Teddy Roosevelt Slept Here: Musings on the “Father of Conservation” and Maine

Village lore has it that in 1880 Teddy Roosevelt stayed in the house that is now my home on Mount Desert Island, Maine.  It’s also said that my house was the only one on Main Street that had indoor plumbing for quite some time.  I don’t think there’s a connection.

Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t pampered in Maine.  Although he was born into a wealthy New York City family, he first started coming to Maine as a 20-year-old to stay with the Sewall family, “certain staunch friends in Aroostook County,” as he himself described them in “My Debt to Maine.”  With William “Bill” Wingate Sewall, a Maine hunting guide and lumberman, the asthmatic Harvard student went on fall hunting trips, spent weeks on snow shoes visiting lumber camps, and climbed Mount Katahdin.

Roosevelt wrote, “I was rather tired by some of the all-day tramps, especially in the deep snow, when my webbed racquets gave me “snowshoe feet”, or when we waded up the Munsungin in shallow water, dragging a dugout, until my ankles became raw from slipping on the smooth underwater stones; and I still remember with qualified joy the ascent and especially the descent of Katahdin in moccasins, worn because I had lost one of my heavy shoes in crossing a river at a riffle.”

But, Roosevelt said, “It was a matter of pride with me to keep up with my stalwart associates…In their company I would have been ashamed to complain!”

The man who would become the youngest President in U.S. history seemed just as taken with the values of the Sewall family, who accepted him as one of the household.  He described them as “self-respecting, duty-performing, life-enjoying.”

Although he didn’t directly laud their dry humor, Teddy Roosevelt told a wonderful story that illustrated it.  He was driving in a wagon with Bill Sewall’s brother Dave “up an exceedingly wet and rocky backwoods road, with the water pouring down the middle.” He asked Dave how in Aroostook County they were able to tell its roads from its rivers.

“No beaver dams in the roads” was the instant response.

Theodore Roosevelt would go on to become an environmental activiist as President.  He formed the United States Forestry Service, more than quadrupled forest reserves, and signed sweeping legislation to put national treasures under federal ownership.

He said, “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the nature resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

As Congress grapples with the national debt and contemplates retraction of federal authority, those are words to live by. 

To find out what you can do to help preserve and protect Acadia National Park for current and future generations, consult Friends of Acadia.  And please visit OUR ACADIA where I share my favorite ways to enjoy and appreciate Mount Desert Island.

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