While visiting New York City, it’s easy to check another presidential historical site off this list. Theodore Roosevelt was born and raised in the city, and his birthplace museum is not too far from the heart of the Big Apple.
Theodore Roosevelt was born in the original of this replica brownstone on October 27, 1858 to businessman Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and his Southern socialite wife, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch. Teddy was a sickly child with severe asthma that was hard to control, but he used this as a reason to focus on bettering his physical health. He spent many hours here working out in the garden, sometimes with his brother and his neighborhood friend, Edith (his future second wife!). He also was interested in zoology and was a budding taxidermist with a menagerie of animals (both alive and stuffed!) at the house.
In 1873 when Teddy was 14, Theodore Sr. moved the family uptown as the neighborhood surrounding this house was becoming increasingly commercial. The townhouse became a store in the late 19th century and was torn down in the early 20th century. Thankfully, the brownstone next door (where Teddy’s uncle had lived) remained, so when President Roosevelt died in 1919, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased both properties and recreated the Roosevelt brownstone to serve as a museum, hiring a female architect which was unheard of at the time. She worked with the Roosevelt family and used President Roosevelt’s own biography to ensure the home was rebuilt as close to the original as possible. The museum opened on President Roosevelt’s birthday in 1923 with Edith Roosevelt returning to her old neighborhood to attend the commemoration. The museum will celebrate its 100th birthday next month!
The home is now run by the National Park Service as the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Historic Site is easy to visit on any trip to New York City. Its location near Union and Madison Squares puts it in the middle of bustling NYC. As you turn onto East 20th Street, the street becomes Theodore Roosevelt Way.
The historic site is located in the replica brownstone and is free to enter.
There is a small museum in the basement with many Roosevelt artifacts and a short movie.
One of the most poignant items in the displays is his diary entry on February 14, 1884 when both his young wife and mother died on the same day. He recorded the date with just an “X.”
Of course, I was very interested in the displays on Theodore’s second wife and childhood friend, Edith who served as First Lady.
Kids will enjoy seeing the displays of the “Teddy” bears, named for the president.
A shocking part of the displays is the shirt Roosevelt was wearing during an assassination attempt in 1912. Thank goodness he had written such a long speech that it stopped the bullet from doing too much damage!
Teen boys familiar with Teddy’s Rough Riders from the Spanish-American War will be interested in his military uniform.
It’s also interesting to see how Theodore was connected to both Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt (Eleanor’s dad was Teddy’s brother; Franklin’s father was his cousin).
The short movie (25 minutes) is a bit dated (a DVD on a tube TV!), but it actually is quite interesting. It focuses on Teddy’s childhood at this house, especially his physical ailments and his interest in animals.
To see the birthplace rooms upstairs, you will have to join a guided tour. It’s free and is currently held at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM (check before your visit as times may have changed).
This tour will take you through the first and second floors of the brownstone. The parlors with their gas lamps are especially atmospheric!
Most of the furnishings are original to the Roosevelts or from the period, like this piano, and were acquired by the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association with the assistance of Edith and his sisters.
The guide will point out special items such as this etched lamp.
The dining room was especially memorable.
The bedrooms upstairs include original furniture such as the very bed where Theodore was born in 1858!
The house also has his original crib.
His mother’s portrait hangs over the fireplace in the master bedroom. Her life story as Southern belle who married a New Yorker right before the Civil War is fascinating. Our guide mentioned that Mrs. Roosevelt was interviewed by a young reporter from Atlanta, Peggy Mitchell, about her life story. A few years later, Ms. Mitchell (now going by Margaret) wrote Gone with the Wind, with Scarlett O’Hara based loosely on Mrs. Roosevelt! Whether that’s true or not, it’s a good story!
Be sure to visit the small gift shop before you leave!
I love visiting Presidential sites and seeing where they spent their formative early years. Seeing President Roosevelt’s childhood home reinforced my knowledge of his can-do spirit and positive attitude, bringing his extraordinary willpower and determination to life!
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 hour
- Transportation: The birthplace is located at 28 East 20th Street, between Park Avenue South and Broadway. The closest subway station is the 23rd Street station.
- Dining options: The birthplace is located beside the famous Gramercy Tavern restaurant (not very kid-friendly but a cool spot!). One of my favorite Mexican chains, Rosa Mexicano, has a nearby outpost. For a fun eating experience, walk a few blocks north to Eataly.
- Nearby hotels: I walked from our hotel, Le Meridien, and have also stayed at the nearby Kimpton Eventi.
- Nearby attractions include: The Friends Experience, Harry Potter store on Broadway, Madison Square Park, and Rizzoli Bookstore
Books to Read:
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