People forget how old NYC is. The City usually brings to mind modern day entertainments like shopping, theater, restaurants and nightlife but we forget that there was once an old York before there was a New York.
Luckily, there are nooks and crannies of history all over the city for visitors to squeeze in on their way to enjoy other pursuits. One such site is the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace historical site. Conveniently located at 28 East 20th Street, it is short jaunt from Union Square and Fifth Avenue shopping.
From outside, the site is a typical New York brownstone (well, typical meaning that if you bought a whole house in that location now it would cost well over 5 million dollars). The 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt was born in the house in 1858, when the landscape of the city was predominantly flat and filled with buildings that were less than 6 stories high.
The only catch to the house’s historical significance is that it was actually demolished after the Roosevelt family owned it because the neighborhood had become very commercial. Theodore or “Teedie,” as he was called, died in 1919. In 1920, a group of friends and family had the house reconstructed as a memorial and it was later donated to the city’s parks department. The house was re-furnished primarily with pieces owned by the family or other pieces of that time period, giving the home its authenticity. Apparently, they were even able to duplicate a lot of the curtains and wallpaper exactly because the firms that made them still had the templates of the Roosevelt’s orders on file.
Admission to the house is free and the site offers free 30 minute guided tours (you cannot tour the house without a guide), which is perfect for squeezing in a little learning before shopping on nearby 5th Avenue or strolling through the Union Street market. It is good for visitors of all ages. The day I stopped by the site, the tour guide was fabulous and made a point of getting all the children on the tour involved and had them each play a role of a Roosevelt child who lived in the house. Unfortunately, the gallery on the first floor was closed for renovation.
Angela is the History Buff Traveling Mom. In addition to her love of travel and books, she explores the history of NYC houses and their restoration in her blog, BrownstoneCyclone.com.