Sagamore Hill was the home of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, from 1885 until his death in 1919. A rambling 23-room Queen-Anne style home, little has changed from when Roosevelt and his family lived here. Most of the furnishings are original pieces that were used and loved by the Roosevelt family.
The Front Hall is the main entry way into the Roosevelt Home. Visitors were often greeted by Theodore Roosevelt himself, who watched for new arrivals from his desk in the Library.
Before the North Room was added in 1905, the hall was furnished as a sitting room, with chairs and a small couch in front of the fireplace. In the summers, the Roosevelts would leave their tennis rackets in the fireplace and the tennis balls in the blue jugs on the mantel, to keep them handy for a pickup game. The large statue of a rhinoceros was given to TR by his sister Corinne; Edith Roosevelt did not like the statue and used to hang her gardening hat over the horn to hide it.
Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter Ethel described the Library as “the heart of the home.” The room doubled as TR’s study and a family gathering place. In the evenings, TR and Edith would sit in front of the fire, write letters and read aloud to each other and to the children. As the children grew, they memorized poems, songs or hymns and then had to stand and recite them for the rest of the family.
After TR became President in 1901, the Library served as the center of the “Summer White House.” He met daily with White House staffers to be updated on events in the county, reviewed reports and legislation, dictated speeches or correspondence and met with diplomats and cabinet members.
Amongst his many books, and portraits of his heroes, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, John C. Marshall, and George Washington, the largest portrait framed in gold is of his father, Theodore Roosevelt Senior, which appears on the north wall of the Library. The bronze statues on top of the bookshelves reflect his appreciation of fine art and his interest in nature.
Edith Roosevelt kept the Drawing Room as her private office, though the room was also used to welcome TR’s guests and dignitaries. The room is filled with furniture inherited from the Roosevelt and Carow families. It was Edith who managed the family’s finances—tracking the household accounts, paying the bills, and overseeing their investments in addition to keeping the books for the farm operation. Her husband was hopeless with money; according to Isabella Hagner, White House social secretary to Edith Roosevelt, TR once confessed to a friend that “Every morning Edie puts 20 dollars in my pocket, and to save my life I never can tell her afterward what I did with it!”
Edith also used the Drawing Room to relax, read or knit, write letters, and have tea with visiting friends. Under her desk, on the far right behind the couch, there is a bowl on the floor that was used as a water dish for the family dogs. Mountain lion and bearskin rugs in the room were gifts from her husband, while a polar bear rug was a gift from Admiral Peary after his return from the North Pole.
The North Room was added to the house in 1905, after Edith tired of using her drawing room as a waiting room for Theodore Roosevelt’s visitors. The room is furnished with a mixture of family furniture, souvenirs of TR’s public life, presidential gifts, and hunting trophies. The silver loving cup was given to Edith by the sailors on the USS Louisiana, after TR’s trip to see the construction of the Panama Canal in 1907. The large elephant tusks at the entryway were presented to TR by the Emperor of Abyssinia.
The room also proved to be an ideal setting for family activities ranging from informal evenings spent playing cards or listening to music to Christmas celebrations and house parties when the furniture would be moved to the sides and the carpet rolled up for dancing.
Meals were formal; Edith sat at the east end of the table so she could communicate with the serving staff waiting behind the screen. The children had to be on time for meals; if they were late, they waited until the family had finished eating and then ate their meal at the little table in the kitchen. Even when dining alone, the family dressed for dinner; and the boys were expected to stand when their parents or any ladies, including their sisters, entered the room.
Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed entertaining and hosted a myriad of guests. Usually, the Roosevelts included the children at the table when they had guests. The children were expected to display proper manners and to hold up their end of the dinner conversation. The discussions ranged from current events, history, and politics, to the latest books and poetry, to the children’s activities. Ted Jr. later remembered that “mealtimes at Sagamore Hill were the best education I had.”
Mrs. Roosevelt came to the Kitchen every morning to meet with the cook and review the menus. During Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, breakfasts and dinners were usually limited to the family and close friends, but lunchtimes could be frantic. Some days, the kitchen staff would have to provide as many as four sittings at lunch to accommodate the children, the White House staffers, Mrs. Roosevelt and TR and their guests, and the household servants. Edith once wrote to 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 the food consumed at Sagamore Hill was produced by the farm operation. 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 meat for the table, while a small dairy herd produced milk and butter. Turkeys and pigs were raised for slaughter. Meat and other supplies were purchased in town and delivered by the local grocer.
Although Theodore and Edith Roosevelt shared this bedroom, the children always referred to it as “Mother’s Room.” Edith often spent summer afternoons on the little porch, napping, reading, or writing letters. The view from the porch, however, hardly compensated for the northwest exposure that made it one of the coldest rooms in the house. The mantle and shelves in the room are covered with family photos and knickknacks that the children gave their mother. The bird’s eye maple furniture had been used by TR’s parents in their West 57th Street home in Manhattan.
Father’s Dressing Room shares a connecting closet with Mother’s Room but was reserved for Theodore Roosevelt’s use. His riding outfit, including gloves, boots, and a crop, and the heavy cloak he wore when reviewing US Navy ships are here.
