When visiting important historical sites, a sentimental feeling can occur when walking in the footsteps of respected figures. Sagamore Hill, once the primary residence of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt, is the kind of place that makes me feel that way. The well-preserved and recently renovated home provides insight into the life and times of Theodore and his family. Visitors can gain intimate glimpses into the Roosevelt’s everyday lives, imagine pleasurable family conversations around the dinner table, walk the same hallways of the 26th President of the United States, and picture him seated in comfort at his desk surrounded by numerous trophies and artwork.
Teddy was a native of New York City. He was born the second of four children, on October 27, 1858, in a four-story brownstone at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan. During his childhood, he suffered greatly from asthma and shortness of breath. Despite this serious condition, he was full of energy and was quite mischievous. His sense of adventure and lifelong interest in animals and taxidermy drew him close to nature. As a child, he spent many summers with his family in Oyster Bay, Long Island. One can image young Teddy catching frogs and searching for insects on the rolling hills of the North Shore. He would record his observations of nature on a paper he called “The Natural History of Insects.”
At age 22, T.R. purchased 155 acres of land for $30,000 on Cove Neck, northeast of the Village of Oyster Bay. In 1884, he ordered the construction of a 22-room, Queen Anne style home. It was designed by the New York architectural firm Lamb & Rich, and was built at a construction cost of $16,975. The home was intended to be called “Leeholm”, after his wife Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt. Sadly, she died during childbirth in 1884. Still requiring a “proper home” for his infant daughter, he went ahead with construction orders. When Roosevelt remarried in 1886, he changed the name of the home to “Sagamore Hill”, an Algonquin word meaning ‘head of the tribe’. The home became a blissful place where Theodore, and his second wife Edith, lovingly raised six children. T.R., a devoted father, would set aside politics to join the kids for outdoor activities on the grounds and in the woods. In 1905, the home was expanded to include the “North Room” addition.
In addition to serving as the family residence, important political business was conducted at Sagamore Hill. Official notification of T.R.’s nomination for governor of New York occurred there. The home was the site where Roosevelt accepted his nomination for vice president serving under William McKinley. Sagamore Hill gained the utmost importance as the “Summer White House” during seven summers of Roosevelt’s service as President of the United States. From 1902 to 1908, T.R. hosted important luminaries from the United States and around the world. The quaint library off the entrance was used to host delegates from Russia and Japan and the front porch became a podium to address the public. As depicted in a photograph, soldiers of the 13th regiment once assembled on the lawn of Sagamore Hill to meet with Roosevelt. Large gatherings on the property were not uncommon. American flags often wrapped around the balcony to cover the striped awning. In the foreground of one photo, beneath the flags, stood members of the Republican Nomination Committee and distinguished guests.
Sagamore Hill was a beloved place. On the day before his death, Roosevelt said to his wife Edith, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill.” At the age of 60 years, on January 6, 1919, Theodore Roosevelt died in his bed at home. Upon Theodore’s passing, Edith gave the oldest son some acres of land on which to build his own home. That house became known as the Old Orchard House. Though Edith often traveled, she continually returned to Sagamore Hill, the home Theodore and she loved so dearly. Memories of wonderful days spent together at Sagamore Hill remained with her until her death at age 87. Like her husband, she, too, died at home.
Shortly after Edith’s passing, in 1950, the property and furnishings were acquired by the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The house was opened to the public in 1953.Ten years later, it was donated to the National Park Service, along with an endowment. Today, Sagamore Hill is a National Historic Site which operates as a unit of the National Park Service. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
The charming home, surrounded by rolling hills, is open to the public by guided tour and is well worth seeing. Explore the house, standing frozen in time, reflecting life in the United States in during the late 19th century and Progressive Era. Visitors can learn history and observe spectacular original furnishings. As one moves through the home, note the large number of books and extensive art and hunting trophies which belonged to the family. It is estimated that the Roosevelts owned approximately 12,000 books when they lived there. The current archives contain just over 6,000. Throughout the house, Roosevelt’s larger-than-life personality and passion for nature and hunting is evident, from the giant polar bear rug to the Cape buffalo on display in the hallway.
In addition to Sagamore Hill, explore the Theodore Roosevelt Museum which chronicles his life and presidential career. The museum is located in the 1938 “Old Orchard”, in the former home of Theodore and Edith’s son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his family. Note that there is no fee to enter the grounds or to visit the Old Orchard Museum. However, there is a $10 charge for adults over the age of 15 who wish to take a guided tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s home. While there is no senior rate for tickets, U.S. Citizens over the age of 62, are eligible to purchase a Senior Pass.
Spring and early summer are ideal seasons to visit these historical sites. Be sure to bring a bagged lunch and take advantage of the beautiful outdoor picnic area. Or, after viewing the home, grounds, and museum, top off your visit with a 10-minute drive to the scenic town of Oyster Bay to dine in one of many fine restaurants.
Plan your visit and learn more at https://www.nps.gov/sahi/index.htm
If given the opportunity in the future, explore the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historical Site in New York City. Currently, it remains closed for renovation work, with an anticipated reopening in late-summer 2016, or when a project completion date is determined. It is here you can explore his childhood home and learn stories of his youth.