For visitors to New York City’s Flatiron District, a tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home provides tourists with a glimpse of what motivated one of the more charismatic U.S. presidents. Excellent (and free!) forty minute tours given hourly by the National Park Service educate visitors on what made Theodore Roosevelt the man.
Born in 1858, Theodore Roosevelt, who was nicknamed “Teedie” (and hated the name Teddy), suffered from asthma; however, he refused to let this ailment restrict him. Even though his childhood home included horsehair furniture as well as a coal burning fireplace, Roosevelt’s father made sure his son would conquer his condition. With a second floor patio gym nicknamed “the piazza”, Roosevelt began working out, becoming stronger.
Along with working to conquer his asthma, another guiding factor in Roosevelt’s development was his father’s belief in fairness for everyone—an unusual view in wealthy families in the 1800s. This belief would be a guiding force in Theodore Roosevelt’s life, including his work as a “trust buster” and his campaign promise of “a square deal for everyone”.
Visitors to Roosevelt’s birthplace will experience life during the time period 1865 to 1872, as all rooms are decorated with either Roosevelt family furniture or furniture related to that era. The house itself was rebuilt in 1916 to match the residence at the time Roosevelt was a child. Guests will see the dining room, parlor, front parlor, nursery and master bedroom. The rooms are dark and with the garish Victorian wallpaper, it must have been eerie with the lack of lighting during that time period. Roosevelt lived in this house until age fourteen.
Our tour was densely packed with history (our guide must have been a history teacher) as we learned how Roosevelt’s grandfather made his fortune by importing glass from Europe. Roosevelt, himself, was home-schooled, and later educated at Harvard. He was a prolific author, writing approximately forty books, and was fluent in several languages.
While Roosevelt battled asthma his entire life (he only lived to just past sixty), he almost overcompensated for his condition. During his lifespan, not only did he serve as President of the United States, but he also was Governor of New York, Police Commissioner of New York City, a Rough Rider during the Spanish-American War, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Interestingly, our guide mentioned that Roosevelt was the only U.S. president to receive both the Medal of Honor in war and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Connected next door to the birthplace is a separate exhibit hall housed in its original brownstone building. Unfortunately, much of this hall is under renovation, but a film is available currently along with a few exhibits. Visitors should check the website for an update on the status of the remodeling.
I found the overall tour to be motivational and inspiring, as Roosevelt led an active, action-packed life. Tour groups are small which makes for a great atmosphere to ask questions. Be aware that photos with flashes are prohibited but photos without a flash are allowed.
When entering the museum lobby, a Roosevelt quote is posted on the wall:
“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals, keep your eyes on the stars but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”
Theodore Roosevelt was a “larger than life” politician who was grounded by the hurdles he himself had to overcome. For any visitors to New York City with a love of history, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace should be on any list. No one in our tour group wanted to leave as we were all inspired by our history lesson.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
National Historic Site
28 East 20th Street (nearest subway is the 6 line to East 23rd)
New York, New York 10005