Martin Van Buren: The Ultimate American Dream
Unit #41 / 413 - Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Jay-Z. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg.
Who do you think of when you hear "American Dream"?
Before these modern iterations, there was one OG, rags-to-riches, innovator who represented American dreamers:
Martin Van Buren.
Beginning in 1782, this small-town, inn-owner's son began his journey on that fabled path even before the Revolutionary War gave us an America to dream in.
Starting from those humble roots in Kinderhook (approx. 20 miles south of Albany), he joined the New York State Senate as a 30-year-old, succeeding to U.S. Senator, New York Governor, and eventually creating the first national political party (the Democratic Party) which he rode to his 1837-1841 one-term Presidency.
Though Van Buren idolized Thomas Jefferson, and counted Andrew Jackson as a compatriot who helped much of his career (including naming him Secretary of State and Vice President), he never forgot his roots.
The Albany NBC News joined my visit. Watch their video coverage of the Van Buren house.
Upon completing his political career, he went back to his native Kinderhook to become what he called a "Gentleman Farmer."
However, his return to his hometown was not to his childhood house, but rather to an estate he purchased from his one-time nemesis, a local judge. That flipping of the script is also representative of Van Buren no longer being the inn-owner's son he'd grown up.
Having risen to the rank of American aristocrat, he wanted to live larger, so he expanded the Lindenwald Farm he'd once lusted after. The home (the main site of this national park unit) was outfitted not only with the then-luxury of indoor running water, but also servant's quarters that allowed Van Buren's wills to be met at the tug a through-the-floor bell.
The inn-keeper was now the one being served.
How would you like to be woken in your sleep to serve someone?
Proving that it wasn't just the man-made fishing ponds in his backyard that displayed his status (at the time, just owning fishing materials was considered upscale), he also built a four story tower that allowed his Irish-immigrant servants to travel throughout the house without having to cross the family staircase.
While Van Buren recalled his farming years as his happiest, it's easy to understand how his upgraded lifestyle would lead to this claim. For just as MTV Cribs showed in their tours of celebrity houses, one of the ways you know you've made it is when you get to buy your childhood dream house.
Showing once more how Van Buren became an early adopter of the American Dream.
Martin Van Buren remains, in painting form, to watch over his house
Martin Van Buren Highlight (You Can Do)!
1. Take the Tour
This 60-minute, Ranger-led tour departs multiple times per day, on the hour (check the current schedule here). It leads visitors through three levels of Van Buren's house, showing not only how he lived, but also explaining interesting tidbits about his life (Did you know he was anti-slavery but also owned slaves while growing up, and let his children marry relatives of the Governor of slave-state South Carolina?).
The main entrance to Van Buren's house
The guest "best" bedroom
Servants' kitchen. Notice the three bells? To indicate who was ringing.
Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
New York to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine to Massachusetts
-Saratoga National Historical Park
-Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
-Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
-Appalachian National Scenic Trail
-Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument *New NPS site added 1 week ago*
-Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
-Acadia National Park
-Adams National Historical Park
-Boston African American National Historic Site
-Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
-Boston National Historical Park
-Cape Cod National Seashore
-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site
-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site
-Lowell National Historical Park Minute Man National Historical Park
-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
-Salem Maritime National Historic Site
-Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
-Springfield Armory National Historic Site
The journey thus far: