Watch the park’s three films to learn more about the Roosevelt family and their time at Sagamore Hill.
Theodore Roosevelt. He was a man of prodigious talents, enough interests for twenty people, and unbridled energy. His accomplishments fill the history books and yet one thing stands out above the rest. He said it himself later in life in a letter to a grown son. “I have heartily enjoyed many things -- the presidency, my success as a soldier, a writer, a big game hunter and explorer. But all of them put together, are not, for one moment, to be weighed in the balance when compared with the joy I have known with your mother and all of you.” And in the same letter… “Home, wife, children – they are what really count in life.” What really counted in his life was here at Sagamore Hill and in great abundance, especially the joy. The family strikes a rare formal pose -- Theodore, known as TR, and his wife Edith; Theodore Junior, known as Ted: and Kermit, Archie, and Quentin, and the girls Ethel and Alice. And another posed picture – Jack, one of a whole menagerie of dogs and cats, horses and snakes, and raccoons and birds – all considered part of the family.
The Roosevelt Family album… some faded images, some strong memories of a fascinating family. But some old pictures can be misleading. They don’t quite tell the whole story. The family did sit still and pose…once in a while. And Sagamore Hill was peaceful and restful… once in a while, but not very often.
Always leading the brigade, TR, and always ready with suggestions and advice. Consider his formula for leisure-time activities – “Stand the gaff. Play fair. Be a good man to camp out with.” Sometimes, it was all just too much, but only once in a while.
Sagamore Hill was more than just a sort of a family playground – much more. After all, it served as a summer White House from 1902 to 1908 for seven years. So, there was an endless procession of visitors -- Boy Scouts and diplomats, statesmen and politicians, foreign dignitaries – important people with important business on their minds, even the very, very famous. Four giants in American history, posing at Sagamore Hill. Naturalists John Muir and John Burroughs, seated, and behind them Thomas Edison, the inventor and Harvey Firestone, the industrialist. The important business did get done, of course, and mostly in TR’s office, just off the front hallway. But everyday there was a break -- time out for play with the children. And the important visitor had a choice – join in the fun or stand by and watch and wait. One of the favorite afternoon pastimes was the point-to-point walk. One would hike from point A to point B, and if there were any obstacles in the way – and there always were -- one would go over them or under them or through them, but never around them. That didn’t match the Roosevelt idea of fun. There was swimming and rowing and most fun of all, playing in the barn behind the house, a kind of rough-and-tumble hide-and-seek. And always, TR led the game. The noise began early in the morning when TR, the first up, would boom up for the children to come down. Some would come sliding down the banister, and others would come bouncing down the stairs, all ready for another day. One room in the house was off-limits for the uninvited – the Gun Room. This was TR’s private preserve, a place where he could sit and read, enjoy the mementos of his travels. But every place else was fair game for fun and games, even the most formal room in the house – the drawing room, Mrs. Roosevelt’s room. And very much like her – somewhat formal, but with a sense of balance. Mrs. Roosevelt brought this sense of balance to every one at Sagamore Hill, but not always easily. She once commented to a friend, “Not one of my children ever wants to be told or directed about anything whatever.” But she did tell and direct in her firm but gentle way. Roosevelt’s aide summed up her influence. “She really constitutes the atmosphere of the house, a sort of feminine luminiferous ether pervading everything and everybody.” The problem was there was so many of them to influence. Not just immediate family, but scores of neighborhood children and dozens of visiting relatives. Most likely a Sunday afternoon, the Roosevelt cousins all line up, posing for just a moment before marching off to something or other. And always at the center, TR. Others knew him as President or statesman or politician. But here at Sagamore Hill he was simply “Father.” Alice remembered, “He was an incredible man and great fun.” “There are two things I want you to make up your minds to do: First, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live. I have no use for a sour-faced man.” But the idea of “fun” was coupled with something else. “And next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” And they did.
They’re all gone now – the children, Father, Mother. Their accomplishments and exploits, their problems fill the history books. And the memories fill this place. They’re here in the faded pictures, the old diaries, in the home. They’re out there on the broad porch with its rocking chairs looking down to Cooper’s Bluff and the water. They’re out there on the big, sprawling lawn, under the trees, down in the old pet cemetery. And because of the memories, Sagamore Hill is not just another place. It’s a special place of special memories. Home, wife, children. These are what really count in life. They certainly counted in their lives and here, in this special place.
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
An introduction to the Roosevelt Family and their lives at their home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, NY. Run time: 8:32. Closed Captions.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, member of the New York State Assembly, Civil Service Commissioner, Police Commissioner of New York City, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President. He was all those things and much more – soldier, rancher, historian, conservationist, and writer on many different topics. Even now, his words and his image are all around us – here on an island on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. … and here at Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota… in New York City, the family home, where TR was born… and above all else, this place, Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s Home on Long Island, a place of history, a place of family and friends.
