Roosevelt's Road

Andrew Tweedie, CCC Senior Foreman, Saratoga National Battlefield Park

Based upon an article in The Battlements, Vol 5, No. 1, Summer 1992

The Newsletter of the Friends of the Saratoga Battlefield

Original written by Richard Beresford

     In October 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to visit one of his favorite parks, the Saratoga National Military Park in New York State. Once a State Park, Saratoga was being made into a National Park by the Civilian Conservation Corps under a degree of supervision by FDR, who had from the beginning taken a personal interest in its development. The purpose of this visit was to select the location of the new visitor's center which FDR had demanded be built. The Superintendent of the Battlefield. Al Kress, was made aware of FDR's visit by telegram on the Morning of October 7, 1940. The telegram stated that President Roosevelt and the New York Governor Herbert Lehman, together with their wives, would be visiting the park at 1 PM, of that same day.

     The Superintendent sprang into action. As recalled by Francis Wilshin, the park's junior Historian at the time, there were several sites were under consideration for the location of the new visitor's center. The Superintendent knew that FDR would wish to personally inspect each site. This would be a problem.

     One of the potential sites was Fraser Hill, a site with a commanding view of the Battlefield. However this Hill was not accessible by any road and its slopes were wooded. President Roosevelt, wheelchair bound, would not be able to reach the summit to examine the view himself. The Superintendent did not want to tell the President of the United States that he would not be able to inspect the site. He was not only the President, but the first lady was his Godmother. He could not have wanted to disappoint.

     As Andrew Tweedie, the senior foreman of the CCC Company, recalled the day, the Superintendent came to him early that morning and said, "We've got work to do. The President is visiting us today."

     "The President of what and what the heck does he want to see?" asked Tweedie.

     The superintendent replied, "The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This is one of his favorite parks and the purpose of the visit is to make a field inspection of the alternate sites you've been studying for the new administration building."

    "We can show him sites 1 and 2, but there is no was he can visit site 3, Fraser Hill. There's no road up there," Tweedie advised.

     The Superintendent had, of course, already considered that problem. "Why not build one? The east side of the hill is too steep even for a tractor. The back side is heavily wooded and also quite steep. But if it climbed gradually, a road could be built along the side of the hill. It's only about a thousand feet of road to build, maybe less. But it would take a couple of days to clear out the trees and a couple of days to haul, spread and pack the gravel."

     "Probably the farmer who owns the property would not appreciate having trees cut and the road built through his woods," Tweedie added. Although the State grounds had been transferred to the federal government there were still private grounds which were to be purchased but had not yet been obtained. The back slope of the Hill was one such property.

     Waving the telegram, the Superintendent replied, "Look again. Site 3 is the one he is particularly interested in. Don't bother me with details. I am only the Superintendent, you are the engineer. You have a couple of hundred CCC boys available, a dozen or more trucks, all kinds of tools and about five hours. So get up there and get the job done. I'll be up there at 12:30 and expect to drive my car right up to the top without any trouble. I have lots of problems getting organized for this visit. You only have one problem! Now get that darned road built!"

     Tweedie, was left with a conundrum. The trees, he knew, could be cut by his CCC Company in an hour or so. But there was not enough time to pull stumps to allow a car to safely pass. Gravel, to make up a road bed so a car would not be stuck in mud or soft dirt or depressions, would all have to be loaded by hand, which would take many hours. And the fact that the property was not theirs to build on was another problem. His thoughts were all negative. The best solution he could think of was to postpone the meeting for a week.

     But that was not his orders. Suddenly a solution came to him. On previous occasions the Company had hauled cinders from a large supply at a paper mill in Mechanicville, which was only a few miles to the South. The mill had a power shovel which could quickly load the cinders into the company's CCC trucks. Cinders would work as well as gravel for a road bed, and moreover the cinders would be free for the taking! To the mill they were waste product that was in the way. One problem was solved.

     It took only a moment more to realize that the trees could be cut as close as possible to ground level and the stumps left in the ground. Cinders spread across the tops of the stumps and the road would smooth out the road bed well enough. The job could be done.

     The mill's power shovel was already at the cinder pile and would be ready to load trucks when they arrived, Tweedie found out with a phone call. He found the Superintendent and told him the plan, who responded with "You'll get the road built now, eh kid?"

     "Yep, after I talk to the farmer. I am sure it will be ok though." Responded Tweedie. Soon, after a stop by the CCC Barracks to set things in motion, twelve trucks were beating a path to the Paper Mill for the Cinders while thirty men of the company were ordered to Fraser Hill to begin clearing the path.

     While the foremen began to organize the work party, Tweedie made his way to the farmer's house to get permission to build the road on the farmer's land. But no answer came to his knocks and a quick peek around showed the farmer's car to be gone. No one was home. Tweedie began to worry.

