Roosevelt Family Activity on an Island

Photos (Side): 
Franklin the Golfer
FDR Family on Cottage Porch

From 1883, when Franklin was one year old, until he was stricken by polio in 1921, he spent most of his summers on this rugged and beautiful island on Passamaquoddy Bay. As a young father, he found that his family enjoyed Campobello and it became customary to spend July, August, and part of September there. Over the summers, the energetic, athletic father taught his children sailing and many other pastimes he had learned there during his childhood. He organized hiking expeditions along the cliffs and thrilled the children with games of hare-and-hounds and paper chases. Campobello became as much a part of the lives of his five children as it had been of his.

Sailing was the most important part of the Campobello summer. The Roosevelts enjoyed both day-sailing, often picnicking on nearby islands, and cruising, taking three and four day trips around Passamaquoddy Bay, up to St. Andrews, or along the Maine coast. 

An excerpt from FDR's July 29, 1907-letter to his mother describes one of their trips. "We left in the Half Moon at 10:30 ... had to use the engine and went far up into South Bay between the Islands and landed for lunch... we did some canoeing before returning at three, getting home at five."

Outdoor activities on shore included golfing, picnicking, swimming, bicycling, playing tennis, hiking and spotting birds and sea life from the pathways or along the shore. When the children were young, they generally had lessons in the morning and spent the afternoon playing games, horseback riding, and "messing around" in boats.

As evenings could be cool and days foggy, indoor activities played an important role in the summer routine. FDR spent time working on his stamp collection; Eleanor knitted, wrote letters and read. In the evenings, she regularly read aloud to the children and guests. There was dancing at the club house and occasional evening parties for the children, such as hay rides and taffy pulls. FDR's young family loved Campobello, though his growing political responsibilities soon limited his visits to a few days at a time.

FDR Stricken with Polio

In the 1920 elections, FDR campaigned for the vice-presidency. The Democratic ticket was defeated and Roosevelt took charge, as a vice-president, of the New York office of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. By August 1921, he was looking forward to a good rest at his beloved Campobello Island. During this first extended summer at Campobello in more than a decade, he ran a high fever and his legs suddenly grew weak. "My left leg lagged," he recalled. "Presently it refused to work, and then the other ... . " At the age of 39, he had contracted infantile paralysis. Eleanor and the five children continued to visit the island during the summers, but convalescence and his involvement in active politics prevented FDR's return. Nearly twelve years passed before he came back to Campobello.

His Return as President

After four years as Governor of New York (1929-1933), FDR was elected President of the United States. The first 100 days of his Administration were trying for him, and by June 1933, he felt the need for a good vacation. Recalling his happy experiences at Campobello, the President planned a sailing trip to the island.
The schooner Amberjack II sailed from Marion, Massachusetts on June 18, with the President at the helm much of the time. His visit was too brief for his satisfaction, as were his subsequent visits on July 29-30, 1936 and August 14-15, 1939. While his visits after the polio attack were few and brief, his love of the island and his long associations with its people left a lasting impression.