Idyll at Campobello

Destination: Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada

Book: A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway, 1904-1953, Edited by Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis

Roosevelt Cottage at Campobello
Roosevelt Cottage at Campobello

“It has been such lovely weather that just to be alive was all one wanted….”  Eleanor Roosevelt in letter to Isabella Greenway in August, 1906. Isabella Greenway was the first female member of Congress from Arizona and built The Arizona Inn in Tucson which is still going strong.

When my sister and I decided to travel on a road trip in Nova Scotia, we looked at the map for our route, and noticed that Campobello Island sits on the Maine/Canada border. Canada and the U.S. have created an International Park at the old Roosevelt compound. I have long been entranced with Campobello, so glowingly mentioned in Eleanor Roosevelt’s letters, and we are both interested in politics and former Presidents, so we decided to make a slight detour to Campobello on our way to Nova Scotia. I had met Kristie Miller, the editor of the book,A Volume of Friendship, and have read three of her books. I went back to this one to remind me of Eleanor’s exact words.

In 1916, Isabella writes to Eleanor: “I picture you on your enchanted island.”

Dining Room of cottage near Roosevelts
Dining Room of cottage near Roosevelts

My sister Paula and I knew that this trip was too short to do justice to the island. After all, the Roosevelts uprooted their household and moved all their children (eventually five), along with servants and all they needed to exist nearly every summer. My sister and I were only going to spend the night.

I was growing accustomed to managing quite a small army on moves from Washington to Hyde Park and to Campobello and back.  Eleanor Roosevelt in This is My Story (1939), her autobiography.

At first they were staying with Franklin’s mother in her long-time summer home (purchased in 1883 when Franklin was one year old).

Eventually, “Mama” bought a 34-room “cottage” on 5 acres for Eleanor and Franklin and their “chicks.” Eleanor was delighted.

Franklin and I love our house. The view is too lovely, the sailing glorious, the weather deliciously cool, but of course, people, there simply are none.  Eleanor to Isabella, 1909

View from back of Roosevelt Cottage
View from back of Roosevelt Cottage

The “no people” is a slight exaggeration, since the extensive Roosevelt family and friends tended to come and stay for weeks. But still, the isolation must have been a relief from their otherwise busy political life in Albany New York, New York City, and later Washington D.C.

The letters to Isabella Greenway in this book unveil a different Eleanor Roosevelt than the famous dynamo of later days. When Isabella and Eleanor wrote, they were young girls, and Eleanor was very shy and not at all interested in public life. Isabella Greenway was an enthusiastic, energetic young woman, who was soon to marry and have two children. However, her husband, Bob contracted tuberculosis and they settled on a ranch on the Arizona/New Mexico border.  After her first husband died, Isabella married John Greenway. Both her husbands had served in Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  Tragically, Greenway died after only two years of marriage.

Isabella went on to become a politician–the first female member of Congress from Arizona–and Eleanor and Isabella shared their political interests as avidly as they once had shared gossip about friends and news about their young children.

After 1921, when FDR was diagnosed with polio after a swim in the cold Bay of Fundy left him feeling sick, the Roosevelts spent less time on the island. Instead, they went to Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR was elected Governor of New York State and then President of the United States and after he became President, he spent brief periods on the island according to this FDR web site

The Roosevelt home on Campobello Island is now an International Park.

Kristie Miller is a whiz at biography. I first read a book about her female relative, Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics, 1880-1944 and her latest is Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Ladies .

There is no charge to visit the International Park, which is open most days from 10 am to 6 pm. We found that an hour and a half were adequate to see the Roosevelt cottage, the Hubbard cottage next door and the small museum, plus watch a short film in the visitors center. In nicer weather, we would have walked down to the beach behind the house. Mama Roosevelt’s home, where FDR grew up, is no longer there and most of the mansions and grand hotels have gone. However you can hike in parks and take sea cruises to whale watch. Change to Canadian money before you arrive on the island. There is no bank and the day we were there the sole ATM that took American cards was out of cash.

You should know: these photos are my property. If you are interested in reusing one, do get in touch.  My stay on Campobello Island was partially underwritten by the New Brunswick Tourism office. The book title is linked to Amazon for your convenience. If you click through to Amazon and purchase anything at all, I get a few cents which helps support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.