Monday, July 5, 2010

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

Manhattan, New York

Ever have a curiosity itch that you just have to scratch? You leave a movie and can't go to sleep until you remember the name of that actor and what other movies he's been in or you hear Brian Williams' introduction on the NBC Nightly News and know you've heard that voice before but can't rest until you've researched it and found out it's Michael Douglas.

One of my favorite things about house museums is how you are exposed to an idea, a philosophy, a person, or a historical occurrence and it sparks a question that you just have to have answered - a curiosity itch. One historic home can ignite hours of research on numerous topics.

For me the birthplace and home of Theodore Roosevelt did just that. After my visit I watched a 4 hour PBS series on his life; searched the web for more information on his irrepressible daughter Alice; and researched other house museums within the city of New York.

The Union Square home is easy to find and the tour and exhibits offered a rich background in the man and his philosophy.

And on the big plus side - I bought my first coloring book since childhood. Historic Houses of New York State includes sketches of 43 homes with a short introduction that focus's on the home owner's life and/or architectural points of interest.

From a coloring book's perspective here's what's of note. "This typical four-story brownstone, the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt, is located on what was a quiet,tree-lined street in New York's most fashionable residential district. After the family moved in 1872, the house was eventually taken over for business purposes and was completely demolished in 1916. After Theodore Roosevelt's death in 1919, the site was purchased and the original house reconstructed as a memorial. This was America's first Victorian reconstruction and is now a National Historic Site."

I should find my crayons and color this in but with my curiosity itch scratched I think I'll just move on.

Joshua L Chamberlain Museum & Skofield-Whittier House


This post is almost exactly a year old. It's been a hell of a year. Both good and bad and so much of it momentous. This is my second start of At Home With House Museums. So here's to a new year with abundant home touring and exploring history.

Taking a family vacation offers an opportunity to see house museums further from home. Our family vacation to coastal Maine offered an unusual number of homes to tour. But as this was our first trip to Maine, our attention was diverted and we sampled from the wide variety of activities and sights that the area offered.

We stayed in Harpswell, a cute little rural coastal community just outside of Brunswick. In Brunswick we were drawn to the partially restored home of Joshua L Chamberlain (1828-1914), a civil war hero, Bowdoin College president and Maine Governor. Sorry to say that the tour just didn't come to life for any of us. Could have been that it just dragged on too long or that there just wasn't enough there to feel it was a "home" to anyone or that little was said about the man or his family to bring them to life. Actually all that rings true.

One set of family pictures hanging on the wall did spark an interesting family discussion. The group of 8x10 photographs from the early 1900's showed a toddler - a girl I was sure. No it was a cute little boy in a dress with hair almost down to his shoulders. A little google research lead to an explanation. In the 1800's children were under the care solely of their mothers and in their early years were not subjected to "strict gender boundaries." Grant, Julia, 1953- A "Real Boy" and not a Sissy: Gender, Childhood, and Masculinity, 1890-1940 Journal of Social History - Volume 37, Number 4, Summer 2004, pp. 829-851.

The Skolfield-Whittier House just across the street and up the green a few blocks was decidedly more fun. The owners of this home verged on a compulsive hoarding disorder. The home is often "described as a time capsule with the complete possessions of three generations." And everything is labeled! The last resident, Dr Alice Whittier, was Maine's first pediatrician.

The home is one half of a brick Italianate duplex built in 1858 by a ship captain for his 2 sons. Today the other half of the duplex is the Pejepscott Museum, a museum of local history.

What didn't we see? Well a lot. We drove up through New Hampshire where in Portsmouth there's an entire historic neighborhood, Strawberry Bank. But with the car loaded with vacation gear and an 8 hour trip we put off the stop for another time.

In Portland, Maine the Victorian Preservation Association website, lists 4 historic house museums. That's too many to see in a day so I narrowed it down to the Victoria Mansion, an Italianate Villa. We were,however, lured to the many boutique shops and wonderful restaurants and didn't see any of the house museums. But based on a wonderful leisurely lunch I can highly recommend the Salt Exchange.

Next trip we'll not only stop in Strawberry Bank, NH and tour several homes in Portland but will also do the self-guided walking and driving tours of the city of Bath.