Park’s New (Old) Name, for History’s Sake

After several historians realized that the former president never slept at Third House in Montauk, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously agreed earlier this month that the Theodore Roosevelt County Park should return to its original name, the Montauk County Park, effective as soon as the signs are repainted. Janis Hewitt

    He was definitely in Montauk and definitely visited the Montauk Lighthouse, where he signed a logbook, and may have even had an office at Third House, but Theodore Roosevelt never slept at Third House, said Dick White, a member of the Montauk Historical Society’s board of directors. He did, however, sleep in a house on Ditch Plain road, and his men, the Rough Riders, camped nearby, Mr. White said.
    In light of this, the name of the county park at Third House was officially changed earlier this month from Theodore Roosevelt County Park back to its previous name, Montauk County Park. The park, which has long been known simply as Third House, had its name changed in 1997 to commemorate the centennial of the Spanish-American War, during which Mr. Roosevelt was said to have accompanied his troops to the hamlet to sequester them from the general public while fighting yellow fever.
    There was an infirmary for soldiers where the Montauk Manor now sits. Once it was learned that yellow fever was caused by mosquitoes, the soldiers were released, said Mr. White. While he pushed for the park’s name change for the sake of historical accuracy, he also believes there should be a plaque somewhere in the hamlet to memorialize Roosevelt’s stint there. “We know the Rough Riders came in on Navy Road and we know that they were at Ditch, so wouldn’t that be neat?” Mr. White asked, pointing out that it was Roosevelt who lobbied for a national park system. “He’s the one that pushed that through,” he said.
    It was a few years ago while Mr. White, a Suffolk County Park trustee, was on his way to a monthly trustee meeting with Bill Akin, then president of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, that the subject came up. The two men had been chatting about the exterior renovation project at Third House and Mr. Akin remarked about how Roosevelt had not once come up in their discussion. The two agreed the park name should never have been changed.
    “From the time they drove the first nail it’s been known as Third House,” Mr. White said on Monday.
    Mr. Akin said this week that he had suggested naming it Third House County Park, but it was agreed that the Montauk County Park might make it more user-friendly. The 1997 name change had been pushed through, he said, by a North Fork county legislator who was a Roosevelt history buff.
     “The idea at the time did not come from Montauk locals. I remember many people being offended by the name change,” Mr. Akin said, pointing out that Roosevelt was only in the hamlet from August to October 1898.
    Mr. Akin approached Jay Schneiderman, a Suffolk County legislator from Montauk, who agreed to sponsor a bill changing the name again. The Legislature unanimously approved it on June 5.
    Fearing accusations of disrespect, Mr. Schneiderman said on Tuesday that he included in the bill a motion to officially designate the main building on the 1,000-acre grounds as Third House, with the main room to be called the President Theodore Roosevelt Room.
    “I felt strongly that his name should be on a plaque in the main room overlooking the horse farm. . . . I know he liked horses,” he said. He’s taken some flak online about the name change. “They’re accusing me of not knowing my history, but I’m well aware of Teddy Roosevelt. Some claim he was there but there is no proof that he was at Third House. It kind of corrects history,” he said.
    For many years, Mr. Schneiderman has been trying to create an environmental center on the grounds. It was he and Carol Morrison, an environmental activist who has since died, who created the Third House Nature Center. But the funding dried up and the center that was to be stationed in the existing building never really got off the ground, though environmental programs are often held there.
    “It’s not dead; we’re still working on it. It’s just hard to get funding right now. If it takes my whole life I will get an environmental center there,” Mr. Schneiderman said.