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Thousands line up for reopening of Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill mansion in Oyster Bay

Visitors line up Sunday morning, July 12, 2015,

Visitors line up Sunday morning, July 12, 2015, for the opening of the Sagamore Hill mansion in Oyster Bay, once the home of President Theodore Roosevelt and his family. Credit: Bill Bleyer

Thousands of visitors lined up Sunday to visit Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill mansion when it reopened following a more than three-year, $10 million restoration project.

Shuttle buses from satellite parking areas throughout the day deposited history buffs curious to see the results of the foundation-to-roof rehabilitation. About 50 people waited for a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting to tour the first floor of the house on their own before regular tours begin Monday. Later, several hundred people at a time waited on the line to enter the Cove Neck home of the 26th president.

Among those in attendance were five members of the Roosevelt family:

Tweed Roosevelt of Boston and Theodore Roosevelt IV of Brooklyn, both great-grandsons of TR, as well as Tweed Roosevelt's son Winthrop; Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt of Washington, D.C., who married TR's grandson Archie and served as chief of protocol for President Ronald Reagan; and Liz Roosevelt of Cove Neck, TR's third cousin twice removed, and the last member of the family living in Oyster Bay.

"They did a tremendous job," Tweed Roosevelt, 83, also president of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, said of the restoration. "It looks much nicer than I remember. It's pristine but not so much so that it doesn't look lived in."

Roosevelt remembered during the 2 p.m. opening ceremony first visiting the house when he was 6 to meet TR's widow, Edith, and being instructed by his parents that Roosevelt children "should be seen and not heard."

Theodore Roosevelt IV, 72, recalled visiting the house just after World War II to meet the imposing figure of his great-grandmother, Edith Roosevelt, and speaking only three sentences in her presence. "It's truly exceptional," he said of the restoration completed by the National Park Service.

Among the visitors who stood on line before the earlier ribbon-cutting were Peter and Corinna Wilson of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Port Washington and the family drove back to Long Island to see the house on the first day it was open.

"It was always a very special place for us," she said, recounting how they used to take bike rides from Port Washington. She said the couple brought their daughter, niece and one of their friends because "he was our greatest president."

Visitors were greeted by park rangers on loan from sites around the region and volunteers, including re-enactor James Foote of Sea Cliff doing his usual portrayal of TR. "I am very impressed that you came out on this bully Sunday morning to see me," he said in character before the red, white and blue ribbon across the front door was snipped by Superintendent Kelly Fuhrmann and curator Susan Sarna, who managed the restoration.

After re-emerging on the porch, Corinna Wilson said she was impressed by the restoration, particularly the improved lighting that made it possible to see all the objects in the previously dim interior of the Victorian mansion.

"It was amazing what they were able to do," she said. "You can see everything in the North Room. It's fabulous."

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