pool that dated to 1926. The second pool was designed by the same engineer who drew up the plans for the White House swimming pool.
Sarah Olson, superintendent of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, said that the swimming pool was “a very important part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life at Val-Kill.” “In fact,” she said, “Both Roosevelts used the pool extensively.”
According to the ERVP website, the pool was a prime source of entertainment for both social and political gatherings, as well as being a place for private relaxation. All types of visitors were welcome at the pool. Foreign dignitaries, most notably English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, went swimming at Val-Kill, as well as local children, who often picnicked on the nearby grounds, and members of the Roosevelt family.
Once restored, the pool will be filled with water, but only up to 18 inches deep. Olson explained that it would be “too much of a liability” for the park to keep the pool at its full original depth.
Architect and ERVP Board Member John Kinnear Jr., in collaboration with the National Park Service, designed a fiberglass safety structure that would allow viewers to glean how the pool appeared in the Roosevelts’ time without any of the risks that come with filling the pool completely. Some of the funding will also go toward restoring the stonework that originally surrounded the pool and toward acquiring lawn furniture of the same era. A replica of the diving board on which Eleanor Roosevelt may have learned to dive will be mounted on the existing concrete supports, and a wayside interpretive panel will be erected in order to explain the history behind the pool.
“We’re so thrilled,” said Perrin. “It’s such a galvanizing project.”
As of now, there is no definite date for the project’s completion.