A Private Tour of Sagamore Hill: Teddy Roosevelt’s Summer White House

Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay Cove, New York, is a rare historic site. There are hundreds of stately homes that have been converted to museums, but Sagamore Hill has the distinction of having been transformed into a museum directly from the estate of the original owners. In fact, Sagamore Hill had only one owner: Theodore Roosevelt. After his death in 1919, his wife, Edith, remained in residence until her death in 1948, refusing to do much modernization, leaving the house in a near original state. As I mentioned in my post about the grand reopening party (click here to read all about it), the house was closed in December of 2011 for a $10M renovation project, but this was strictly a restoration, not a replication. Most of the furniture, fixtures, and decorations are original (or replicas for the sake of preservation of the original) and have been restored to their original state and, whenever possible, to their original locations. As you’ll see from the pictures, the interior of the house is very dark (not surprising for a house built in 1885), so any pictures that were available were used to recreate the way desks were laid out, rugs were displayed, etc. Can you wrap your head around that? There have been almost no changes to Sagamore Hill’s interior since 1919. In fact, Theodore Roosevelt, IV, shared a story about his great aunt Ethel, who decreed, when Edith died, that there would be no looting of the house by children or grandchildren and that everything in the house would remain where it was as a shrine to Teddy (this is not a direct quote, but the gist of the story). In the year 2015, you can wander through a 19th century home in its original state, not cobbled together from period objects or replicas.

Let’s go in.

Sagamore Hill's Front Door

Sagamore Hill’s Front Door

The first room to the right of the immense foyer is Teddy’s office. It is stuffed full of trophies of the animal-hunting variety, including animal skin rugs. In this room, we get our first glimpse of Teddy’s favorite hobby and it’s probably not the one you’re thinking. When the contents of the house were catalogued, there were approximately 12,000 items, and nearly  8,000 of those items were books. There are books everywhere. Teddy read at least a book a day, sometimes as many as four a day, and they’re all over the house, in every room and hall. How I would love to see that list!

Teddy Roosevelt's Office at Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt’s Office at Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt's Office Books at Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt’s Office Books at Sagamore Hill

Across the foyer from Teddy’s office is Edith’s sitting room. Her room is the only light room in the public rooms of the house, but it, too, shows signs of Teddy’s prowess at hunting. At her desk in the corner, she kept logs of the household chores, giving historians glimpses into how a 19th century house was run, how chores were distributed amongst the staff, what types of chores were required to keep the house going, what types of servants there were, etc.

Edith Roosevelt's Sitting Room at Sagamore Hill

Edith Roosevelt’s Sitting Room at Sagamore Hill

Moving farther into the house, there’s a massive fireplace to the left with an elephant tusk gong (a gift), a giant water buffalo head over the mantle and two urns, which may or may not have been used to hold tennis balls (there is some evidence to support the claim, but not specifically to Sagamore Hill). The walls in the foyer hold more animal trophies, including an eland, a wolf (I think) and a rhinoceros horn.

Elephant Tusk Gong in Foyer of Sagamore Hill

Elephant Tusk Gong in Foyer of Sagamore Hill

Rhinoceros Horn at Sagamore Hill

Rhinoceros Horn at Sagamore Hill

 

At what was originally the back wall of the house there is a door to the backyard, with trunks and umbrella stands and, hanging on the wall, an animal hide (buffalo, I think) painted with Custer’s last stand, a gift from the Dakota tribe. What we see now is a replica, to protect the original, which was brushed against, leaned on, and scuffed by the numerous people going in and out of the house there.

Custer's Last Stand Painting on Hide from the Dakota Tribe at Sagamore Hill

Custer’s Last Stand Painting on Hide from the Dakota Tribe at Sagamore Hill

Straight ahead from the front door is the North Room, which was built onto the house and used to house the many gifts received by Teddy from dignitaries around the world. An amazing feat by the restorers was the saving of the wallpaper. The paper itself couldn’t be saved, but they were able to transfer the actual pattern from the original paper, preserving the look of the room without having to copy it. This is my second favorite room in the house. I could live in the North Room, especially with all those books.

The North Room at Sagamore Hill

The North Room at Sagamore Hill

Restored Wall Paper in North Room of Sagamore Hill

Restored Wall Paper in North Room of Sagamore Hill

Back in the house proper, facing towards the front door from the North Room, the first door on the left is the dining room. The family was so large (some twenty Roosevelt families lived in the area and cousins were always running in and out of each other’s homes) that meals were taken in shifts. Teddy sat in the chair facing the screen (legend has it that Edith didn’t like facing the moose head on the opposite wall, but there are animal heads and skins all over the house), while Edith sat in front of the screen, behind which the door to the kitchen areas is hidden (somewhat). She directed the meals from there, communicating with the servants behind the screen, ensuring all went smoothly.

Dining Room at Sagamore Hill

Dining Room at Sagamore Hill

Sideboard in Dining Room at Sagamore Hill

Sideboard in Dining Room at Sagamore Hill

The main staircase goes up to the bedrooms and along the side of the staircase is the hall to the backrooms. There is a final prep room with a safe (which held Teddy’s Nobel Peace Prize and other cherished items) and ice-box (no refrigerator), where food destined for the dining room was transferred from cooking dishes to serving dishes, garnished, and plated.

