I have written before about New York City as a treasure trove of small museums. These are places that can be visited in one to two hours. They are not usually destinations, but fillers that can be part of a larger day in the city. This week I have two more entries in this series - the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace and the NYC Fire Museum.
The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Memorial.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (1858-1919) was the 26th president of the United States. He was known as a “grand reformer,” taking on the corrupt Tammany Hall in NYC and the large industrial “trusts” of U.S. Capitalism. He led the Roughriders in that famous charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. He created what would become the countries first national parks. He was also a social-Darwinist, and a proponent of the expansionist view of U.S. imperialism in the western hemisphere. His view of non-European societies was denigrating and racist. And all of these views started in a brownstone row house at 28 East 20th street in New York City.
|Gallery of photos and quotes
The story of this house is really that of Roosevelt’s family, and it gives insight to how he developed his world view. Teddy’s grandparents were Cornelius Van Schaank (C.V.S.) Roosevelt (1794-1871) and Margaret Barnhill (1799-1861). C.V.S. was a banker and industrialist with roots that went back to the Dutch of Neuw Amsterdam. Among other things, he was a founder of what would become Chemical Bank (now Chase Bank). Margaret was a Quaker from Pennsylvania, and her view of the world was much more progressive and this had a great influence on the family. C.V.S. and Margaret had four children, the second being a son named Theodore.
Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (1831-1878) grew up with the concept of “noblesse oblige,” mainly from his mother. During his life, he founded the NYC Children’s Aid Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of National History. In 1853, Theodore Sr. married Martha Bulloch (1835-1884), and was given a house at 28 E. 20th street by his parents. Martha was the daughter of a Georgia plantation owner and was raised in a family that owned enslaved people. When she moved to New York, she was accompanied by her sister and mother. All of this led to much tension in the household. Theodore Sr. was a Republican, abolitionist and supported of the Union. The Bullochs were actively supporting the Confederates during the war.
| By Unknown photographer - Theodore Roosevelt, Senior,Public domain via wikimedia
|Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. public Domain via wikimedia
Theodore Sr. and Martha had four children. Theodore Jr. was the second child and oldest son. He was born with severe asthma, and from a young age, his father drilled a mantra of self-sufficiency and hard physical labor into him as a way to improve his health. These ideas became the bedrock of his view of the world, tempered with some of his grandmother’s Quaker beliefs. It also led to his love of nature and hiking through the wilderness.
|Dining set donated by Eleanor Roosevelt
The Roosevelt family lived on 20th street until Teddy was 14 years old, when they moved uptown to West 57th street. The house was sold, and went through several transformations as a commercial space until it demolished in 1916. When Teddy died in 1919, a group called the Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Association was formed with two goals, to rebuild Roosevelt’s birthplace, and to create a tribute to the “Americanism that [he] represented.” They bought the lot and commissioned Theodore Pope Riddle, a prominent female architect, to recreate Teddy’s house, and the building next door, which had belonged to his brother Elliot, father of future first lady, Eleanor. Today, the house is furnished with authentic pieces from the era, most of which come from members of the Roosevelt family.
The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site is open to all for free. It offers five excellent tours every day, and a research library.
The NYC Fire Museum
The NYC Fire Museum has roots that go back over 100 years. While it has had several homes, mostly in Queens, in 1987, it moved to its current location, in the former home of Engine Company 30, at 287 Spring Street in SOHO.
The collection the museum covers al of New York’s history, actually going back to the days of Colonial Neuw Amsterdam. It is an expansive array of large equipment, from old hand pumpers, to modern hook and ladder trucks. There are also personal equipment, such as helmets and patches, and company banners. The walls are lined with signs and artwork.
The museum is a wonderful place to explore the history of firefighting in New York.