Christmas at Meadow Croft
SAYVILLE—This past weekend, the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association held a holiday house tour at Meadow Croft, the Suffolk County-owned former home of John Ellis Roosevelt. The estate, located on Middle Road, stands in the middle of the Suffolk County Sans Souci Lake Nature Preserve, which divides Sayville on the west and Bayport on the east.
This year marked Leanne Berg’s third time organizing the holiday house tour. Berg, a Sayville resident and vice president of the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association, explained that this year’s theme was the 12 Days of Christmas, with a dozen of the rooms being decorated for each day of the famous Christmas carol.
Isaac Henry Green, a local architect, designed Meadow Croft from 1891 to 1892. Green, who spent most of his life in Sayville, designed many other buildings in the community, including St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, the present clubhouse of the West Sayville Golf Course (the former Head estate) and the Oysterman’s National Bank in the downtown area, which currently serves as the Sayville General Store.
While his father, Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, purchased part of the property on which Meadow Croft sits, John E. Roosevelt was the one to commission the estate. John’s first cousin, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, also visited the house often.
Frank Geibfried, a member of the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association, explained that while John E. Roosevelt was a Democrat, he always supported Teddy. “[John] believed in putting family before party,” Geibfried told attendees during last week’s tour. “I don’t know how that would work today,” he laughed.
Judy Perfido, a Patchogue resident and president of the Bayport Homemakers Club, has volunteered for the past three tours. “It’s an interesting place,” she said. “Every year I learn something new.” Perfido explained that John E. Roosevelt’s first wife, Nannie Mitchell Vance, died in the house from typhoid in 1912. John contracted the disease as well, but ultimately recovered. Perfido also mused over John’s brief marriage to his second wife, Edith Hammersley Biscoe. Rumor has it they decided to call it quits after a boat ride one summer afternoon.
In 1974, Gene Roosevelt, a descendent of John, sold the Meadow Croft estate to Suffolk County. A volunteer, who didn’t wish to be named, said any local arsonist, pot smoker or wild animal at the time knew about the vacant property. Suffolk County had originally planned on burning the estate down during a fire exercise, but agreed to maintain the outside grounds after the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association came to them and offered to maintain and improve the interior of the house.
While not everything is original to the house (furniture, wallpaper, etc.), it is true to the era. There is one room, though, that isn’t as authentic as the rest. The room that two of John’s daughters shared was redone about 20 years ago after Victoria magazine used it for a photo shoot at the time.
Aagun Connell, a longtime Bayport resident, explained during the tour that the house library used to be a nursery. Many of the books in the library, Connell says, are on nature. This is rather appropriate, since John’s father, Robert, was one of America’s earliest conservationists. Connell also presented to visitors a book of letters from John to his children. “Just think about everything we’re losing with email,” she said.
Those who attended were also able to visit St. Nicholas in his workshop in the Carriage House. When asked where Santa Claus was located, Jerry McCluskey, a Blue Point resident and Bayport Heritage Association member, clarified, “We’re Dutch. It’s St. Nick.”
The Roosevelt family can be traced back to Dutch immigrants who settled in New Amsterdam, modern-day New York City, in the mid-17th century. Aside from their two most famous members, presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, many other members went on to become prominent members of society, including merchants, politicians and socialites.
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