TITLE: THEODORE ROOSEVELT: THE SAGAMORE YEARS
This is the story of a man and a house, an association of over 30 years – a special man and a very special house. “At Sagamore Hill, we love a great many things: birds and trees and books and all things beautiful and horses and rifles and children and hard work and the joy of life.” Theodore Roosevelt and the Oyster Bay area. The association began early in his life and lasted throughout. First, there was “Tranquility,” the home his parents rented every summer. He spent his first summer here in 1874. As a young man, he was determined to have his own place and bought 100 acres at Cove Neck near “Tranquility.” He planned the house with his wife Alice Lee and decided to call it “Leeholm.” He wanted it to be a very special place. “I wished a big piazza where we could sit in rocking chairs and look out at the sunset, a library with a shallow bay window looking south, the parlor, or drawing room, occupying all the western half of the lower floor, big fireplaces for logs.” Above all, he wanted it to be a comfortable place. “I had to live inside, not outside.” Then his world fell apart. His wife Alice Lee died in 1884. Roosevelt decided to go ahead with construction but didn’t return to the finished house until later the next year. The name “Leeholm” would no longer do. He decided on “Sagamore Hill,” named after Indian chiefs who held councils of war on the land back in the 1600s. In 1886, he married Edith Kermit Carow and together, they made Sagamore Hill a family home, a retreat.
Sagamore Hill was the Roosevelts’ full-time home, the only one they owned. There had been other they lived in in New York City, in the State Capitol in Albany, and in Washington, but this was the magnet bringing them back as often as possible. And when they came, they brought back mementos of their lives. They’re here, mostly in the North Room. Among them are reminders of Roosevelt’s sudden fame as a soldier. He resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War. He was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel and served in a volunteer regiment which soon became known as “The Rough Riders,” and led the famous charge up San Juan Hill… and he came home a national hero. He returned to Sagamore Hill to a hero’s welcome then laid plans to become Governor of New York, and he succeeded. Then, an even higher honor. In 1900, he was elected Vice President on the Republican ticket with William McKinley. A year later, President McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt assumed the presidency. He was only 42, the youngest president to take office. The family moved into the White House -- Children, pets, toys, and lots of visitors, all of them eager to pose with the President, and he willingly obliged. But returning to their own home at Sagamore Hill brought the greatest pleasure. “After all, fond as I am of the White House, there isn’t any place in the world like home, Sagamore Hill, where things are our own with our own associations and where it is real country.” But it was no longer possible to leave responsibilities behind. Sagamore Hill became the summer White House with visiting dignitaries, politicians, and groups of every kind and description. Roosevelt met them all and enjoyed the mixture of work and play. And of course, there was the press and, for the first time, a newsreel cameraman. Roosevelt posed in front of the house and asked, “How would you have me, in repose or in action?” They decided on action, and Roosevelt quickly obliged by demonstrating his skills at chopping down trees. As with anything else, he tackled the job with high energy and lots of enthusiasm. Still, though, there was work to be done and serious issues to be studied and acted upon. And this, too, was tackled with energy. Roosevelt took on the plight of factory workers. Conditions were filthy, the work week was 60 hours and yearly take-home pay was $600. TR’s concerns became known as “The Square Deal,” an issue he carried all across the nation, making people aware of the evils of the new industrialization. “No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living and hours of labor short enough to bear his share of the management of the community.” He went to bat for embattled coal miners, settled the long and bitter strike of 1902. There were threats of civil strife, even a revolution, but TR brought it to a close. He attacked big business, forcing the break up of big companies which were controlling industry. If Roosevelt understood the problems of America, he also understood the role it needed to play in the world: a leader of nations, strong and peaceful. “Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected of us. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with other nations of the earth. We must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities.” To demonstrate his point, he sent ships of the US Navy around the world, the “Great White Fleet.” He also demonstrated that America could assume greatness and make things happen. He built the Panama canal over the strong and justified objections of many. And in typical TR fashion, he went there himself on an inspection trip and minced no words about his intentions. “I took the Isthmus, started the canal, and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me. But while the debate goes on, the canal does, too. And they are welcome to debate me as long as they wish, provided that we can go on with the canal.” And it happened just that way. The result was an engineering marvel. Shipping could now move quickly from one ocean to another, and the United States controlled the moves. Roosevelt also achieved fame as a peacemaker. He served as the principal negotiator between the Russians and the Japanese, bringing to an end the Russo-Japanese War. For this, he was awared the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American to be so honored. And, in between, there were the personal moments and celebrations. At the White House, his daughter Alice married Nicholas Longworth. Theodore gave his daughter away and then joined the couple for the formal portrait. A year earlier, he performed the same role for his niece Eleanor, in her marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in the process stole the show. As Alice remarked, her father always wanted to be “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” Wherever he went, Theodore enjoyed being the center of attention. July 4th at Oyster Bay. The great American holiday in the typical American small town. He spoke to the crowds on patriotism, on America, and on the joys of a family. The crowds loved it, and so did he. Roosevelt refused a second elected term as President and soon after traveled to Africa with his son Kermit, collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. His family later joined him in Egypt… and they took the grand tour of Europe, following the path of other famous and wealthy Americans. He even reviewed the troops of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm, the first American private citizen to be given such an honor.
