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Sagamore Hill plans temporary visitor center, gift shop after fire

The Old Orchard museum, former home of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the president's son, has started serving as the visitor center and a new gift shop is planned.

Park Ranger Scott Gurney answers a phone call

Park Ranger Scott Gurney answers a phone call at the visitor contact desk of the temporary visitor's center at the Old Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay on Feb. 9. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

A temporary visitor center will greet people at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay for one or two years after a December fire damaged the existing structure, park officials said.

The Old Orchard museum — former home of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the president’s son — has started serving as the visitor center and a new gift shop is expected to open in a room that was once a study and is now a theater. The museum is also the headquarters of the park with staff offices on the second floor. The Old Orchard museum is down a path east of the parking lot.   

Wood boards now cover the windows of the fire-gutted visitor center which lies between the parking lot and President Roosevelt's historic home to the west. The Dec. 24 blaze severely damaged the gift shop and bathroom, but did not affect any historic buildings. The future of that building is unclear as staff waits for full damage reports.

“We don't have any definitive next steps at this point in time,” Sagamore Hill superintendent Kelly Furmann said.

A management plan created in 2007 for the historic site called for the visitor center — which is not a historic building and was built in the 1950s — to be demolished and its functions moved to the “New Barn,” a more than 100-year-old building that replaced the “Old Barn.”

That plan called for “the removal of nonhistoric structures and the replacement of missing historic landscape and architectural features to enhance the park’s ability to interpret the Roosevelt period.” Under that plan the New Barn, which now is used for staff housing, would be renovated and expanded.

Furmann said before revisiting the 2007 plan the costs of repairing the existing fire-damaged structure must be determined.

“At this point we're working on the assessment of the existing visitor center and trying to figure out what it would take to rehab that, and cost-wise what our options are,” Furmann said.

Tweed Roosevelt, the great-grandson of the president and a trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, said the modern visitor center has been a “sore thumb” on the site.

“It was a necessary building and it had what it needed to have,” he said.

Roosevelt supports the projects outlined in the 2007 plan.

“Their idea of putting it, disguising it somewhat by putting it in the barn, which is their current idea is a good one … it looks like it belongs there,” Roosevelt said of a visitor center for Sagamore Hill. “You want the visitor to feel like they're visiting the home as it was and … this will improve that.

Sagamore Hill was President Theodore Roosevelt’s home from 1885 until his death in 1919. An exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death was scheduled to open in January but was postponed because of the federal government shutdown last month. That exhibition of historical items, documents and photographs of Roosevelt's life is being installed in the Old Orchard museum which now doubles as the visitors center.

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