“The development and control of extensive business interests has brought him financial independence and he is one in whom nature and culture have vied in making him an interesting and entertaining gentleman.” – Past and Present of Onondaga County (1908) by William Beauchamp
Frederick Roosevelt was born in 1850, in New York City, the son of Judge James I. Roosevelt, a justice of the New York Supreme Court and later U.S. district attorney for Southern New York. (James’ brother, Cornelius Roosevelt, was the father of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. who became President of the United States in 1901. The President was Fred’s first-cousin-once-removed.)
Fred grew up in a New York City household with 10 servants. He had 10 siblings, but five had died before he was born; a sister died when Fred was four and a brother died when he was six. Only Fred, his brother Charles and sister Marcia lived past the age of 30.
In business, Fred was connected with the Evansville & Terre Haute R.R. Co., the Mecca Oil Company, the Skaneateles R.R., and the Twelfth Ward Bank in New York City. Socially, he was a member of the Union Club, the Metropolitan Club, the New York Athletic Club, the Lotos Club, the Automobile Club of America, the St. Nicholas Society and the Holland Society. He was Life Member #13 of the New York Yacht Club, and kept an ocean yacht named “Maggie.”
Mary Loney Roosevelt
Fred married Mary Loney in 1873, and in 1874, after a tour of Europe, they came to Skaneateles to visit with her father, William Loney. In New York, they lived on Fifth Avenue in a neighborhood referred to as “Two Miles of Millionaires.” Among their neighbors were Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, Russell Sage, William Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.
Fred’s father, James Roosevelt, died in 1875 after a riding accident, and his mother, Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, died in 1876, leaving Fred a lifetime interest in a trust established for the three surviving siblings.
Soon after, in Skaneateles, Fred bought a portion of his cousin Henry Latrobe Roosevelt’s land, to the east of Henry’s house. Fred wanted a summer “cottage,” and his project was brought to the firm of McKim, Mead by architect Sidney V. Stratton, who was subletting office space from the firm. William Rutherford Mead designed the house, to be built in pieces in New York and shipped to Skaneateles for assembly. In June of 1879, work began here with Thomas Dobbin of Newburg, N.Y., supervising construction. That autumn in New York, Stanford White joined the firm and one of his first assignments was to sketch details for the interiors of several houses already started, including the Roosevelt house.
However, first things first. In May of 1879, local carpenter John Wheeler built a “commodious boathouse” for Fred’s steam launch, the Lotos, named for his club in New York. The speedy Lotos was “expected to make Glen Haven in one hour.” It was 50 feet long with an 8-foot beam, oak cabin, finely finished throughout, built by H. Piepgras, Greenpoint, N.Y.
The Lotos was christened by Miss Belle (Ruth Arabella) Loney, Fred’s sister-in-law, and “glided gracefully and beautifully into the fair waters of our lovely lake.” The boat’s designer was M. Roosevelt Schuyler, and the newspaper noted, “From his thorough knowledge of the qualities required to make a fast craft, the people may rest assured that any boat here expecting to compete with the ‘Lotos’ in speed, will have to put on a full head of steam, set a colored gentleman on the safety valve*, and let things take their course.”
* Setting a presumably docile and expendable person of color on a steam engine’s safety valve, in order to force the maximum amount of pressure into driving the boat, risked a boiler explosion and horrific loss of life. The practice is documented, in less than elegant terms, in John Hay’s The Pike County Ballads (1871) and in Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age (1873) both of which would have been popular reading at this time.
The newspaper also noted, “The boat sits extremely light upon the surface and will ride the water like a thing of life.”
In 1880, William Cottle completed a stone dock, 72 feet long, 3 ½ feet wide, three feet in depth on the land and seven feet deep on the water side. (Cottle also did the stone work on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Lake View Cemetery.)
On January 21, 1880, the Skaneateles Free Press noted:
“During the past summer, Mr. Fred Roosevelt of New York has built a spacious summer home on the hill just east of the village at a cost of nearly $20,000. The lot stretches down to the lake, where a handsome boat house and substantial dock has been erected. The owner has a fine sailing boat and a staunch little steamer. During the summer a fair day seldom passes without finding Mr. Roosevelt and his many friends on the lake.”
Roseleigh had 10 bedrooms, 4 baths, a billiard parlor, den, dining room, and living room. Every room had a fireplace, and in addition to the boat house, Roseleigh also had a stable.
A frequent guest was Harry Duval — also known as Horace C. Duval, Henry C. Duval and H.C. Duval – who served as the private secretary and gatekeeper for Chauncey Depew, the president of the New York Central Railroad. Duval was also involved in banking and real estate, and was the author of Bridge Rules in Rhyme (1902), which dispensed bridge wisdom in verse, e.g., “Aces three and guarded Queen/No Trump hand is plainly seen. Aces four, No Trump at once/Otherwise you’d be a dunce.”
