Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Dedication of the New Post Office in Rhinebeck, New York.

May 01, 1939

Your Royal Highnesses, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Postmaster General, You My Old Friends and My Neighbors of Rhinebeck:

Half a century ago—I do not feel that it was that long—a small boy was often driven through the town of Rhinebeck by his father and mother to visit his great-uncle and aunt at their home south of Barrytown. On those drives up the Post Road, which, as I remember, were always either dusty or muddy, he passed a number of old stone houses, most of them with long, sloping roofs; and he was told that they had been built by the early settlers nearly two centuries before.

Then, as I grew older, I came to know something of the history of these river towns of Dutchess County, and to develop a great liking for the stone architecture which was indigenous to the Hudson Valley.

We call it by the generic name of "early Dutch Colonial" even though some of the houses, as in this neighborhood, were built by German settlers from the Palatinate.

Because through one line of my ancestry I am descended from the early Beekmans who settled Rhinebeck, and because on the Roosevelt side my great-great-grandfather lived in Rhinebeck for some time during the period of the Revolution and was not only a member of the State Senate, as his great-great-grandson was, but also a member of the Dutchess County Militia, I have a claim to kinship with this town that is second only to the town of Hyde Park.

And, by the way, the Postmaster General will, I think, sustain me if I pin a medal on myself. Two years ago, under the Congressional appropriation, one Post Office was allocated to Dutchess County. The Postmaster General asked me if I did not want the new building located in the village of Hyde Park, where we most certainly need a Post Office building. But I told him that Rhinebeck was in equal need of one and that because Rhinebeck was twice the size of Hyde Park, it should be served first. I gave notice, however, that time that my unselfishness was coming to a limit, and that if I got another chance to choose a Dutchess County site, my own townspeople's complaint would receive sympathetic attention. And so, I am hereby putting him on notice that if we are to get any more money from Congress for Dutchess County, the Postmaster General and the Secretary of the Treasury, if they want to keep their jobs, must locate it in Hyde Park.

You all know the inspiration for the design of the building which we are dedicating today. Fortunately, I am old enough to remember the old house on the River Road in which were entertained so many famous men before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. That we have been able to copy the original part of it is a fortunate thing; and we are grateful, too, that we have been able to incorporate much of the stone in the original Beekman house in the front walls of this Post Office. Soon, too, the old cornerstone will be on display in the lobby, together with the famous pane of glass which has been given by Mrs. Suckley and which was rescued from the fire by Colonel John Jacob Astor.

Furthermore, within a short time, a most interesting painting, a frieze around the inside of the lobby, painted by Mr. Olin Dows, is going to grace this building.

It is, I think, an interesting fact that during the past few years the Government, in the designing of Post Office buildings, has been getting away from the sameness of pattern which characterized the past. I am glad that the Secretary of the Treasury has described to you the method by which new Government buildings are being designed. The Procurement Division of the Treasury has sought to diversify design so that our newer Post Offices all over the country will not look, as they did before, as though they had been turned out by the dozen.

We are seeking to follow the type of architecture which is good in the sense that it does not of necessity follow the whims of the moment but seeks an artistry that ought to be good, as far as we can tell, for all time to come. And we are trying to adapt the design to the historical background of the locality and to use, insofar as possible, the materials which are indigenous to the locality itself. Hence, fieldstone for Dutchess County. Hence, the efforts during the past few years in Federal buildings in the Hudson River Valley to use fieldstone and to copy the early Dutch architecture which was so essentially sound besides being very attractive to the eye.

May I make a suggestion to you, my neighbors of Rhinebeck? At this very historic crossroads of the village we now have the new Post Office, the nation-wide famous Beekman Arms Inn, and just beyond it on the northwest corner that fine old stone building, so substantially built that it will last for all time to come. As time goes on, some of the other buildings on the other side of the street and on this side may have to be replaced by new buildings. Now, these buildings are substantial enough but they are set rather close to the street and represent a style of architecture that is not being copied much today, a style that was followed by architects for years but one which we now rather smile at as we label it Victorian.

And so, when replacements are made, I hope that the new buildings may be set back by—what shall we say?—not by law but by community opinion, set back so that you in Rhinebeck will have what, in effect, will be a large open square, admired for its beauty by the many thousands who pass this way.

A happy coincidence brings to us today a unique opportunity. The cornerstone at Rhinebeck's new Post Office is about to be laid as a part of this ceremony of dedication. The Post Office has been built by the Secretary of the Treasury, who is with us. It has been turned over to the Postmaster General, who will use it and who is also with us. Their Royal Highnesses, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark and Iceland have come to us, having voyaged from Denmark through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and back across the Continent. They have, I am glad to say, had an opportunity to see a large part of the United States and I need not tell them that they are very welcome.

In a minute I shall present them to you, but in the meantime I am glad to tell you that His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, has graciously consented to wield the trowel and formally lay the cornerstone of this building of which we are all so proud.

During all the years to come—during the long life, in spite of what the Postmaster General says, which lies ahead of our new Post Office—generations which will live here will always remember that the cornerstone was laid by our distinguished guest.

And so I present to you Their Royal Highnesses, the Crown Prince and the Crown Princess of Denmark and Iceland.

The Crown Prince used the trowel on the cornerstone and, upon the completion of this ceremony, the President said:

I now announce this very historic cornerstone has been well and truly laid and also that His Royal Highness is an honorary member of the Union, in good standing.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of the New Post Office in Rhinebeck, New York. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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