When he came back home, he sought the Republican nomination for President. He was turned down. As elected nominee to the Bull Moose Party, he lost to Woodrow Wilson. Then, another trip -- a grueling expedition to Brazil to explore an unknown river. It took its toll on his health and he was never quite the same. But still, he persisted. When the United States entered World War One, Roosevelt offered to raise one army division that could be in France in 90 days, but Wilson said no. All four Roosevelt sons did join the service. Quentin became a pilot and was shot down and killed in France. The dreams were fading away. But still, there was that spirit. He spent his days at Sagamore Hill reading and writing. Upstairs, the Gate Room provides the final chapter. This is where he died, peacefully, on January 6, 1919. He was 60 years old. Once again, the dignitaries, the statesmen, the politicians, made the trip to Oyster Bay for the last time. Now there are the monuments and the judgments of history. A friend at the time said that Roosevelt was “a stream of fresh, pure, bracing air from the mountains.” Thomas Edison called him “the most stirring figure in American life.” But Roosevelt himself said it best when commenting on manhood. “A man’s usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals as far as he can.” Theodore Roosevelt – solider, politician, and statesman, writer and scholar, conservationist, husband and father. He could live up to those ideals, and he did.
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
A look at Theodore Roosevelt's life and accomplishments. Run time: 17:58. Closed Captions.
Sagamore Hill: Inside the Roosevelt Family Home
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, lived here at Sagamore Hill from 1885 until his death in 1919. Between 1902 and 1908, it was the nation’s “Summer White House.”
As much as any home in America, it is a reflection of the life and times … the presence and personality … of its “larger-than-life” owner.
Sagamore Hill is Theodore Roosevelt.
Here, Theodore and Edith Roosevelt would live out their 33 years of marriage, in two boisterous, momentous, and event-filled lives.
The Sagamore Hill front hall immediately expresses the spirit and enthusiasm of Theodore Roosevelt, outdoorsman and world traveler. Here is where Roosevelt greeted visitors, as he watched their arrival from his desk in the adjacent library. Originally a sitting room before the house was remodeled in 1905, it became much more as Roosevelt’s career and family grew. The prominent Cape buffalo head over the fireplace is one of Roosevelt’s many hunting trophies in the home from his travels to Africa, Brazil, and throughout North America. The fireplace is where the Roosevelts stored their tennis rackets … tennis balls in blue jugs on the mantelpiece … always ready for a vigorous pickup game. The large rhinoceros statue was given by Roosevelt’s sister … and often hidden with a gardening hat on the horn by a disapproving Edith.
Just off the entry hall, the library doubled as Roosevelt’s personal study and a family gathering place, which daughter Ethel later called “the heart of the home”. In the evenings, TR and Edith would sit before the fire, writing letters or reading aloud to each other and their children. As those children grew, here is where they memorized their poems, songs, and hymns, reciting them for the family. And here was where Roosevelt ran the government of the United States during the summers of 1902 to 1908 -- the first time that executive power was exercised away from Washington, D.C. for extended periods of time. At this desk, Roosevelt dictated letters … received diplomats … met his cabinet members… and, in 1905, arranged the peace conference that ended the war between Russia and Japan. Notable along the library walls are portraits of Roosevelt’s great heroes … his father, Theodore Roosevelt Senior … Ulysses Grant … jurist John Marshall … George Washington … and Abraham Lincoln. The bronzes atop the bookshelves reflect this man’s deep appreciation of fine art … literature … and nature.