Safe and Prep Area at Sagamore Hill

Safe and Prep Area at Sagamore Hill

Ice Box and Dishes at Sagamore Hill

Ice Box and Dishes at Sagamore Hill

 

The last room on the main floor is the kitchen. The stove and water tank were installed when the house was built in 1885 and were used until Edith’s death in 1948. The hob next to the stove holds real coal, which was used to heat the stove.

Kitchen at Sagamore Hill

Kitchen at Sagamore Hill

Kitchen Sink at Sagamore Hill

Kitchen Sink at Sagamore Hill

Behind the kitchen is the ice house, from where the water was pumped into the house from the windmill.  In this picture, you can see where the North Room (to the right) was added to the back of the house.

Ice House at Sagamore Hill

Ice House at Sagamore Hill

The pump is long gone, but you can still see the metal plates that were affixed to the floor to cover the holes where the pump stood.

Pump Plates at Sagamore Hill

Pump Plates at Sagamore Hill

The kitchen is full of fun equipment, like the waffle iron, the sausage maker, knife grinder, and, a particular favorite for me, the speaking tubes. Speaking tubes! Throughout the house are various buttons and speaking tubes for communicating throughout the house, but it seems that the family rarely used them, which isn’t surprising if they all had voices like Teddy’s.

Knife Grinder and Sausage Maker at Sagamore Hill

Knife Grinder and Sausage Maker at Sagamore Hill

Speaking Tubes in Kitchen at Sagamore Hill

Speaking Tubes in Kitchen at Sagamore Hill

Next to the kitchen is a second staircase, behind the main staircase. It was originally a spiral staircase, but was rebuilt to match the main staircase. I sussed that out myself when I saw the odd window placements along the stairs.

New Back Stairs at Sagamore Hill

New Back Stairs at Sagamore Hill

 

The second level has the living quarters of the family, though Ted, Jr., had a room of his own. The children’s rooms were above the kitchen. Alice, as the only girl, had her own room and the boys shared. It’s not clear that the tiger skin rug was in the room while Alice was living there.

Alice's Room at Sagamore Hill

Alice’s Room at Sagamore Hill

 

In the bathroom, which I love for the rainforest shower, is a towel with the monogram “R of S.” When Edith decided to outsource the laundry to a new facility in town, rather than having the servants do it, she had to monogram the linens to make it clear that these linens belonged to the Roosevelts of Sagamore Hill, because there were so many Roosevelt families in town.

Shower Room at Sagamore Hill

Shower Room at Sagamore Hill

 

In one of the boys’ rooms, which are full of sporting equipment and have Harvard pennants hanging on walls, there are two sawfish rostra that painted with landscapes of Venezuela, gifts from Venezuela.

Boys' Room at Sagamore Hill

Boys’ Room at Sagamore Hill

In the main bathroom, there is a lovely big tub, which, surprisingly, Teddy and Edith did not use. They preferred to have the tub and water carried up to their bedroom instead. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Bathroom at Sagamore Hill

Bathroom at Sagamore Hill

The guestroom is spacious and bright with a connecting door to a nursery room, to accommodate guests with children. The toys in these two rooms are probably not original to the house, children having been long gone by the time Edith had died.

Guest Room at Sagamore Hill

Guest Room at Sagamore Hill

Nursery at Sagamore Hill

Nursery at Sagamore Hill

The master bedroom, where Teddy died in his sleep (inspiring one of my favorite quotes about him: “Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight” – Vice President Thomas Marshall), has a porch, and a view of Oyster Bay (the bay, not the hamlet) when the leaves are off the trees.

Master Bedroom at Sagamore Hill

Master Bedroom at Sagamore Hill

Dressing Room at Sagamore Hill

Dressing Room at Sagamore Hill

Master Bedroom at Sagamore Hill2

Master Bedroom at Sagamore Hill2

A main feature on the second and third floors is the air vent, which had been taken out at one point, but has been restored, including the stained glass panel that hides the air vent from below.

Air Vent at Sagamore Hill

Air Vent at Sagamore Hill

Air Vent Stained Glass at Sagamore Hill

Air Vent Stained Glass at Sagamore Hill

On the third floor, there are servants’ quarters, the linen cupboard, the tank room, the school room, various storage areas, and my favorite room of all, the gun room.

Linen Cupboard at Sagamore Hill

Linen Cupboard at Sagamore Hill

Seamstress' Room at Sagamore Hill

Seamstress’ Room at Sagamore Hill

Servants' Room at Sagamore Hill

Servants’ Room at Sagamore Hill

If I lived in this house, this room would be my bedroom. It’s bright and sunny, has all kinds of nooks and crannies, with sloping ceilings, built-in bookshelves, cool lighting fixtures, and intriguing furniture.

Gun Room at Sagamore Hill

Gun Room at Sagamore Hill

Tusk Chair in Gun Room at Sagamore Hill

Tusk Chair in Gun Room at Sagamore Hill

 

For more pictures of the house, please see the gallery below. If you have any questions about any of the pictures that I haven’t described here, please let me know in the comments and I’ll follow up with as much information as I can.

I want to thank Martin Christiansen, Sarah Sarna, and Scott Gurney, of the National Park Service, for guiding me and my parents around Sagamore Hill, sharing stories about the house and the Roosevelts. Their generosity with their time and information is very much appreciated. Any errors in my article are mine alone.

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About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.