One of the more colorful visitors to Roosevelt Hall was Ernest J. King who in July of 1935 spent a weekend as the guest of Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. King was the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and already known as one of the more outspoken officers in the U.S. Navy.
Just three years earlier he had attended the Naval War College, and in his thesis noted that America’s weakness was representative democracy:
“It is traditional and habitual for us to be inadequately prepared. This is the combined result of a number factors, the character of which is only indicated: democracy, which tends to make everyone believe that he knows it all; the preponderance (inherent in democracy) of people whose real interest is in their own welfare as individuals; the glorification of our own victories in war and the corresponding ignorance of our defeats (and disgraces) and of their basic causes; the inability of the average individual (the man in the street) to understand the cause and effect not only in foreign but domestic affairs, as well as his lack of interest in such matters. Added to these elements is the manner in which our representative (republican) form of government has developed as to put a premium on mediocrity and to emphasize the defects of the electorate already mentioned.”
In 1938, he underscored his opinion by staging a successful simulated naval air raid on Pearl Harbor, showing that the base was dangerously vulnerable to aerial attack. He wasn’t taken seriously.
As WWII approached, King was appointed as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, and promoted to admiral in February 1941. On December 30, 1941, three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he became Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.
Following Japan’s defeat at the Battle of Midway, King advocated the invasion of Guadalcanal. The campaign was ultimately successful, and for the first time the Japanese lost ground. Throughout the war, King was widely respected for his ability, and heartily disliked. Historian John Ray Skates wrote, “Only British Field Marshal Montgomery may have had more enemies. King also loved parties and often drank to excess. Apparently, he reserved his charm for the wives of fellow naval officers.”
Franklin Roosevelt described him as a man who “shaves every morning with a blow torch.”
King’s view of press relations was simple. He said, “Don’t tell them anything. When it’s over, tell them who won.”
One of his daughters said, “He is the most even-tempered person in the United States Navy. He is always in a rage.”
One hopes that the beautiful vistas and calming influence of the lake made him an enjoyable guest during his 1935 visit to Skaneateles.
Above, U.S. Naval Commanders in the Marianas Campaign, South Pacific. L. to R.: Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet; Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy; Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“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.
Nicholas Latrobe Roosevelt (1847-1892) was the son of Samuel and Mary Jane (Horton) Roosevelt, of New York and Skaneateles, and the grandson of Nicholas J. and Lydia (Latrobe) Roosevelt of Skaneateles. He was born here in June of 1847, and grew up living in New York City and summering in the village. His younger brother, Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt, also had a long association with the village, buying the De Zeng mansion in 1899 and renaming it Roosevelt Hall.
An 1868 graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Nicholas Roosevelt served with the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and in 1871 was a part of the U.S. expedition to Korea. This began as a diplomatic mission, but evolved into something more bellicose when Korean shore batteries fired upon two American ships. While the Korean cannons were primitive and their shots went astray, the Americans, in the person of Rear Admiral John Rodgers, demanded an apology, didn’t get one, and so attacked the Korean forts.
Lieutenant Roosevelt, who was serving as Master on the U.S.S. Alaska, commanded a group of gunboats which shelled the forts from the water while 600 sailors and Marines landed and stormed the forts on foot. The Koreans were armed with matchlock muskets, and when these proved to be ineffective, they threw rocks. Really. After a short battle, five Korean forts had been taken and 246 men were dead, of whom 243 were Korean. When Admiral Rodgers tried to use 20 wounded Korean prisoners as a bargaining chip, the Koreans said, “Keep them. They are all cowards.” Lt. Roosevelt was “creditably mentioned in dispatches,” but was not one of those decorated for heroism.
In 1874, Nicholas left the Navy and settled in New York City. And on April 14th of that year, he married Miss Eleanor Dean, starting the whole ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ thing.
This story, in fact, offers us an opportunity to sort out the Eleanor Roosevelts of Skaneateles, not counting Eleanor (Roosevelt) Roosevelt, wife of F.D.R., America’s longest-serving First Lady, who visited here, but wasn’t really ours. As noted above, Nicholas began the confusion, inadvertently I am sure, when he married Eleanor (Dean) Roosevelt. Their son, Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, threw us all a curve ball when in 1902 he married Eleanor (Morrow) Roosevelt, and, as was their right, upon the birth of a daughter in 1915, Harry and Eleanor named her Eleanor Katherine Roosevelt. So if a researcher looks for an Eleanor Roosevelt who summered in Skaneateles, he or she quickly finds three.
While I’m at it, Skaneateles also had three Henry Latrobe Roosevelts: The first was the son of Nicholas J. and Lydia; he was born in 1811, gave St. James’ Episcopal Church an organ in memory of his mother and donated the Nicholas Roosevelt stained-glass window in memory of his father. The second Henry Latrobe was the son of Nicholas L. and Eleanor, born in 1879 and known as “Harry;” he became the Asst. Secretary of the Navy and owner of Roosevelt Hall from 1920 to 1936, having inherited it from his uncle, Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt. The third was Henry Latrobe Jr., the son of Henry L. and Eleanor; he was born in 1910, went by “Troby,” spent time here in his boyhood and in August of 1916, caught and survived polio during an epidemic that took the life of the St. James’ Rector’s wife, Mary Hewlett.
But back to Nicholas. In New York, he became connected with the business of fire insurance while serving as Secretary of the New York & Boston insurance company, and in 1884 became a principal in the insurance firm of Roosevelt & Boughton. He was a member of the Union Club, the Down Town Club, the Loyal Legion, and the Essex Country Club in Morristown, New Jersey, where the family made its home. It was said that he would sit on the veranda of the country club and swap stories about Asia with some of the other well-traveled members.
Nicholas Roosevelt died of pneumonia at his home in New York in 1892; the funeral was held at his residence and his body was brought to Skaneateles for burial. He was just 45 years old. Eleanor Dean Roosevelt outlived her husband by more than 40 years. She summered in Skaneateles with the children: Harry, Louisa and Guy Nicholas. She was listed in the Social Register of New York, and known in Skaneateles for giving dinners and bridge parties. Her arrivals and departures were noted in the Skaneateles Press. Eleanor later wintered in Charleston, South Carolina, where Guy Nicholas’ wife, Emily, had family connections and a plantation, and “Nick” and Emily Roosevelt eventually owned a plantation of their own.
Eleanor Dean Roosevelt died at her daughter Louisa’s home in New York City in 1933. Her funeral service was held here at St. James’ and she was buried in Lake View Cemetery, next to the grave of her husband.
Nicholas and Eleanor Roosevelt are remembered in Skaneateles by pew number 17, on the west side of the nave, at St. James’. The pew was most probably endowed by their son, Henry Latrobe “Harry” Roosevelt, who was summering in Skaneateles at Roosevelt Hall in the early 1930s, and by their two other children, Louisa Roosevelt Bainbridge-Hoff of New York, and G. Nicholas Roosevelt of Philadelphia and South Carolina.
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Pew photo by Lauren Mills Wojtalewski