By Bessie Sharp, in Maplewood Past and Present
In 1862 Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, uncle of Theodore Roosevelt, came out from New York and purchased the farm of Isaac Smith in the Village. It comprised about one hundred acres of land extending up the mountain from Ridgewood Road beyond Wyoming Avenue, and from Durand Road to Curtiss Place. Set into one of the gateposts at the foot of Hickory Drive there is a stone inscribed “J.S. 1766,” said to have been rescued from an early Smith farmhouse.
Near the center of the tract Mr. Roosevelt erected a large house of spacious rooms and wide verandas, surrounded by beautiful trees and shrubs. A picturesque mountain stream flowed close by, its banks studded with wild flowers of many kinds, and mingled with ferns. Spring water from the mountain sparkled in fountains on the lawn. Two rustic bridges crossed the brook and led to beautiful beds of roses and other flowers in the midst of a velvety carpet of grass. Below the garden, the brook ran along the entrance driveway, now Hickory Drive, and flowed into a pond, where, in the winter, ice was cut and stored in the icehouse for summer use. Another drive, in the rear, entered the grounds off Artist Lane, now Durand Road.
Above the house toward the mountain, there was another border of roses, and still further back was the vegetable garden. Apples, peaches, cherries and grapes grew in the sloping orchards above. Chestnut trees and hickory trees were abundant, especially the latter, which gave the name of “The Hickories” to the estate.
The Roosevelts kept a carriage and a team of handsome horses, driven for many years by John Doody, a familiar figure in Maplewood in that day. One of his chief duties was to go to South Orange for the mail, for there was as yet no post office in Maplewood. My grandfather, Peter Cockburn, was Mr. Roosevelt’s gardener for many years, and my mother's uncle, Walter Laidlaw was superintendent of the estate for sixteen years. My father, Thomas Sharp, succeeded Mr. Laidlaw as superintendent.
The farmhouse in which Sharp lived stood at the corner of Ridgewood Road and Curtiss Place, and originally had six rooms. At that time, since 1833, a little one-room schoolhouse stood a short distance north near the entrance gates. In 1868 the town built a new, centrally located schoolhouse, and the little one on Ridgewood Road was offered for sale. Mr. Roosevelt purchased it and moved it down to the rear of the farmhouse where it became our summer kitchen. Behind the house were the barns, well filled with hay from our own fields, the corn cribs, the stables for the farm horses, sheds for the wagons, the cow barn, chicken house and pig-pen. Up the slope back of the barns where Curtiss Place now is, there were grassy pasture lots with wild flowers adding beauty to the scene.
In this pleasant country home of his uncle, Theodore Roosevelt spent parts of a good many summers during his boyhood. He was born in1858, so that his childhood coincided almost exactly with the years when the Cornelius Roosevelt family was most actively interested in this estate and farm in the country. The boy’s health was frail and he was at this early time being privately tutored. He was accustomed, therefore, to pursue his own interests alone. The farm setting seemed ideal for such a boy; and in Theodore’s case, with his native interest in wild animals, birds and plant life, it was all but perfect. The stretch of mountain above and behind the farm offered him complete freedom to tramp in the woods and to observe all that went on there.
He kept a series of notebooks during those early years that throw light on the things he noticed and thought worth writing down. In one small notebook, the cover of which is labeled, “Notes on Natural History,” he devoted a page to a list of twelve animals and birds native to this area. The entry is dated “Orange, New Jersey, Sept. 16th, 1872,” and the names are in Latin. They are written in a boyish hand, yet with such care that it seems it seems probable that he copied the list from some book on the natural history of the region as a guide to him on his exploratory walks. The animals he lists are the raccoon, the white-tailed deer, the red fox, the mink, the gray and red squirrels, the chipmunk and the cotton-tail rabbit: and the birds are Wilson’s snipe, the quail, the partridge and the Carolina rail. Whether he ever found any of them on the mountain he does not say, but he notes the fact that “seven minks—entered the barn of Mr. C. Roosevelt.” He described at considerable length a fight between a robin and a squirrel which his uncle had observed “while on his piazza,” and had recounted to his nephew. However formal their relationship may have been, they seem to have had a certain community of interest in animals and birds.
Mr. Cornelius Roosevelt died in the Maplewood house in September 1887. After his death Mrs. Roosevelt continued to come to "The Hickories” for the summer, bringing her brother and family friends to provide companionship. She lived until 1900, dying in New York in March of that year. Two years later the property was sold to W.H. Curtiss, who began its division into building sites. The land was subsequently bought by the T.B. Ackerson Company of New York and further divided into building lots and streets. It was at this time that the developers gave the name of “Roosevelt Park” to the tract. Curtiss Place was named for W.H. Curtiss, Kermit Road and Quentin Court were named for two sons of Theodore, while Fairview Terrace and Sagamore Road were named for his Oyster Bay estate. During the construction of the new houses, the old Roosevelt house was completely destroyed by fire in November 1905.
Copyright 1948 by Friends of the Maplewood Library
Maplewood Past and Present, ed.. Helen Bates, Princeton University Press, 1948.