In New York, the Duvals dined with the Roosevelts at the grand opening of the Waldorf-Astoria. Fred and Harry were both members of the Holland Society and the Lotos Club, and in October of 1899, when the Lotos Club hosted English actor Henry Irving and his personal assistant, Dracula author Bram Stoker, Fred and Harry were among the 300 members gathered for the three-hour dinner followed by “café noir,” cigars and speeches.
And in 1901, Fred was uniquely positioned to do his friend a favor. The New York Central Railroad was suing the Auburn Inter-Urban Railroad company because, with the completion of trolley tracks through Skaneateles, the trolley would ultimately connect Syracuse and Auburn, paralleling the New York Central’s line. Mr. Duval’s boss did not want the competition.
To bolster the New York Central’s suit, Fred Roosevelt sued the trolley company, saying that the proper number of consents from Village residents had not been obtained. Fred’s lawyer was George Barrow, and that’s no surprise because Barrow always leapt at a chance to make money in an unworthy cause. Unfortunately for Fred, it was shown in court that he was simply wrong, and the New York Central was shortly thereafter ruled to have no standing in the case.
During their summers in Skaneateles, Fred and Mary Roosevelt dined at Roosevelt Hall, played bridge at the Thayer House, and attended a dance at Clifford Beebe’s Lone Oak estate. They had a fairly leisurely lifestyle, the accounts of which were sprinkled across the Society pages:
In 1888, they spent the winter in St. Augustine, Florida.
In 1889, the New York papers carried this comment: “I don’t believe anyone ever really loved orchids,” said Mrs. Fred Roosevelt yesterday, although she is one of the patrons of the [Eden Musee Orchid] show. “But,” she went on, “every one who pays any attention to them is fascinated by them.”
In February of 1889, Fred’s niece Cornelia (having spent most of her life in Germany and France) married the Baron Clemens Freiher von Zedlitz in New York, with Fred giving away the bride. (Fred’s brother, Charles Roosevelt, had died in Paris in 1883.) And in October of 1890, Fred and Mary visited with Cornelia in Berlin.
(Although insulated by wealth, Cornelia had some hard times. Her Baron drowned in October 17, 1901, when his yacht collided with that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. And in 1918, after the U.S. entered the war against Germany, her $1,000,000 trust and $200,000 in personal property were seized by the U.S. Alien Property Custodian’s office. After the war, in December of 1920, Cornelia’s claim for restitution was allowed, and in 1928 she became a U.S. citizen again, but it took a Joint Resolution of Congress.)
In 1895, Mary’s love of flowers was revealed again as the paper noted, “Mrs. Frederick Roosevelt’s dinner at her residence, No. 583 Fifth avenue, Wednesday evening, was one of the handsomest of the week, the table being lavishly decorated with tall mounds of American beauty roses, interspersed with white lilacs.”
In 1899, Mary hosted a musicale with pianist Harriet Cady at her Fifth Ave home.
In 1903, Mary bought “autumn clothes” in Paris and then went on to Baden Baden where she stayed at the Stephanie Hotel with Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.
In 1905, Fred and Mary sailed for Italy in April, returning in July and coming to Skaneateles.
Back in the village, in October of 1905, Fred was run down from the rear by a bicycle ridden by Charles Cox, 14, a grocery delivery boy who was coasting down the East Genesee street hill when he ran into Fred. “Mr. Roosevelt, who is a large, heavy man, withstood the shock, but young Cox was thrown to the sidewalk with great force and suffered a broken nose and a severe concussion of the brain.” The boy was unconscious for several hours but recovered.
Later that month, probably while visiting with Loney relatives in Pelham, N.Y., Fred and his chauffeur, David P. Brown, were apprehended for speeding on the Pelham Bay Parkway, after Fred’s touring car was chased for one and one-half miles by a bicycle patrolman (!) who said that the Roosevelt car was going 30 miles per hour in a 15 mile per hour zone. At the station, the policeman admitted that the speed limit was not posted, Roosevelt said he did not know he was going that fast, and everybody went home.
In 1909 and in the years to follow, Fred and Mary traveled from New York to Skaneateles by automobile rather than by special train, “all the way, without mishap.” Fred was listed in the Official Automobile Directory of the State of New York as driving a Corbin, which went for $2750, about $70,000 in contemporary dollars.
Frederick Roosevelt died on June 15, 1916, and Roseleigh was sold to Burns Lyman Smith of Syracuse in the summer of 1917 (eventually becoming today’s Stella Maris).
From 1920 onward, Mary Loney Roosevelt summered at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, with her half-brother, Fred Roosevelt Loney Sr., and half-sister, Alice Rebecca Loney Abbot. Today, in the living room of Mrs. Frederick Roosevelt Loney Jr., a portrait of Frederick Roosevelt hangs on the wall. It was painted in Skaneateles in 1902 by S. Montgomery Roosevelt of Roosevelt Hall, and I thank Susan Loney, Fred’s great-grandniece, for sharing this photograph and her family memories of “Uncle Ed” with me.