Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, lived at this site from his birth on October 27, 1858 until he was 14 years old. The reconstructed house contains five period rooms, two museum galleries and a bookstore. Explore the National Historic Site while learning more about the President's life.
The ‘The Lion’s Room’, is one of two exhibit galleries at Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, which inhabit the structure formerly owned by Theodore’s uncle, Robert Roosevelt . It is appropriate as Robert was a conservationist and founder of the New York State Fishery Commission in 1867. This room, currently undergoing renovation, is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the outdoorsman, rancher, naturalist, and conservationist.
Also on display in this room is a partner’s desk that was used by Theodore when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1897-1898) and an exercise bike from the White House that he utilized as president (1901-1909). Against the wall is a filing cabinet that he used during the last two years of his life when he wrote a column for the Kansas City Star, a newspaper whose satellite office was on Madison Avenue in New York City, and the portrait at the front of the room is that of Theodore’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (1831-1878).
Visitors taking the period room tour first encounter a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt’s grandmother, Margaret Barnhill, who was married to Theodore’s grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt. She was a Philadelphia-born Quaker who preached a Quaker sensibility to the Roosevelts, most important of which that when one acquires wealth, they should return goodwill to the community. This philosophy of sharing with those less fortunate continues to this day among Roosevelt family members.
The Dining Room contains a dinner table and chairs that were given to Theodore’s mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, and father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., as a housewarming gift upon their marriage in 1855. Cornelius Roosevelt gave the dining room set to them. It was originally from his home on East 14th Street and Broadway. Atop the mantelpiece are two glass candle sconces which came from the family business, Roosevelt and Sons, at 94 Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan. The Roosevelts were purveyors of plate glass, stained glass, and fine glass objects.
The Dining Room was also a place for conversation, some of which was quite opinionated. Theodore was raised during the times of the Civil War. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt was a native of Roswell, Georgia and an unreconstructed confederate until the day she died. Theodore Sr. and the Roosevelt’s before him were residents of Manhattan Island back to the 1640’s when New York was the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. They were solid Union supporters. One could imagine the diverse political conversations that young Theodore was exposed to, possibly leading him on his way to politics.
The Library displays numerous items that tell the story of the Roosevelt family. The actual family owned books in the bookcase provide a glimpse into the family’s reading interests. The red, velvet ‘tassle chair’ on the left of the mantelpiece was provided for little Theodore, nicknamed ‘Teedie’, because the black horsehair furniture in the room scratched his legs. Atop the mantelpiece are two obelisks purchased as souvenirs during a trip to Egypt, where the Roosevelts lived on a houseboat on the Nile River for two months. The table lamp with a porcelain, lithophane lamp shade is another fine quality item that came through the family business.
The Library was also a room where young Theodore could ‘escape’. As a child, Theodore Roosevelt suffered from severe, sometimes paralyzing, asthma attacks that rendered him home-bound and home-schooled. So at this point in his life, the only outdoors and adventure that he could experience was through the pages of books. He became a voracious reader. In a humorous about-face, later in life as a Dakota rancher, while on the Missouri River chasing three thieves who stole one of his boats, he read the novel ‘Anna Karenina’ during the pursuit that took several days.
The brownstone townhouse that the Roosevelts lived in was a seemingly narrow brownstone townhouse built in 1848. The current structure is an exact reconstruction of the original, completed in 1923, containing sixty percent of the original family owned artifacts, the remainder being period pieces that are identical to the originals. The appearance of the period rooms today is very close to that of the home circa 1865.
The Parlor was used for special gatherings, social events, parties, and fundraisers. True to Margaret Barnhill’s teachings, Theodore Sr. was a renowned fundraiser and philanthropist who raised money to help people who could not help themselves, particularly children. Martha Bullock Roosevelt would play the Chickering box piano to entertain the guests. Theodore Sr. was also a founder of the American Museum of Natural History, the charter of which was signed in this room, and young Theodore in 1869 was exposed to a new museum with exhibits about animals, nature, and the outdoors.
The nursery was the location of a very important conversation between Theodore and his father, right around the date of September 6, 1870. Following a series of severe asthma attacks, and just before he turned 12, Theodore Sr. said to his son, “Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body, the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” A gymnastic set was constructed on the porch outside the nursery, and young Theodore began a steady regimen of exercise. It was a pivotal moment in his life and would thoroughly transform him.
The Master Bedroom is the birthplace of our 26th president. Theodore Roosevelt was born in this room on October 27, 1858. There is a portrait of his mother over the mantelpiece. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt gave birth to all four siblings in this room. Theodore was the second child. He had an older sister named Anna, a younger brother Elliott, and a youngest sister Corinne. Elliott would later become the father of Eleanor Roosevelt. Anna and Corinne were instrumental in forming the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1919, the year of Theodore’s death. Through the organization, they raised money to repurchase the properties at 26 and 28 East 20th Street, reconstruct the home and create the museum that opened in 1923.