Eleanor Roosevelt, with friends Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman built a
home/retreat on FDRs’ estate with his help and encouragement and named it
Val-kill Cottage, or Val-kill. At the same time the three women with Carolyn
O’Day started a crafts style cottage business at the same site which they named
Val-kill Industries. It started as a furniture factory in a second building near
the first stone cottage and production began in 1926. There are several old
magazine articles in this website which provides an accurate description of the
business. Part of their goal was to produce fine hand made heirloom furniture,
but by doing so they were acting on a larger social goal of providing a second
income to local farming people in rural Hyde Park so as to keep them from
migrating away to city jobs.
The furniture was colonial
reproduction in shape and form and to most degree in its construction. Some was
constructed of pine wood, but most was of hardwood such as cherry, maple or
walnut. Most pieces were brand stamped with their hallmark: VAL-KILL. A second
stamp was used with a double box around the word. Fewer pieces were stamped with
the craftsman's first name: Otto, Frank, Arn, Karl, Wolf have been seen.
Sometimes model numbers with letters were stamped. A very few pieces were
stamped with Eleanor Roosevelt's signature and date.
types of household furniture was produced usually for living rooms, bedrooms and
dining rooms. They produced items sized for children. Val-kill Industries
obtained wood from the White House and marketed useful souvenirs such as letter
openers, letter holders and picture frames. These pieces may or may not be
Val-kill hallmark stamped, but have a brass tag attached which states ” This
wood was part of the White House roof erected about 1817 and removed in 1927.”
The furniture factory was of moderate success employing probably fewer than 30
people at any time. The factory lasted until 1936 having slowing sales during
the depression of the early 1930s. There is an accompanying page with
photographs of several representative examples.
A metal forge was begun as a separate entity of the Val-kill Industries in 1934.
One of the apprentice wood workers, Arnold Berge, was taught metal smithing and
the Forge was started in 1934. Many pewter objects were produced with some
steel, copper and wrought iron as well. Kitchenware items such as plates, cups,
tankards, chocolate pots, porringers, cake servers, utensils, bottle openers,
pitchers, cheese knives, napkin rings, et al were produced. Another theme were
desk items: letter openers, desk blotter corners, paper weights, letter holders,
and ink wells. Other items produces were match box holders, lamps, playing card
holders, cigarette holders, candle stick holders, vases.
items were also hallmark stamped. There was a block lettered VAL-KILL or a
circular stamped with “Val-kill Hyde Park, N.Y.” with an anvil in the center.
Sometimes a "Berge" can be found. There is a page here also of photographs of
several examples. The Forge lasted only until 1940, probably due to a
dissolution of the friendship of the owners in 1938 and the scarcity of raw
metal availability starting prior to World War II.
smaller portion of Val-kill Industries was the weaving of cloth on looms by
Nellie Johannessen. She produced several cloths and fabrics, even made at least
one suit for FDR. The owners had envisioned the making of braided and hooked
rugs. Clifford Smith was taught these crafts, but it never came to fruition in
Today we are unaware of any actual production
records tallying numbers made. And as each piece was constructed mostly by hand
and given the short duration of production years and the small amount of
workers, it can be argued that these pieces are scarce. Coupled with the
scarcity is the notoriety of association with the Roosevelt's that has given
pieces significant value.
The Val-kill site evolved over the
years. It was a part time home/retreat for Eleanor Roosevelt from 1/25 to 4/45.
After the furniture factory closed in 1936 Eleanor converted it into her home in
1938. Nancy and Marion continued to live in the stone cottage until 1947. After
FDRs death the site became Eleanor's fulltime residence. Many US political
leaders and world wide dignitaries visited FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt there. In
1977 it was added to the National Park Service Hyde Park Historic sites in
recognition of Eleanor Roosevelt's political and social accomplishments.
Probably the largest collection of Val-kill Industries furniture and pewter is
found at the National Park Service in Hyde Park, N.Y. Within this website is a
link to their website where you can obtain more information about Eleanor and
Franklin Roosevelt and Val-kill. The site is open for tours. Other museums also
have representative Val-kill Industries pieces. They include the FDR Library in
Hyde Park (National Archives), FDRs winter retreat “Little White House” at Warm
Springs GA, New York State museum and the White House Historical Society. You
can contact me for more information.