Theodore Roosevelt House

 

Laurel King, Contributor

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theodore roosevelt houseThe place referred to as the Theodore Roosevelt House is actually called Sagamore Hill. Located at 20 Sagamore Hill Road, in Oyster Bay, New York, Teddy (along with his wife and six children) called it home after its completion in 1885.

Built on a 95-acre plot of land - bought for $30,000 in 1880 – it was designed and constructed by the company of John A. Wood and Son, from Lawrence, Long Island. The total cost for design and construction came to just under $17,000 and last for nearly two years.

From 1885 until he died in 1919, for Theodore Roosevelt home was at Sagamore Hill. Although it was originally intended to house him and his first wife (Alice) her untimely death on February 14, 1884 – only two days after the birth of their daughter (also named Alice) – led to a heartbreaking change of plans. Having named the as-yet-unbuilt structure 'Leeholm' in honor of his first wife's maiden name, following her unexpected death he changed the name to 'Sagamore Hill' after a Native American chief named Sagamore Mohannis, who had signed away his tribe's rights to the land. Teddy remarried in December 1886 – his second wife was Edith Kermit Carow – and they moved into the home in the spring of 1887. The couple spent the rest of their lives at the home, until Teddy's death in 1919 at the age of 60, and Edith's death in 1948, at the age of 87. Always a consummate family man, the couple shared the home with their children; three of them were even born there (Theodore, Jr., Kermit, and Ethel).

With 23 rooms on two floors, the Victorian-style home was quickly adapted to Teddy's tastes. In the colossal 'North Room' measuring more than 30 x 40 feet, he stored all of his valuable and prized possessions: sculptures, paintings, trophies, books, and artifacts gifted by foreign dignitaries. The first floor housed the hall, drawing room, dining room, library, and kitchen. On the second floor were the more private rooms including nursery, bedrooms, guest rooms, and bathroom with an uncommon luxury: a huge tub made of porcelain.

Sometimes called the 'Theodore Roosevelt White House', Sagamore Hill was also known as Teddy's "Summer White House" during his time in presidential office. He would spend every summer at Sagamore Hill during his presidency from 1902-09, where he conducted the country's business from the comfort of his own home. In August 1905, Teddy met (separately) with the diplomats from Russia and Japan in his library, eventually convincing them to meet and speak in person. As part of the peace talks for the Russo-Japan War, these meetings were part of Roosevelt's exhaustive efforts to negotiate peace. On September 5, 1905 his efforts were rewarded with the Treaty of Portsmouth, and later, the Nobel Peace Prize.

When his presidential business was concluded, Teddy was living his life according to the philosophy and theories presented in his book, The Strenuous Life (1899). Never one to just sit and relax, he could be found playing games with his children, hiking or swimming, chopping wood, or riding horses. Theodore himself described the place best, in terms of his children's activities at Sagamore Hill: "They often went barefoot...They swam, they tramped, they boated...they coasted and skated in winter." His own sentiments about Sagamore were nostalgic and pleasant, "We love all the seasons; the snows and bare woods of winter; the rush of growing things and the blossom-spray of spring; the yellow grain, the ripening fruits and tasseled corn, and the deep, leafy shades..." It is no surprise to find that one of his last statements, the night before his death, were about the home he loved. He told his wife, Edith, "I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill". He died peacefully the next morning, while he slept, in the place he loved so dearly.