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Portion of Sagamore Hill gardens getting old-style makeover

Susan Sarna, left, Sagamore Hill supervisory museum curator,

Susan Sarna, left, Sagamore Hill supervisory museum curator, and Kelly Fuhrmann, the superintendent, hold a rendering of Sagamore Hill, circa 1918, in Oyster Bay on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Sagamore Hill plans to embark on a project to re-create about a half-acre of the 4 acres of gardens destroyed when they were paved over to build the parking lot in the 1950s. Credit: Barry Sloan

A portion of the extensive gardens at Sagamore Hill that once supplied food and flowers for Theodore Roosevelt and his family will be re-created by the National Park Service.

Bringing back a half-acre of the 4-acre gardens is part of an ongoing effort by the agency to make the Cove Neck national historic site more historically accurate.

“This was a typical working farm, and that part of the story has really been neglected because we just haven’t had the wherewithal over the years to be able to show it,” supervisory museum curator Susan Sarna said.

Superintendent Kelly Fuhrmann added that “to re-create this historic piece of the garden will give the visitor a fuller experience and knowledge about what the property looked like and how it was used during the time of the Roosevelts. The family largely subsisted on what they produced on the property.”

Most of the gardens and an orchard along with some agricultural fields were paved over by Nassau County and the Roosevelt Memorial Association after the organization acquired the property in 1949 in preparation for opening Sagamore Hill as a museum in 1953.

The association, now the Theodore Roosevelt Association, consulted with park service officials in the early 1950s about the best way to use the property. The agency recommended keeping the property as historically accurate as possible so it could be interpreted the way it looked when Roosevelt was the 26th president from 1901 to 1909.

But most of the gardens and some of the fields were paved over, and the chicken coop and other outbuildings demolished when Nassau County decided to construct a new access road and the association created the parking lot in the center of the property because it would be near the house, the main attraction on the site. The area of gardens on either side of the parking lot that was not paved over was no longer planted.

“The TRA played a critical role in saving Sagamore Hill but it wasn’t the best steward of the gardens,” said Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of the 26th president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. “We are delighted that that can be at least partially rectified by this project.”

Sarna said the half-acre originally contained flowers, fruit trees, gooseberry and currant bushes, and a rectangular gazebo.

The park service plans to remove a generic gazebo erected by the TRA in 1958 and construct a replica of the original rectangular structure. Shrubs not planted by the Roosevelts will be removed.

Rather than replant what was originally on that half-acre, the park will plant a sampling of flowers, asparagus and other vegetables and fruit bushes that had been grown elsewhere in the original garden so visitors can understand how the Roosevelts used the space.

Fuhrmann said the park is looking for partners to help create and maintain the garden. He has had discussions with the staff at the Stephen T. Mather Building Arts & Craftsmanship High School in New York, a trade school supported by the park service, about having students build the gazebo, arbors and fences. Fuhrmann hopes to be able to begin planting in the spring.

The superintendent said the cost of the project has not been calculated and will depend on what potential partners bring to it and how much of the work can be done by park service employees or volunteers.

Sarna said the park also needs to investigate what will grow successfully on the plot. Those species join a few remaining trees from the old orchard and a boxwood plant that TR planted from a cutting from Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois.

The first step toward re-creating the gardens was bringing in park service regional archaeologist Joel Dukes last week to make a series of excavations to ensure there are no Native American or other artifacts under the area slated for plantings. He dug about eight test holes that revealed the location of an original gravel path through the gardens, some fragments of dishware and a chicken bone, but nothing that would interfere with proceeding with the garden restoration, Fuhrmann said.

A small section of the cutting garden was re-created in 2012. About 500 square feet of some of the same flowers that were lost were planted around a new welcome sign installed in a circle of grass at the entrance to the parking area.

In the future, the park would like to excavate and stabilize the foundation of the old Stable and Lodge, a barn with housing for workers on the second floor that was built in 1883 before the main house and burned down in 1947.


An earlier version of this story misidentified the building that burned down in 1947 at Sagamore Hill national historic site.


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