Sagamore Hill is starting to look again the way it did when Theodore Roosevelt lived there now that two years of rehabilitation from roof to foundation is wrapping up.
Roofing, masonry, utility and other contractors have finished $8.5 million in projects at the Cove Neck mansion that has been closed since December 2012. Now it's time to fine-tune the interior before returning thousands of artifacts for display so the house can reopen July 12.
This week, the 22-room Victorian built in 1885 has been occupied by National Park Service conservators reinstalling restored wallpaper patterned with birds. Other wallpaper that remained in place is being touched up, and ultraviolet protective film is being placed on the landmark's repaired windows.
Two years ago, staff from the Park Service's Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts, inspected the damaged wallpaper in the North Room, added to the house in 1905. They removed the paper in three areas where walls had been damaged by leaks so the underlying plaster could be repaired.
Michael Lee, the center's director of paper conservation, said the wallpaper was transported to Andover, where two staffers spent three weeks removing surface dirt and adding special long-fiber Japanese paper to its back side to reinforce it and make it easier to remove for future conservation.
Lee and other staffers brought the restored wallpaper to Sagamore Hill on Monday and spent more than a day rehanging it using a protective methyl cellulose adhesive solution. Using tiny brushes, they also dabbed the solution on worn spots on the front of the wallpaper.
"It's stabilizing the existing paper and also acting as a barrier layer," conservator Amanda Maloney explained.
The team had used dry Vulcanized rubber sponges to remove surface grime, then spent much of a week using a removable paint to recreate details worn away by early visitors.
Installation of the window film, which will block more sunlight and make it easier for visitors to see, will be completed by the end of the month, said museum curator Susan Sarna, who has coordinated the rehabilitation. The total cost is roughly $10 million, when planning studies, and packing, storing and replacing artifacts is included.
Contract conservators will refurbish all of the woodwork before another conservator touches up Roosevelt's famed animal-head trophies by the end of February. That sets the stage for park staff and volunteers to bring back about 8,000 books.
"We can't bring back the main part of the collection until April because it will be too difficult with the weather," Sarna said. "A lot of the furniture, especially in the master bedroom, is so large that we need to uncrate it out on the porch, so we need weather that is not going to be too cold or too hot."
In mid-May, staff and volunteers will replace about 2,000 smaller items, curtains and shades, she said.
Meanwhile, Sarna said, "we have to work out the kinks" with the new utilities.
Contractors have installed a new roof, gutter and drainage system; replaced the front porch; rewired the entire house and upgraded the lighting; installed new heating and ventilation systems; upgraded water mains and the fire detection and sprinkler system; and added security cameras. The rear porch that was altered and central light and ventilation shaft well that was removed when the Theodore Roosevelt Association acquired and opened the house in the 1950s have been restored.
"I think the house is going to last another hundred years," Sarna said. "And we are enhancing the visitor experience."