Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is a unit of the United States National Park Service located 20 miles south of Albany, New York, or two miles south of the village of Kinderhook, New York in Columbia County. The National Historic Site preserves the estate and thirty-six room mansion of Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. Van Buren purchased the estate, which he named Lindenwald, in 1839 during his one term as President and it became his home and farm during his retirement.
Early 19th century politics was a whirlwind of boisterous characters and opposing interest groups where a new party system was taking shape. Van Buren artfully positioned himself in the eye of the storm, persistently advocating the principles of the Jeffersonian Republicans: states’ rights, strict constitutional construction, civil liberties. His efforts, along with those of like-minded politicians, brought about an alliance of the “planters of the South and the plain people of the North,” the Democratic party. During the administration of the new party’s first President, the enormously popular Andrew Jackson, Van Buren was Old Hickory’s top advisor.
As eighth President – the first born under the U.S. flag – Martin Van Buren continued the era of Jacksonian Democracy. He faced daunting challenges: The nation suffered a severe and lingering economic depression. The extension of slavery into new states – opposed by Van Buren – divided the nation and his party. Crises with Great Britain, Spain, and Texas required varying degrees of firmness, negotiation, and delay to avoid conflict.
Van Buren ran two United States Presidential campaigns from Lindenwald. In 1844, he based his ultimately unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination at the estate. That year, Van Buren lost a hotly contested fight to nominee and eventual President James Knox Polk. In 1848, in opposition to the extension of slavery into territories captured from Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War, Van Buren ran for President on a third-party ticket (The Free Soil Party), again directing his campaign from Lindenwald. Van Buren’s campaign drew enough votes away from the Democratic nominee, Lewis Cass, to allow Whig candidate Zachary Taylor to prevail.
Not until his defeat for the presidency in 1848 did Van Buren give up public life. The 1850 census listed his occupation as “farmer.” Once settled at Lindenwald, he resisted all attempts to lure him back into politics. In 1862 Martin Van Buren succumbed to his “old enemy,” bronchial asthma. He was buried in Kinderhook, where in life he had always known a beloved home.
Van Buren named the estate Lindenwald, which is German for “linden forest”, after the American Linden (American Basswood or Tilia americana) trees lining the Albany-to-New York Post Road, which is still located in front of the home. The section of the road on the property remains unimproved to this day. Some replanted Linden trees also remain by the side of the road.
Van Buren passed away at Lindenwald on July 24, 1862. He was 79. Lindenwald was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site was established on October 26, 1974, and today, Lindenwald is under the care of the National Park Service.
The site can be found on Route 9H, about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Van Buren’s hometown of Kinderhook, New York. A visitor center operated by the National Park Service is located at the site. Access to the Lindenwald mansion is by ranger-guided tour only. The tower cannot be visited due to fire safety codes. In addition, the grounds contain educational signs which tell of the history of the Lindenwald Estate. During Van Buren’s lifetime, the site also contained two gatehouses, a north one and a south one. The north gatehouse was demolished in the 1950s, but today the site is outlined with a stone foundation.