Sagamore Hill National Historic Site 

Location: Oyster Bay, NY 

Size: 83 acres 

Date of hike: Nov. 11, 2018

Sagamore Hill is best known for being the home of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt from 1885 until his death in 1919.  It was also called the "Summer White House" when he moved the executive office there for the summers of 1902-1908.  In honor of Veterans Day, I decided to visit the historical site and was pleasantly surprised to see that free tours of the house's first floor were being offered for the holiday.  Upon visiting though, I realized the site is more than just a landmark.  It also has an awesome waterfront hike, among other things.

For starters, let's talk some history.  Sagamore Hill came to be after a 22-year-old Roosevelt purchased 155 acres for $30,000 on Cove Neck, a little peninsula in the Town of Oyster Bay, in 1880, according to the National Park Service's website.  In 1884, he hired an architectural firm to design a Queen Anne-style house for the property, which was completed for $16,975 in 1886.  "The hill had no trees then, with a barn its only building," according to a pamphlet.  "Of the property's 155 acres, he kept 95 and sold the rest to relatives."  Roosevelt intended to name the home "Leeholm" after his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee, but she died of kidney disease in 1884 and he remarried two years later to his childhood friend Edith Kermit Crow, who birthed three children on the property.  Roosevelt ultimately decided to name the home "Sagamore Hill" with "Sagamore" being the Algonquin word for a "chieftain," which is the leader of a clan or tribe.  After Edith died in 1948, Sagamore Hill and its assorted contents were bought by the Theodore Roosevelt Association, with Congress then establishing the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site to preserve the house as a unit of the National Park Service in 1962.  It was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Upon arriving, the first thing you see is the picturesque home on a hill.  It's a Victorian-style structure with 23 rooms filled with mostly original furnishings and lots of taxidermy animals.  The first floor features rooms including Roosevelt's office, a kitchen and dining room, and a drawing room – the latter of which was Edith's domain where she'd often "demand privacy," the pamphlet said.  The second floor includes family bedrooms, guest rooms, and a room with a "great porcelain bathtub," while the top floor includes a sewing room, the household staff's quarters, and Roosevelt's collection of hunting arms.  Lastly, the house's south and west sections have a big piazza from which he looked out over Oyster Bay Harbor and the Long Island Sound.  "The house on the hill was grand but not opulent," according to a sign.  "It had fewer rooms and less staff than other mansions and it didn't have a manicured lawn."  The sign also said that Sagamore Hillparticularly on the insidewas an overall reflection of Roosevelt as a "traveler, explorer, naturalist, hunter and, most importantly, a family man."

After touring the house, I explored the museum and nature trail.  The Old Orchard Museum, which was built in 1937, was home to Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his wife Eleanor until her death in 1960.  It has a theater that plays biographical films, an exhibit on Roosevelt's life, and other rotating exhibits.  Alongside that building is a trail through 35 acres of land filled with chestnuts, elms and cedars.  It leads to an adorable boardwalk that crosses a creek and ends on a beach bordering Cold Spring Harbor.  "He hiked these woods with his wife, kids and friends, pausing now and then to listen and spot birds," a sign said of Roosevelt, noting that he once identified 42 species around his home in one dayHe'd also lead his family on overnight campouts or picnics on distant beaches, another sign said, and the children would take rowboats up and down the coast seeking places to fish or explore.

Other attractions include a barn, windmill and ice house – all of which had signs explaining their functions during Roosevelt's time.  With regard to wildlife, the land has everything from wood frogs to spotted salamanders to painted and snapping turtles, with birds ranging from winter wren to great crested flycatchers to ruby-crowned kinglets, according to the National Park Service's website.  It's most abundant reptile is the northern diamond terrapin and the land has over 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies, the website said.  Also, the park's forest type is "deciduous, second-growth oak-tulip trees," including a two-acre patch in the northwestern corner that has remained predominantly free of exotic species, the site said.

For those planning to visit Sagamore Hill, there is no fee to enter the grounds or museum, according to the National Park Service's website.  Admission to the home is $10 for those over the age of 15, with no cost to those 15 and under, and access is by guided tour only.  Pets are welcome just like they were "when the Roosevelts lived here,"  the website said.  Interestingly, Roosevelt's six children kept normal pets like dogs and they also had more exotic ones like "parrots, guinea pigs, mice, and a badger named Josiah," the site said.

In closing, I'd say that Sagamore Hill is a must-see spot for local lovers of hiking or history.  While the hiking is limited due to the site's small size, the beauty is unlimited.  In addition, Roosevelt's grave is only about a mile away at Youngs Memorial Cemetery on Cove Road, and I couldn't resist seeing his final resting place.  It was a great end to my Veterans Day. 

Video: Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (360-degree view)

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