Travels

Teddy’s Summer White House

Located in the tranquil community of Oyster Bay,  Sagamore Hill was the only house Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States from 1901 to 1909, ever owned.

He bought the lands in 1880 at age 22, engaged New York architectural firm of Lamb & Rich to design a house for property in 1884 when he was 26, and passed away in his sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms at age 60 in 1919.

It is fitting the name he choose for the estate – Sagamore is the Algonquin word for chieftain.

The house is designed in the Queen Anne style popular at the time and Roosevelt is quoted to have stated, “I did not know enough to be sure what I wished in outside matters. But I had perfectly definite views what I wished in inside matters, what I desired to live in and with…I had to live inside and not outside the house; and while I should have liked to ‘express’ myself in both, as I had to choose I chose the former.”

Aided by line number 69 on the Oyster Bay telephone exchange, Roosevelt used the residence as his “Summer White House” during his Presidency. It was typical in those days for people to decamp from Washington in April and only return in September. Sagamore Hill thus hosted numerous visits from foreign dignitaries and most notably was the setting of peace talks that helped end the Russo-Japanese War.

Shocking as it may be from a modern-day perspective, there was ever only at most one Secret Service escort stationed on premise at the house on a daily basis.  Roosevelt positioned his study room directly behind the large bay windows seen from the front of the house, to the right of the main entrance, so he would always be aware when there were visitors and be able to open the door to greet them personally.

The grand old cooper beech tree right in front was planted by Roosevelt when he moved into the house in 1887.

Even though the house was not electrified until 1918, the house did have running hot water straight from the start thanks to a windmill which pumped water from a underground well to the house with pipes running behind the kitchen stove. When there was no wind, water was pumped by hand from the kitchen.

Looking from the back of the house, one has a clear view of the cone shaped ice house which also housed the estate’s reserve water supply on the left most side.  On the right is the exterior of the North Room, added in 1905 to the tune of $19,000 (considerable when you consider the original house had costed $16,975).

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What made the North Room so expensive was its sheer opulence, ceiling to floor is covered in some of the most sough after woods in the world – swamp cypress, black walnut, Philippines mahogany.

Visually stunning as well throughout the house is the sumptuous display of books (there are around 8,000 in the house, Roosevelt was an avid reader said to have read one book a day), animal heads and skins (African antelope, American bison, Brazilian leopard to name a few, many of which Roosevelt had hunted himself during his big game trips), and gifts from foreign dignitaries (at the time it was accepted practice for Presidents to keep any gifts given at functions for which they hosted and paid for). The latter includes a pair of tusks given by the Emperor of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) from a century plus old elephant in the emperor’s personal menagerie.

A fun taxidermy fact is that the mouths of herbivore are always sewed shut while for carnivores the mouths are presented as wide open.

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(Source: Time)

A working farm from the very beginning, there would always be animals in and around the house. Mrs Roosevelt even kept a ceramic bowl filled with water under the writing desk in her parlor for the baby goats (and other animals) that would venture indoors during the hot summer days.

Int eh picture below is a reconstruction of a stile which allowed easy passage over fences to access a neighbor’s property.

In the background is Old Orchard, home of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his wife Eleanor built in 1937, which today serves as a museum.

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A short walk along a nature trail located on the estate takes you to the edge of Oyster Bay (designed as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1968), and the sandy dunes and beach where the Roosevelt children spent many a summer days swimming, canoeing, fishing and in general having a jolly ol’ time surrounded by nature.

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