In his autobiography, All in the Family, Ted Jr. remembered an evening when his father was dressing for dinner but took the time to show him a small .22 rifle that he had purchased to teach the children how to shoot. He recalled, “The rifle was standing in a corner. Of course, I fell on it with delight. [Father] was as much excited as I was. I wanted to see it fired to make sure it was a real rifle. That presented a difficulty. It would be too dark to shoot after supper and Father was not dressed to go out at the moment. He took it, slipped a cartridge into the chamber, and making me promise not to tell Mother, fired it into the ceiling. The report was so slight, the smoke hardly noticeable, and the hole made in the ceiling so small that our sin was not detected.”
Throughout the 1890s, the South Bedroom, Nursery, and Gate Room served as a suite dedicated to the care and housing of small children. The South Bedroom was the night nursery; the nurse slept here with the youngest children.
Theodore and Edith described the children as their “bunnies.” He wrote in his autobiography that “there was just the proper mixture of freedom and control in the management of the children. They were never allowed to be disobedient or to shirk lessons or work; and they were encouraged to have all the fun possible.”
The South Bedroom was mainly used as a guest room during TR’s time as president. Shortly after TR’s death in 1919, Edith moved into the room and used it as her private bedroom for the next three decades. She died here in 1948 at the age of 87.
The Gate Room was used as a playroom and day nursery and had a wooden gate across the doorway. In an interview, youngest daughter Ethel remembered “this was the room that we children occupied when we’d outgrown the nursery, but still had to be ‘contained.’ [The gate] made this room into a giant play pen” This room eventually became Ethel’s bedroom and later a spare room for guests.
During World War I, Ethel and her two children moved back to her parents’ home while her husband was serving in France. She stayed in the South Bedroom while her son, Richard, and daughter, Edith, shared the Gate Room. Her father was delighted to have grandchildren so close. Ethel had to chide him for sneaking into the nursery and waking them from their naps just so he could pick them up. In a letter to his son, Archie, Theodore Roosevelt bragged that he was “an excellent baby holder.”
As the eldest child, Alice Lee Roosevelt always had her own room and did not compete with her siblings for space. Her room is furnished with a bedroom set that had belonged to her mother, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt. The large print over the desk shows a Spanish princess, painted by Diego Velázquez and a possible role model for young Alice.
Alice married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in a White House wedding in 1906. Her brother, Kermit, immediately claimed her room as his own and insisted that his mother purchase new furniture.
Even after leaving the nursery, the four Roosevelt boys often shared bedrooms. Over time, each of the boys, sharing or alone, occupied this room. The contents reflect their shared interests in sports, games, books, and magazines. The door leads to a closet with a window overlooking the roof of a small porch. The children used to leave a ladder leaning on the porch so they could sneak in and out of the house.
Double Guest Bedroom
Most of the family and friends who stayed overnight were honored by the invitation. However, Theodore Roosevelt’s close friend Henry Cabot Lodge did not like staying over at Sagamore Hill. He complained that the Roosevelts stayed up too late, talked too loud and got up too early in the morning.
The large house and active family needed a large staff to support and manage them. Over the years, the household staff ranged from 4-9 people and included a valet who doubled as a butler, a lady’s maid, a cook, a nurse, a governess and a variety of maids. The single female staffers were housed on the third floor; while two married couples shared a small farm cottage. If additional help was needed for a party or formal dinner, Edith would hire extra serving or kitchen staff from town.
Some of the servants stayed for years and became like members of the family. Mary Ledwich, known as “Mame”, had been Edith’s nurse when she was a baby. She joined the household in 1887, when Ted Jr. was born and stayed until Quentin started school. Two of the cooks, Annie O’Rourke and Bridgid Turbidy, each stayed for more than 25 years. Charles Lee had started to work for the Roosevelts while they were living in the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, and then followed them to Washington and to Oyster Bay; he and his wife Clara lived at Sagamore Hill into the 1930s.
Ted Jr’s Room
This 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 this 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 den served as a multi-function room for the Roosevelts. Dubbed The Gun Room by Ted Jr. because of the hunting equipment stored here, it was also used a playroom for the children. Often, TR read bedtime stories or told ghost stories to the children in front of the fireplace. Several summers, it served a study hall when one of the boys got extra tutoring by a private teacher. Edith Roosevelt used one of the closets to store her ball gowns.
The room also provided an extra work space for the staff hired to help Theodore Roosevelt write his books. TR did most of his “writing” by dictating the text to a stenographer; the desk was used by the typist who transcribed the notes.
Theodore Roosevelt died at Sagamore Hill on January 6, 1919 at the age of sixty years old.
On the last day of his life, Edith caught him gazing out the window in the Gate Room; he turned to her and said, “I wonder if you know how much I love Sagamore Hill.”
Edith outlived her husband by 29 years and died at Sagamore Hill in September, 1948 at the age of eighty-seven. The Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA) purchased Sagamore Hill, including the contents of the home, from the Roosevelt family and opened it to the public on June 14, 1953. In July, 1962, the TRA donated Sagamore Hill to the National Park Service (NPS) as a gift to the American people