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The first president of the United States actually born in the U.S. was Martin Van Buren. (Presidents before him were born British subjects in the colonies that preceded the Declaration of Independence.) If you like visiting a modestly impressive home of a celebrity, check out his manse up in Kinderhook, New York, just a few hours north of New York City by car. The closest airport, however, is in Albany, just 25 miles north of Kinderhook

Van Buren was president (the eighth) for only one term (1837-1841), though he tried twice more (1844 and 1848), making this house his headquarters for those attempts. He is considered a founder of the present Democratic Party. His administration was filled with one crisis after another, including an economic depression and arguments with Britain, Spain, and the Republic of Texas. The most difficult problem was slavery and its extension, which Van Buren opposed. He was called "The Fox of Kinderhook" by his enemies for his supposed political machinations in the 1840s.

The home was established as a National Historic Site by act of Congress in 1974. Van Buren is buried in the local Dutch Reformed cemetery in the village of Kinderhook, about a five-minute drive from the park. Get directions at the Visitor Center. He was born in the village, the son of a tavern keeper, but the building was torn down in the 1940s as it had fallen into disrepair. The site is marked with a plaque but it is on private property and not open to visitors.

Highlights

Tours of the house, Lindenwald, take just under an hour, the house being small compared to some mansions of former presidents. I especially liked the dining room, which he created from the original central hall, where the huge table and many chairs nearly fill the room, making it difficult to walk behind the chairs when filled with ample-stomached politicians, I suspect.

Nearby Sights

If you have time, check out the magnificent Olana State Historic Site, just south of Hudson, about 20 miles from Lindenwald. It was the home of famed Hudson River School painter Frederic Church. Also fascinating is the Clermont State Historic Site, about 25 miles away, which was the home of seven generations of the Livingston family, including Robert R. Livingston, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence. The site management also says the world's first successful steamboat was invented here, on the banks of the Hudson itself.

There's a neat little bookstore at the Visitor Center, run by Eastern National.

New in 2010

Under new legislation proposed and passed in 2009, the boundaries of Lindenwald have been extended from a mere 39 acres to 300 acres, the better to protect Van Buren's original land and scenic properties adjacent to it.

Lodging & Dining

If you want to stay nearby, check out the website of the Columbia County Lodging Association, at www.columbiacountylodging.com or phone them at tel. 800/558-8218. You can bring a picnic and use a picnic table on the grounds of Lindenwald. There are several so-so- restaurants along Routes 9 and 9H nearby.

Fees & Hours

It costs an adult $5 (no credit cards) to take a tour, and you can't enter the house without taking a tour, but the fee is good for seven days if you want to come back. A family of four adults and accompanying children 15 and under gets in for just $12, also good for seven days. Tours are given on the hour from 9am to 4pm daily, the site being open from late May through October 31 annually, seven days a week. You can walk the grounds at any time throughout the year from 7am until dusk, no fee charged.

Contacts

The official website of the property is www.nps.gov/mava, the telephone tel. 518/758-9689. The phone number of Friends of Lindenwald (FOL) is tel. 518/758-3061, no website.