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Renovated Sagamore Hill set to show off its improvements

Teddy Roosevelt's passion for hunting is apparent in

Teddy Roosevelt's passion for hunting is apparent in the Sagamore Hill library, which is decorated with animal heads and bearskin rugs. Credit: Newsday/ Audrey C. Tiernan

Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill mansion opens for visitors Sunday after being closed for more than three years for an $8.5 million foundation-to-roof restoration.

After the removal of 12,000 objects from the house at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Cove Neck and the largest overhaul of the structure since it was built in 1884-1885, followed by the return of the artifacts, visitors will be allowed to see the first floor starting at 9 a.m.

There will be a reopening ceremony at 2 p.m. and special events throughout the day. Regular, 45-minute ranger-guided tours of all three floors will resume Monday, said Martin Christiansen. As chief of interpretation and natural resources, he is in charge of the visitor experience and makes sure the grounds are maintained and kept historically accurate.

With more than 3,500 visitors expected Sunday, the only parking on the site will be for the disabled. Others must park at East Woods School, Oyster Bay High School, James H. Vernon School or the Oyster Bay train station and take shuttle buses running every half-hour starting at 8:30 a.m.

Rotted shingles have been replaced. Water-damaged plaster, windows and walls have been repaired and deteriorated wallpaper has been replicated. The heating/ventilation, electrical, security and other systems have been upgraded and are still being tweaked, even though the last artifacts were back in place at the end of May. The restoration was funded by the National Park Service and Friends of Sagamore Hill.

The biggest change for visitors is the improved indirect lighting in the iconic trophy-filled North Room. In the past, dim lighting made it almost impossible to see the far wall or much of the detail from the barrier at the entrance. Now, the objects in every corner can be made out clearly.

"We tried to enhance the lighting without taking away from the historical accuracy of the home," curator Susan Sarna said.

The other big change is the return of a light and ventilation shaft running from the second-floor ceiling up through the third floor to the roof to improve air flow. It had been removed by the Theodore Roosevelt Association when it owned the house in the 1950s.

"We realized that the architects knew what they were doing and the air was meant to circulate through the house through this air shaft, and that by taking it out and putting in a fan, it wasn't working," Sarna said.

A rear porch on the north side by the kitchen modified at the same time has been returned to its original configuration.

Besides the $8.5 million in construction costs, another $1.5 million was spent on planning studies and storage of artifacts.

An exhibit on the restoration, with before-and-after photographs, is being created elsewhere on the property at the Old Orchard Museum. It will also display objects found behind walls or floors or in the ground during the restoration, including a contractor's business card, a pickax, a calendar and a doily.

Despite the renovations, the work is not 100 percent complete. Two elephant tusks that sat on wood platforms in the North Room and had been stored for three years at the air-conditioned Old Orchard Museum had been back in the house for eight weeks when they started to crack. Their wood bases had begun to expand because of the higher humidity in the house, which has no air conditioning, Sarna said. So the tusks were removed to determine how to repair them and exhibit them more safely.

Still to come are replacement of the worn reproduction curtains added in 1990 in the Gate Room bedroom and a reproduction of the torn silk red presidential flag that had hung on the back wall of the North Room.

"We don't want the visitor to know we did anything," Sarna said, even though "we have preserved and protected the house for the next 100 years."


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