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The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.

People sometimes come up with a grand idea to preserve something worth saving only to find that it has already been destroyed. Such was the case with the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, now a national historic site run by the National Park Service, at 28 East 20th Street in New York City.(1)

Built in 1848, this typical New York brownstone was purchased in 1854 by Theodore's grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, as a wedding gift for the youngest of his five sons, Theodore (Sr.), and his bride, Martha Bulloch. Number 26 was given to Robert Roosevelt, Theodore Sr.'s older brother.

Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth U.S. president, was born on 27 October 1858 in the second-floor master bedroom and spent his first fourteen years at the house. "Teedie," as the family called him, was the second of four children. He had various health problems including severe asthma but fought with great courage to answer his father's challenge to improve his body, which lagged far behind his sharp mind. Unable to attend regular school, the young TR studied with tutors and developed a voracious appetite for books on natural history. He would eventually write more than fifty books on topics from nature to politics to diplomacy.

The Lion's Room and the museum on the site of Robert Roosevelt's house hold scores of letters, notes, and documents that present TR's entire life - from boyhood to manhood, from New York state assemblyman to president, from Dakota rancher to Rough Rider, African hunter, and Amazonian explorer.

In 1916, with TR's permission, the house was torn down and replaced with a commercial building. After TR died on 6 January 1919, his widow and two sisters founded the Woman's Roosevelt Memorial Association, which reconstructed the birthplace as a memorial. It was opened to the public on TR's birthday in 1923 and in 1963 the Theodore Roosevelt Association donated the site to the National Park Service. The birthplace is visited by approximately twenty thousand people annually.

1 The birthplace is open Wednesday through Sunday year-round. There is an admission fee. For more information, call (212) 260-1616.

Richard I. Melnick is a member of Phi Alpha Theta's Epsilon Theta chapter at Hunter College, CUNY, in New York City.

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Author:Melnick, Richard J.
Publication:The Historian
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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