The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site: Presidential History in Kinderhook, NY
The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, NY offers free tours for history buffs roaming the Catskills. The 8th President's estate, known as Lindenwald, has expansive green lawns, nature trails, and picnic tables. Kids who visit the site can become official Junior Park Rangers, which was a major highlight of our 6-year-old son's summer vacation.
The house is open from April through November, offering hourly tours free of charge. (You can find hours and detailed info here.) For our son, Archer, the tour highlight was learning that Martin Van Buren owned one of the first coffee makers in the USA. This fun-filled Presidential Coffee video, featuring a life-sized cardboard cut-out of MVB, demonstrates how the gadget was put to use.
But there's something we have to talk about when we talk about Martin Van Buren: He was a slave owner. If you're bringing children to visit his house, be prepared for this to come up in conversation. Van Buren grew up in a family that owned slaves, he owned a slave himself, and when his slave ran away, he ended up selling that man to the person who found him. This information was just rattled off as part of our tour guide's spiel. Archer was horrified. We'd talked about slavery before, but I hadn't mentioned that some of the leaders of our country owned slaves. It's hard to explain such an unspeakable thing.
I try to stick with the basics: It's never okay to own another person. It's never okay to sell a person. MVB was not an American hero; he was just an American President. When you're hitting historical sites with little kids, the vibe can get heavy. No parent of any racial background wants to discuss slavery with a 6-year-old over a sunny picnic lunch, but our Lindenwald tour gave us a good opportunity to have this serious conversation. We have to confront the past if we want to raise the kind of kids who can improve the future.
Hard conversations aside, Archer was excited to write down the lighter, airier facts he learned in his Junior Park Ranger Workbook, and he did a really amazing job of drawing Martin Van Buren's house. When it was time to take the Junior Park Ranger oath, he took it very seriously.
Meanwhile, our daughter Ramona, had absolutely no interest in this place. This is what touring a National Historic Site with a 3-year-old looks like:
She didn't last long on the house tour, but she was very happy to be on the grounds outside.
The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is located at 1013 Old Post Road in Kinderhook, NY; (518) 758-9689 x2011. Free tours of the house open weekends in late-April to mid-May. From mid-May through October tours are offered seven-days-a-week. Tours return to weekend only in November. More detailed information available here.