Across from the library, Edith kept the formal drawing room as her own private domain and personal office, though the elegant room – filled with antiques inherited from the Roosevelt and Carow families -- often served to welcome TR’s guests and dignitaries. Here, Edith oversaw the family finances – tracking household accounts, paying bills, overseeing investments, and managing a growing farm operation on the estate. She had learned that TR was hopeless with money. “Every morning Edie puts twenty dollars in my pocket, and to save my life I can never tell her afterward what I did with it!” he once confessed to a friend. This sedate sanctuary in a household in constant motion was where Edith relaxed, read and knitted, wrote letters, and took tea with friends. A few exceptions to this air of turn-of-the-century sophistication remain: a blue bowl beneath Edith’s desk was the water dish for family dogs. The mountain lion and brown bear rugs, trophies from her husband. And the polar bear rug a gift from Admiral Robert Peary after his North Pole expedition in 1909.
Down the front hall is the spectacular North Room, a treasure trove of objects and souvenirs from the remarkable life of Theodore Roosevelt. It is the room at Sagamore Hill most evocative of the spirit and dynamism of this amazing American. The North Room was added in 1905, after Edith tired of using her drawing room as a waiting area for TR’s visitors. It’s furnished with an eclectic mix of family furniture, hunting trophies, presidential gifts, and artwork. Immediately in front of you when you enter the North Room is a pair of large ivory elephant tusks given by the Emperor of Abyssinia to Roosevelt. The cavalry saber and hat atop of the elk horns are originals, carried by TR during his “Rough Rider” service in the Spanish-American War. The “Bronco Buster” statue on the mantel was a gift after that war to Colonel Roosevelt from his troopers. The Samurai Warrior on the round table a gift from Admiral Togo, hero of the Russo-Japanese War … the silver loving cup, a present to Edith from sailors on the USS Louisiana in 1907 when TR visited the Panama Canal … the North Room’s carpet, from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Here, amid world treasures and artifacts of world history, the Roosevelts played cards, listened to music, welcomed Christmas … and in moments of great celebration, after rolling up the Sultan’s carpet … they danced.
Meals at Sagamore Hill were formal. Even when dining alone, the family dressed for dinner. Children had to be on time for meals; if they were late, they waited until the family finished … and then ate at a little table in the kitchen. The boys were expected to stand when their parents or any ladies – including their sisters – entered the room. In the dining room, Edith sat at the east end of the table so she could run the meal and communicate with the serving staff, who waited behind the screen. The embroidered screen hiding the pantry door was a gift to Edith from the Empress of Japan. The dining room furniture was purchased by the couple during their honeymoon in Italy in 1887. Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed entertaining. He was a charming, witty, and candid host, encouraging an enthusiastic exchange of ideas. His table guests included a myriad of writers … politicians … even cowboys. Usually the children were included in such dinners. They were expected to display proper manners and to hold up their end of the dinner conversation, where the talk ranged from current events and politics to the latest books and poetry, as well as their daily activities. “Mealtimes at Sagamore Hill were the best education I had,” Ted Junior later remembered.
Mrs. Roosevelt came down to the kitchen every morning to meet with her cook, review menus, and brief the staff on the day’s schedule. During TR’s presidency, breakfasts and dinners usually were limited to the family and close friends. But lunchtimes … well, they could be frantic. On some days, the kitchen staff would provide as many as four sittings for lunch to accommodate children, White House staffers, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt and their guests, and then the household servants. Edith once wrote her sister that she was lucky to have such good-natured servants because she never knew until the last moment who TR would invite to lunch. Much of Sagamore Hill’s food was produced on the farm. There was an apple orchard and a three-acre vegetable garden that included cherry, peach, and pear trees; a strawberry patch, and a grape arbor. A flock of Rhode Island Red chickens provided eggs and fresh poultry; turkeys and pigs for meat; a small dairy herd for milk and butter. Other supplies arrived from the local Oyster Bay grocer.
Through the 1890s, three rooms on the second floor of Sagamore Hill served as a suite dedicated to the care and housing of a procession of small children. TR and Edith described them as their “bunnies”. He wrote “there was just the proper mixture of freedom and control in the management of the children. They were never allowed to shirk lessons or work; and they were encouraged to have all the fun possible.” The nursery was a work room, where clothes and supplies were stored, babies bathed and dressed, and naps taken. The fanciful drawing of Santa Claus on the nursery wall was a gift to the family from noted illustrator Thomas Nast. Next door, the south bedroom served as the night nursery, where the youngest children slept with their nurse. And the adjacent gate room was a playroom and day nursery, so named because of a wooden gate across the doorway that daughter Ethel remembers kept the children confined “until they could be trusted not to fall down the stairs.” As the Roosevelts’ six children matured, these rooms reverted to family and guest bedrooms. Ethel and her two children returned to Sagamore Hill during World War One while her husband served in France. TR was delighted to have grandchildren so close, earning Ethel’s disapproval when he would interrupt nap time just so he could pick up the youngsters. “I am an excellent baby holder!” TR bragged to his son Archie.
