Small Town Spotlight: Kinderhook, NY
While I love trips to huge cities or faraway lands, I also find myself constantly falling in love with small towns. Whether you’re looking for a weekend trip or a stop on a road trip, Small Town Spotlights is a collection of my favorite hamlets across the country.
About equidistant from NY’s capital Albany and the Massachusetts border, the little town of Kinderhook has one main claim to fame and tons of charm to boot. Having had two different close friends live there, I have been there in the summer, the fall and the winter. While Northern winters are not to be easily dismissed, snow and Christmas decorations bring out the true spirit and magic of this little town. Regardless of which season you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
As you will quickly notice, Kidnerhook’s most famous previous resident is indisputably Martin Van Buren, the 8th president of the United States. Although MVB may not be one of the most culturally well-known of the White House occupants, he was president at an interesting juncture in American history. Aside from presiding over a tumultuous economy, he also continued Jackson’s Indian removal policies, worked to protect the institution of slavery and blocked the admission of Texas to the Union. (Here’s ThoughtCo’s pages on MVB in case you want to do some in-depth reading.)
As was common at the time, Van Buren’s career included time as NY State Senator at both the state and federal level, Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Vice President and, ultimately, President. His myriad of political relationships and prowess explained such monikers as ‘The Little Magician’ and the ‘Red Fox of Kinderhook’.
Lindenwald (Martin Van Buren National Historic Site)
You will be hard pressed to find an entry about Lindenwald that does not describe it as Van Buren’s beloved. He lived there for almost thirty years and entertained some of the most prestigious people of the time. As a fee-free park, it doesn’t cost anything to tour through the house with a ranger and learn more about MVB. During the holiday season, Lindenwald gets all dressed up for Christmastime. Because the holiday celebration only takes place over one weekend, I haven’t been yet - but it is on my list!!
When I said MVB was Kinderhook’s most famous resident I wasn’t kidding. There are plenty of historical markers around town that help illustrate just how important this town was to him.
Birthplace of MVB - 36 Hudson Street*
*The tavern where he was actually born has been torn down and replaced by a beautiful home. The sign is on the front lawn. Be courteous when visiting.
Grave of MVB – Kinderhook Reformed Cemetery (Albany Ave.)
The cemetery fills both sides of the road, but look for the blue sign that points the way. The grave isn’t huge, but it is much taller than those surrounding it
Memorial to MVB – Parking Lot of Reformed Dutch Church (Broad St.)
The question isn’t why have a memorial to MVB in a parking lot. Rather, it’s why wouldn’t they? Erected for his 150th birthday, come and wonder what your hometown will do in honor of your 150th birthday.
Statue of MVB – Hudson St.
By far my favorite of all the MVB paraphernalia around town, come at Christmas time and see elderly Martin in his Christmas attire. If it looks familiar, this may be because you’ve seen the duplicate statue in Rapid City, SD. (Just me? Ok, just me…)
(If you’re not totally sick of historical signage, the house on Broad Street where Benedict Arnold was brought after he was wounded at the Battle of Bemis Heights is also marked.)
Having been to Kinderhook three times, but never eaten there, I asked around for some recommendations for places to go. Hannah (and lots of people on the internet) agree that Broad Street Bagel is a good option in town. Hannah also recommends Magdalena’s in Valatie, NY, which is the next town over from Kinderhook.
(If you want more of Hannah’s recommendations, check out My Favorite Things: Memphis, her old hometown.)
Have you been to Kinderhook and visit Martin Van Buren? I obviously want to know in the comments!