     The farmer had, however, already given permission for them to do surveys and to clear brush for visibility on the land. But how big could a tree be before it could no longer be called brush? Tweedie wondered.

     Tweedie knew that a few months before Governor Lehman had announced that New York State was going to purchase over nine hundred acres around the park to add to the grounds. Fraser Hill was included in these nine hundred acres. Tweedie decided that these circumstances were close enough to permission to allow the work to proceed. Any other decision would mean no road for the President!

     The men and trucks arrived and Tweedie inspected the hill to lay out a path for the road. He was pleased to see that only a dozen trees would have to be felled, and none over six inches across. He marked the center of the road on his way back down the hill.

     At the bottom of the hill Tweedie gathered his CCC boys around him and told them what had to be done, and why. The men were excited at the concept and eager to do their duty for their President and the father of the Corps.

     The work crews were detailed to their tasks and the men set to work with alacrity. Brush was cleared as truck after truck of Cinder was delivered. As each load of cinder was unloaded, the truck would start off once again for another load while a crew of enrollees set to the Cinders with rakes to smooth the roadway out. When a section of road was complete one of the trucks would drive back and forth across it to firmly pack the cinders down. Ahead, boys would press the road further up the hill. Brush would be cleared trees felled and pulled aside and another few yards would be open for the next truckfull of cinder.

     The men had only a few hours till the alotted time, but it was more than enough for the CCC! By twelve the road was done, and Fraser Hill was isolated no more. Tweedie drove his car up the new road, turned around on the top, and drove back down. The road was smooth, packed and plenty wide enough, even for a President.

     Tweedie sent the crew to lunch and sought out the Superintendent and told him the job was done. At 1 O'Clock half a dozen Park personnel gathered near the new road. Local citizens who had heard of Roosevelt's arrival began to line the highway between Stillwater and the meeting place.

     At 1:30 the Superintendent arrived to see the new road for himself. He had just briefed Roosevelt and now the President and his party were coming to Fraser Hill.

     Soon enough motorcycles could be seen, followed by several cars. Roosevelt's car pulled up and the President beamed one of his winning smiles and said to the Park personnel, "Hop on and we'll ride up the Hill".

     Mrs. Roosevelt and Governour Lehman were in the car. The President's bodyguard were clinging to the outside of the car. The Park personnel joined them on the running boards, much to the bodyguard's dismay.

     Tweedie found himself standing on the running board next tot he President himself as they drove up the road. Roosevelt looked over at him and pointed, saying, "This road appears to be recently constructed?"

     "Yes, Mr. President, very recently!" Tweedie honestly replied.

     The President smiled again and said, "I hope the work did not require the destruction of too many trees?"

     "Only a few under six inches diameter" Tweedie responded.

     "That's excellent, we must conserve our trees." said Roosevelt. The conservation and restoration of American Forestland was a major concern of the President and one of the major goals of the CCC program.

     At the top of the hill the Superintendent made formal introductions. Tweedie, when introduced, told the President, Its an Honor, Mr. President. It's a Pleasure Mrs. President."

     The President smiled and the first lady laughed and said, "That was a very fine compliment."

     Pleasantries over, the President set to work, going over a map of the Park area with the Superintendent and the others. He was told of the various problems of the Fraser Hill site, the most difficult of the alternatives. It would require much road work to be fully accesible to the public, an entire highway would be needed to be built to this location. And due to the elevation of the Hill, getting water to the building would be difficult.

     "What a magnificent view, and what a long distance one can see from this hilltop," observed the President, "I believe we can see many of the points of interest from this location."

      "See the farm on the hillside a mile or so to the west> How would you say the elevation of that farm compares to our elevation here?" asked Roosevelt.

     Tweedie supplied the answer from the map, "The farm is about fifty feet higher than this site, Sir."

     "That farm looks very prosperous. How does that farmer get his water? Obtaining water for this site shouldn't present a problem that's too difficult to solve. What a panorama and what an ideal location for the headquarters. This is the area we should develop. This is it!" declared Roosevelt. The visit was over, the decision made.

     But there remained one last duty for Senior Foreman Tweedie. The next day, he traveled to the farmer's house, to tell him about the new road on his hill. This time the farmer was home and before Tweedie could explain, the farmer began to tell him news.

     "You know my neighbor up the road? He's always been a trouble maker and always starting rumors. This morning he was knocking at my door before breakfast. As soon as I opened it, he told me the President of the United States was here yesterday and drove right up through my woods to the top of the hill. I told him to go home. He is crazy. Did you ever hear such nonsense? Why, there's no road there!"

     Tweedie took the farmer across the road and showed him the trampled soil and pointed out the opening in the woods to the new roadway. "I'll be. Perhaps my hill is now sorta holy ground," exclaimed the Farmer.

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