While Theodore and Edith Roosevelt shared this bedroom, their children always called it “Mother’s room”. Edith often spent summer afternoons on the little porch, napping, reading, and writing letters. The expansive view of the lawn and the bay from this porch hardly compensated for its chilly northwest exposure that made it one of the coldest rooms in the house. Its mantle and shelves are filled with family photos and knickknacks that the children gave their mother. The bird’s-eye maple furniture was once TR’s parents’, from their home on West 57th Street in New York City.
The dressing room shares a connecting closet with the Roosevelts’ bedroom, but it was reserved for TR’s use and is definitely … “all-man”. His riding outfit – gloves, boots, and crop – and his heavy cloak used for reviewing U.S. Navy ships are displayed before you. Young Ted Junior remembers how TR, dressing for dinner in this room, took the time to show him a small twenty-two caliber rifle he had purchased to teach the children how to shoot. To Ted Junior’s delight, Roosevelt loaded the gun and fired it into the ceiling. Edith, in the bedroom next-door, claimed to hear nothing.
Guest rooms were reserved for visiting family and friends, and Edith resisted her children’s attempts to take them over. TR’s young niece Eleanor – the future First Lady – stayed in the small guest room during her visits as a child. Most guests who visited Sagamore Hill were honored by the invitation … except one close friend, Henry Cabot Lodge, who complained that those Roosevelts stayed up too late … talked too loud … and got up too early in the morning.
Even after leaving the nursery, the four Roosevelt boys often shared bedrooms. Each of the boys, at one time or another, occupied this room. The contents of the boys’ room reflect their shared interest in sports, games, books, and the outdoors. As the eldest Roosevelt child, Alice Lee Roosevelt always claimed her own room and would not compete with her siblings for space. The bedroom set in Alice’s room once belonged to her mother, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, who died following her namesake’s birth. The photos on the walls are of the two Alices; the large picture over the desk is a painting of a Spanish princess – some think it a role model for the headstrong “Princess Alice”. Alice married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in 1906 in a storybook White House wedding. Immediately, brother Kermit claimed this room as his own … and insisted that Mother buy new furniture.
The large Roosevelt household required an equally large and capable staff to support and manage the Sagamore Hill operation. Here, on the third floor of the Home, was where many of them lived and worked for the Roosevelts. Through the years, the household staff ranged from four to as many as nine people, including a valet (who doubled as a butler), a lady’s maid, a cook, a nurse, a governess, and a variety of maids. Single females were housed on the third floor; two married couples shared a small farm cottage. Like the other staff rooms on the third floor, Ted’s Room was used as a bedroom by a series of nurses and governess through the 1890s. In 1902, after Quentin started school and no longer needed a governess, 14-year-old Ted Jr. convinced his mother that as the oldest boy, he needed a room of his own. The furnishings reflect the interests of the growing teenager – sports, hunting, photography and books. After Ted married in 1910 and moved out of the house, the “musical chairs” game continued and Archie moved upstairs into his brother’s old room.
Originally designed as a billiard room, this third-floor den served many uses and was dubbed the gun room by Ted Junior because of the hunting equipment stored here. Here, in a fanciful world presided over by TR, the children played and were entranced by ghost stories told in front of the fireplace. It doubled as both a summer study hall for tutoring for one of the boys, and for storage for Edith’s ball gowns. The gun room also provided extra work space for the staff that helped TR write his books; Roosevelt did most of the writing by dictating text to a stenographer, while the desk was used by a typist who transcribed his notes.
Theodore Roosevelt died at Sagamore Hill on January 6, 1919, at age sixty. On the last day of his life, Edith caught him gazing pensively out the window of the gate room. Roosevelt turned to her and said, “I wonder if you know how I love Sagamore Hill.”
Edith lived here for twenty-nine more years, dying in 1948 at age eighty-seven. The Theodore Roosevelt Association bought the Home and its contents and opened it as a museum in 1953. It was transferred to the National Park Service in 1962. It is now maintained as a national historic site, for the benefit of the American people, filled with the same belongings and furnishings it held when the presence of Theodore Roosevelt and his energetic family filled this amazing house…Sagamore Hill.
For Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Thomas Ross, Superintendent
Sherry Justus, Chief, Interpretation, Visitor Services and Natural Resources
Amy Verone, Curator
Josh Reyes, Park Ranger
Shaun Roche, Park Ranger
Mark Koziol, Museum Technician
In association with the National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV
Robert Owens, Producer
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Guided tour of Sagamore Hill NHS
Last updated: April 16, 2020