From Nashville (The Hermitage) to Kinderhook, New York – President Martin Van Buren is from the Hudson Valley.
Ken and I didn’t know much about Van Buren before we visited, but as we were waiting for the guide to start the tour (we were the only ones there), we talked to him about our interest in presidential history. I joked with him that we had a book at home of President houses and that we rated all our tour guides. We ended up with the best tour ever – he was doing his doctorate dissertation on Van Buren and was glad to tell us everything he knew. Which was a lot. And we came away feeling like we had gotten our money’s worth. The guide was great.
President Van Buren thought this would be the place he could live out the rest of is life after his term in office. The house had been built by Peter Van Ness, and was inherited by his son – but his son got into financial trouble and lost the house. Fifteen years and a lot of damage later, Van Buren bought the house for $14,000. Immediately he made improvements and turned the house and 220 acres into a working farm. The home also had running water, a furnace and a stove.
Van Buren, a man of exquisite taste, knocked out the original staircase to make larger rooms and imported 51 wallpaper panels from France. He also hung portraits of friends such as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. When his son Smith and his family moved in with him, Van Buren agreed to let him make even more changes.
Martin Van Buren reigned at Lindenwald until his death. He lived on a busy road and when people (many of them famous politicians) – stopped by – he was in his glory. He loved debating the issues of the day.
But what about Hannah Van Buren?
Martin and Hannah were childhood sweethearts in Kinderhook (Dutch word for children’s corner) and married in their early 20s. Kinderhook was a Dutch town and Hannah only spoke Dutch – so it was very difficult for her when after their marriage, they moved twelve miles away. Within a few years, the Van Buren’s had five sons – four of whom lived to adulthood. But Hannah was always weak and having five children close together didn’t help. Besides, her husband was often away involved in his politics and Hannah was left at home to care for her boys. She died of tuberculosis at age 35. Martin had been a widower for 18 years before he became president and was one of only a few presidents who was a bachelor during his term. His daughter -in-law, Angelica Van Buren, served as hostess.