It's hard to tell now, but when Theodore Roosevelt lived at Sagamore Hill, the Cove Neck property was a working farm.
The National Park Service wants visitors to understand that. So it is about to take the next step in returning Sagamore Hill National Historic Site closer to its appearance when the 26th president lived there.
Starting next week, part of the original fruit orchard will be replanted east of the parking lot. That will be followed by cutting of new-growth trees and shrubs on part of the West Lawn and two farm fields southeast of the house and south of the parking lot, installation of up to 1,000 feet of split-rail fence, and re-creation of the arbor at the pet cemetery.
"We're trying to present a landscape that TR would have known - would have walked on and farmed," Superintendent Thomas Ross said. "Sagamore Hill was a working farm during Roosevelt's lifetime, with fenced pastures, open fields and a large orchard. But over time the fruit trees reached the end of their life spans and open areas were overgrown. I think the visitors will be very pleased to see a return of historic features."
The park service began the effort to turn back the clock more than a decade ago, cutting down trees that had grown up since the early 1900s on the West Lawn adjacent to the porch of the main house and restoring four historic farmhouse buildings, and recently, a windmill.
The partial restoration of the grounds is in keeping with the park's 2008 general management plan. It calls for restoring 6.2 acres of former farm fields and lawns to their original appearance. The park service has allocated $175,000 for the first phase covering about 3 acres, and the work should be completed by early next year, Ross said.
Curator Amy Verone said when Roosevelt owned the property "the idea wasn't to sell produce but to offset expenses and be partially self-sustaining." Fields were used for haying and pasture for horses and up to a half-dozen dairy cows. There were pigs, 100 chickens and several dozen turkeys. Ross said there are no plans to plant crops or keep animals because of the expense and to avoid alienating neighbors.
"In the 1920s and '30s, as Mrs. Roosevelt cut back on the farming operations [after Theodore Roosevelt's death in 1919], trees and other growth started to come up," Verone said. In 1999, after a cultural landscape plan was completed, trees that had grown up on a portion of the West Lawn adjacent to the main house were removed to re-create part of the original view. Now additional trees on the southern part of the West Lawn will be removed.
Baldwin, Roxbury Russetts and Winesap apple trees and Seckel pear trees will be planted among 20 surviving fruit trees to reestablish the historic grid pattern of the orchard.
In the long-term, the park service plans to remove the current visitor center/gift shop to restore the historic chicken yard that was on that spot and create a new visitor center in the New Barn built by Roosevelt. There also is a possibility of re-creating part of the original cutting garden where it's not covered by the modern entrance road.
"This is a long overdue project that will greatly enhance the visitors' experience of Sagamore Hill as it was when my great-grandfather lived there," said Tweed Roosevelt of Boston, chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.