Special tour features an empty Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill was the home of President Theodore Sagamore Hill was the home of President Theodore Roosevelt from 1885 until his death in 1919. Called the "Summer White House" during Roosevelt's presidency, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Dec. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Carl Corry

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Visitors wandered through vacant, plastic-sheet-draped rooms and hallways, peeking into closets and crawl spaces like potential buyers eyeing a handyman's special.

But the sprawling 22-room Victorian house wasn't for sale. It was Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill, stripped of most of its furnishings since it closed in December for a $6.2-million roof-to-basement restoration, the most extensive in its history.

On Wednesday evening, 13 special guests saw the Cove Neck house looking much as it did just after it was built in 1885. Their tour was part of a $225-per-person fundraiser for the Theodore Roosevelt Association and Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.

Association executive director Terrence Brown said the idea for the tour came when he was visiting the mansion as it was being emptied of furnishings with site superintendent Thomas Ross. "I said, 'This is really cool. No one's really seen the house like this before.' "

Previous renovations did not require emptying the mansion, Ross said. "This is the first time that every single object has been moved out of the house," he said.

Mark Beliveau, a lawyer from New Hampshire who grew up in Baldwin and first visited Sagamore Hill as a child, called seeing the stripped-down home Roosevelt moved into in 1885 "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

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Architect Joseph Reilly Jr. of Sea Cliff attended the tour because "it shows me the details and everything that's hidden and the craftsmanship of everyone who worked on the building."

Curators, volunteers and moving companies worked for months emptying the normally cluttered and dark house.

A National Park Service carpenter has been using plywood, plastic sheeting and oversized cardboard tubes to protect wallpaper, fireplaces, stairwells, floors, and other features and furnishings that could not be removed without potential damage. Contractors are scheduled to begin work in August and complete the overhaul in early 2014, allowing the house to reopen that summer or fall.

The only furnishings left unprotected in the house are light fixtures and lamps yet to be removed by a contractor, who will upgrade the lighting system of the home, said Susan Sarna, the museum specialist overseeing the inventorying and emptying of the house.

"I never noticed before today that you could walk from one room to another because they were always roped off," association member Robert Gary of Huntington said during the tour.

One third-floor closet door, usually closed, revealed where someone had painted "Kilroy was here." The staff has no idea when the message was added.

"It's amazing to see it like this," Reilly said. "It's very cool."

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