“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” Theodore Roosevelt
So fellow travelers, after the tour inside the house, we stepped out onto the grand porch over looking the grounds of Sagamore Hill to hear stories about the family.
Our guide explained he usually told these colorful, candid stories as groups toured the family quarters through out the upper floors, but it was an oppressively humid day and the sweltering temperatures inside the Roosevelt home, built before the modern convenience of air-conditioning, made it uncomfortable to stay long on the upper floors.
We learned that Theodore fell in love with the area after spending much of his childhood summers visiting the summer homes of his grandfather and uncles. Soon after graduating from Harvard when he and Alice were engaged, TR purchased a large area of farmland on top of the hill which looks out on Oyster Bay. A few years later, both his mother and young wife Alice died on the same day, just two days after their only child Alice Lee was born. Heartbroken, he almost cancelled his plans to build the house, but his older sister “Bammy” convinced him he and his daughter still needed the home on the hill. So when TR left to try his hand at ranching out west in the Dakotas as a way to quell his grief, his sister not only took over the care of Baby Lee, she also supervised the construction of Sagamore Hill. While the house does not have air-conditioning (which would not be invented for another 20 years) it is in fact mainly due to Anna’s foresight and planning that many other modern conveniences of the time, like electricity, became part of the final plans. For example, she saw to it that the porch was situated to take advantage of the prevailing breezes which blew across the penninsula, breezes our sweaty tour group were most grateful for decades later.
Since Sagamore Hill was at the time in a fairly remote location, the grounds actually incorporated elements of a small family farm including an orchard with many different fruit trees, milking cows, chickens for fresh eggs and flower gardens to fill the vases which Edith loved to place through out the house as a counterbalance to all the taxidermy which prevailed on the walls of almost every room (she got her say in keeping the master bedroom free from staring animal heads.)
On the far end of the grounds stands the beautiful home built by Theodore Roosevelt III, TR’s oldest son. Now known as the Roosevelt Museum at Old Orchard it houses an extensive collection documenting the personal and professional lives of the President and his family. It is also airconditioned, so I planned to take my time absorbing as much as I could of the treasures on display such as his Nobel Peace prize,* photos of historic and personal moments through out his life and letters, book drafts and documents like the ones which created so many National Parks (5), National Forests (150) and Bird Reserves (51).
But before I indulged in the luxury of steeping myself in the Roosevelt Family’s history on display in air-conditioned comfort of the Museum I had a trail to find and hike.
Our guide mentioned Theodore had constructed a nature trail through the woods which lead to a beach on the shore, where the family often spent the day fishing and swimming in view of beautiful Oyster Bay. Just as with most of the grounds at Sagamore Hill, this trail remains in its original location and I could not pass up the opportunity to walk this favorite place TR explored with his children, teaching them about nature and listening for birds he loved. It is located behind the Roosevelt Museum just past where the large orchard once stood. Marked as an easy three quarter mile loop down to the shore and back, I disregarded the mounting midday heat and set out to walk in the footsteps of the Roosevelts.
Within a few feet, the trail turns and dips down towards to the coast, the dense green canopy of old growth trees providing welcome relief from the glaring summer sun. Deep in the trees the melodious song of a woodthrush sounded, red squirrels and chipmunks chattered at my intrusion, a small toad hopped away when I stooped to look at a tiny mushroom. No wonder this was a favored place of the Roosevelt children. I could hear them laughing as they ran along the path.
Wait, I really do think I hear childen laughing.
Turning to look up the path, I almost expected to see spirits playing in the filtered sunlight when two young boys came zooming by, laughing about who would get to the beach first. “Hold up boys,” a young dad called as he trotted after them. His wife followed, carrying a baby and said “Sorry about that” as she walked by me.
“Oh no worries. Your boys just made my day,” I said earnestly and headed down the trail to find the beach where the Roosevelt family spent so many happy summer days.
Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.
*Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for meditating the Treaty of Portsmith which ended the Russo-Japanese war over Korea and Manchuria. In keeping with the philanthropic mission his own father instilled in him, TR used the money from the award to start a trust to create a foundation promoting international peace. President Roosevelt was the first American to win any of the Nobel Prizes, one of many firsts in an outstanding list of his contributions to the greater good.