FOR admirers of former President Theodore Roosevelt, and others who enjoy a firsthand look at life from a bygone era, two fine old homes make wonderful places to visit. One is Roosevelt's birthplace in a once-fashionable New York neighborhood. The other is a large, friendly mansion called Sagamore Hill, on Long Island, which was built by TR as an escape from the confines of the city. Eventually it served as the summer White House and Roosevelt's retirement home.
The four-story brownstone house where Roosevelt was born, in 1858, is typical of the years when the residences of the well-to-do reflected their traditions and achievements. Rooms were a clutter of bric-a-brac, overwhelming draperies, and opulent furniture. The elaborate front parlor was opened only for special occasions. Visitors to the home where Roosevelt romped, read, and developed lifelong interests until moving at age 14 take a vivid trip back to this era.
In 1865, Theodore's parents asked Leon Marcotte, a prominent interior designer, to give the drab rooms a more fashionable appearance. And this is what is on view today.
Warm reminders of `Teedie's' early years
Here is the sacrosanct parlor Roosevelt once described as ``a room of much splendor.'' It contains heavily carved rococo revival-style furniture, a glittering crystal chandelier, and an oversize, gilt-framed mirror above the marble mantel. Here, too, is the spacious dining room, a gathering place for the family and a setting for social events, with its horsehair chair seats that scratched young ``Teedie's'' legs, he complained.
The nursery offers warm reminders of the early years of Teedie, and his two sisters and brother, with its crib and rush-seated chair believed to have been TR's.
Roosevelt's grandfather originally bought two side-by-side houses as wedding gifts for his sons, Theodore and Robert. The children thought it was great fun to climb from the backyard-facing porch of one house to the matching porch of the other.
Robert Roosevelt's house was demolished, and in the 1920s a building was constructed on its site to hold the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace museum, auditorium, and administrative offices.
For a glimpse of Roosevelt's adult life, the trip to Long Island is in order. If Roosevelt had known that one day he would be the father of six children and President of the United States, he couldn't have planned a more suitable home than Sagamore Hill. The rambling frame and brick structure, with its deep, inviting piazza, rests on a rise overlooking a wide lawn and commanding a view of Oyster Bay Harbor and Long Island Sound.
Inside, one finds a series of colorful reminders of Roosevelt's many interests and activities. Hunting trophies are everywhere, among them are a pair of seven-foot elephant tusks; a stuffed badger beneath a library table; a buffalo head looming over the hallway mantel. A gun room is tucked away on the top floor, where Roosevelt spent quiet hours writing or entertaining friends.
In addition to the family bedrooms and the nursery, there are a number of guest rooms that testify to the hospitable ways of Roosevelt and his wife, Edith.
A special addition in 1905
Realizing that even the 23 rooms couldn't accommodate the increasing activities of the President and his busy family, Mrs. Roosevelt commissioned C. Grant LaFarge, son of the artist John LaFarge, to design a vast (30 by 40 feet) room in 1905.
The room, built of Philippine and American woods - mahogany, black walnut, swamp cypress, hazel - is filled with books, paintings, flags, and a plethora of furniture. There are hunting trophies here, too, including a pair of lion-skin rugs. And there are the gifts from around the world received by Roosevelt during his presidency.
Even today, Sagamore Hill projects a feeling of the Roosevelt family's outgoing personalities, insatiable curiosity, and love of sport. The house is historically significant in another way. It was on the wide piazza that Roosevelt received formal notification of his nomination as governor of New York in 1898, as vice-president in 1900, and as president in 1904. It was from this porch, too, that Roosevelt often spoke to eager listeners assembled on the lawn below.
Site of Russo-Japanese peace negotiations
During his terms as President, Sagamore Hill became a center for administration and played host to national and international dignitaries. It was in the library that Roosevelt met separately with envoys of warring Russia and Japan, meetings that led to the 1905 treaty conference in Portsmouth, N.H., which ended the war.
On a portion of the 83-acre Sagamore Hill estate stands Old Orchard Museum, a home built in 1938 for Gen. Theodore Roosevelt III. It houses exhibits depicting his father's political career, the family's life at Sagamore Hill, and the lives of the six Roosevelt children.
The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, at 28 East 20th Street in New York City, is open year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for the Wednesdays after Monday holidays. Admission: $1.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, on Cove Neck Road in Oyster Bay, L.I., is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round. Admission: $1.