Historic Sites and Buildings
Sagamore Hill, overlooking Oyster Bay Harbor and Long Island Sound, was the home of Theodore Roosevelt for nearly four decades and is the site most closely associated with his life and career. During the period 1901-9, as a "summer White House," it was the focus of national attention and the scene of numerous major events and decisions. Today, the little-altered mansion, furnished with Roosevelt possessions, is one of the most authentically preserved historic sites in the Nation.
As a young man, Roosevelt acquired a lifelong attachment to the countryside. in the vicinity of Oyster Bay, Long Island. By 1874, when he was 15 years of age, his grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, had been summering in the area for some time. That year, his father rented as a vacation retreat Tranquility, a residence about 2 miles southwest of the future site of the Sagamore Hill mansion. Young Roosevelt spent his summers exploring the fields and woodlands of nearby Cove Neck, a peninsula jutting out into the bay.
In 1880, not long after Roosevelt graduated from Harvard and married Alice Hathaway Lee, he purchased some property on Cove Neck, including a hill on which he planned to build a residence. At that time, only a barn stood there. In 1884, the year construction began and he ended 2 years of service in the State legislature, his mother and his wife died on the same day, the latter 2 days after childbirth. The child, a daughter named Alice, survived. By the time workers completed the residence, early in 1885, Roosevelt was spending much of his time in Dakota Territory, where 2 years earlier he had established a cattle ranch. His sister Anna moved into the new house to care for his infant daughter.
Roosevelt returned to the East in the fall of 1886 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City. He then traveled to London, where he married childhood friend Edith Kermit Carow, who was living with her mother in Europe, and embarked on an extended honeymoon tour of the Continent. In the spring of 1887, he brought his new wife home to the Cove Neck residence. About that time, he named it Sagamore Hill in honor of Mohannis, who had been the sagamore, or chief, of an Indian tribe that had once lived in the area.
For a few years, Roosevelt lived quietly at Sagamore Hill writing history. In 1889, however, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the first in a series of offices leading to the Presidency. These and military service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War (1898) were to keep him away from home for long periods. Yet, the Roosevelts returned as often as possible, especially in the summers. During these years, Alice grew to womanhood; Theodore, Jr., Kermit, and Ethel were born at Sagamore Hill; and Archibald and Quentin in Washington, D.C.
In 1900 Roosevelt was elected as Vice President under President McKinley. The following year, the assassination of McKinley catapulted him into the Presidency. From then until 1909, the year he retired from office, Sagamore Hill served as a "summer White House." During that time, it became the focus of national interest, and newspapers daily reported the activities of the six Roosevelt children, their 10 cousins, and "Teddy" himself. Notorious among his escapades during these years were his camping trips. At least once each summer, he and his older sons and nephews eluded Secret Service guards, newsmen, and everyone else; boated to a distant beach; and spent a rare, uninterrupted night in the wilderness.
But the President worked more than he played at Sagamore Hill. It was not only headquarters for the day-to-day administration of the country, but was also the scene of events of international consequence. One of these occurred in August 1905 when Roosevelt conferred separately in the library with envoys from the warring countries of Russia and Japan. Subsequently he brought them face to face in New Hampshire for negotiations that led to the Treaty of Portsmouth (September 5, 1905), which ended the Russo-Japanese War.
After Roosevelt retired from public office in 1909, though he traveled extensively throughout the world, Sagamore Hill grew even dearer to him and his family. Politically, coming to differ with Taft and the Republican Party, his influence waned and in 1912 he met defeat as a Progressive in a new bid for the Presidency. When the United States entered World War I, which he had heartily advocated, all four of his sons sailed off to Europe. He suffered an irreparable blow when Theodore, Jr., and Archibald were seriously wounded and Quentin, his youngest son, lost his life. Despite failing health, at least partially brought on by his strenuous activities, Roosevelt was one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination in 1920. But fate decreed otherwise. On January 6, 1919, at the age of 60, he died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill.
Mrs. Roosevelt continued to live on the estate until her death in 1948. Two years hence, the Roosevelt Memorial Association (later incorporated as the Theodore Roosevelt Association) purchased the house, its furnishings, and 83 acres of adjacent land. While maintaining the mansion's historical integrity, the association thoroughly renovated it by fireproofing the roof and providing other fire protection devices, repainting the exterior, redecorating the interior, and installing modern heating and electrical systems. The rooms were also refurnished with Roosevelt items to approximate their appearance during the first two decades of the century.
The mansion, a rambling frame and brick structure in the Queen Anne style, contains 22 rooms. On the first floor are a large center hall; the library, which served as Roosevelt's private office; dining room; Mrs. Roosevelt's drawing room; the kitchen; and the spacious north, or trophy, room, added in 1905. The latter, designed by Roosevelt's friend C. Grant LaFarge to receive distinguished guests and official emissaries, is one of the most interesting in the house. Built of fine American and Philippine woods, it is crammed with Roosevelt's most intimate possessionstrophies, animal skins, books and works of art, flags, and a variety of personal mementos.
The second floor contains family bedrooms, nursery, guestrooms, and dressing room. On the top floor are chambers once used by servants, currently exhibit rooms; the gunroom, where Roosevelt kept his extensive collection of weapons and retreated to write or to escape the bustle of his busy schedule; a sewing room; a schoolroom, where some of the children received tutoring; and the bedroom of Theodore, Jr.
The wide piazza on the south and west sides of the house figured prominently in daily life at the estate, but was also on three occasions the scene of notable historical events. On it, Roosevelt received official notification of his nominations for the governorship of New York in 1898, for Vice President in 1900, and for the Presidency in 1904.
In 1963 the Theodore Roosevelt Association donated Sagamore Hill and the Roosevelt Birthplace, in New York City, to the American public. The former gift included the mansion and about 83 acres of land, containing landscaped grounds and gardens and various outbuildings. Both sites are now administered by the National Park Service in cooperation with the association.
Sites of related interest within the vicinity of Sagamore Hill include the following: adjacent Old Orchard Museum, a handsome, two-story Georgian structure that was once the home of General Theodore, Jr., but is now a museum commemorating his father's contributions to conservation; Roosevelt's grave, at Oyster Bay Cove, about 1-1/2 miles south of the mansion; the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and nature preserve, on Cove Neck Road, next to the gravesite; and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, a bayside recreation area in the town of Oyster Bay.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004