The Brownstone Where a New York-Born President Got Fit

The library in the 1920s. Photo via Library of Congress

Editor’s Note: This post originally ran in 2010 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

The classic neo-Gothic brownstone that stands at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan, the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt, is a fun and interesting house museum, as Theodore Roosevelt was one of our most interesting and popular presidents. But, technically, Roosevelt was not really born in the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace — although he was born on the site.

The entire building is a re-creation, from the brownstone drip-cap moldings to the intricate plaster ceiling medallions.

It’s kind of a crazy story: The original brownstone where the Roosevelts lived and where the 26th president was born was torn down in 1916 to make way for a commercial building. Just a few years later, in 1919, the year Roosevelt died, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association bought the site, tore down the new building, and re-created his birthplace.

It’s hard to believe, but the museum founders also demolished the brownstone next door, which was a surviving twin to the Roosevelt family home, and constructed a four-story museum — also faced with brownstone, but more modern in style. (The two buildings are actually one building designed to look like two separate townhouses.) The job of re-creating the original house and creating the museum space was given to the 20th-century architect Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the few female architects of the day.

They were able to obtain some of the original furniture for the house, as well as other Roosevelt family pieces, and the end result is as much an authentic home as most other historic birthplaces. The period rooms are arranged to show Roosevelt family life here in the 1860s.

theodore roosevelt house 1920s

The house in the 1920s. Photo via Library of Congress

Theodore Roosevelt was the only president to be born in New York City. This neighborhood was quite wealthy when Theodore was born on October 27, 1858. The original house was built in 1848, and the family lived here from 1854 to 1872, leaving when the neighborhood became more industrial.

Roosevelt was a very bright but sickly child with severe asthma and other ailments. He began to improve his health through exercise and activity, a regimen that carried him through his entire life, so much so that he is always remembered as an outdoorsman, Rough Rider, and consummate man’s man. Roosevelt served as president from 1901 to 1909 and was the youngest in the nation’s history, not quite 43 when he became commander-in-chief after the assassination of President William McKinley.

No detail was spared in either the furnishings or the architectural detail of the rooms, with foliate plaster ceiling moldings and medallions, as well as other classic mid-19th century features.

The museum features artifacts and papers from the president’s life, including his Rough Rider uniform, a teddy bear, and memorabilia from his amazing career, including from his tenure as New York City police commissioner and governor of New York.

The site was opened to the public in 1923 and is now run by the National Park Service. The period rooms are accessible through free guided tours.

How to Visit
Address: 20 East 20th Street, Manhattan
Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 am.m to 5 p.m. Tours of the period rooms are available on the hour starting at 10 a.m. with the last tour at 4 p.m.
Admission: Free
Directions: 4, 5, Q, N or L subway to Union Square, 6 or R to East 23rd Street.

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