A presidential retreat . . .
Pine Knot around 1906.
Photo courtesy of the
Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard University.
At the beginning of Roosevelt's first full term as President his
wife Edith wanted a place where she and the President could get
away from public life and enjoy the kinds of recreation appealing
to them both. A rustic "camp-like" retreat fit the style
and character of TR, who relished "the strenuous life"
and close contact with nature.
Finding the perfect property. . .
Affectionately known as Archie's Spring, this location
the hill from the cabin was the source of water for the family.
Plumbing was NOT a feature of this President's retreat.
The family enjoyed simple times here in close contact with nature.
The Roosevelt's friendship with two bachelor brothers, Joseph and
William Wilmer, owners of the Albemarle County, VA estates of "Round
Top" and "Plain Dealing", influenced the choice of
location for the retreat.
In May 1905, Mrs. Roosevelt purchased from William Wilmer's "Plain
Dealing" estate a small parcel containing 15 acres with a recently
built farm worker's cottage. She named it "Pine Knot",
reflecting the many surrounding pine trees, and ordered alterations
to it before the President ever saw it. Including the alterations,
the property cost $280. After their first visit there together in
June 1905, TR wrote to one of his sons, "Mother is a great
deal more pleased with it than any child with any toy I ever saw."
Pine Knot meant as much or more to Edith as it did to TR.
Family arrives . . .
Front porch of Pine Knot as glimpsed throught the
foliage in fall of 1999
after stabilization and early restoration.
At the time the "retreat" was acquired, there were 6
children in the family, ranging in age from 7 up to 21. All of the
children, except for Alice, visited Pine Knot at least once, but
it was most enjoyable for Kermit and Archie.
From Washington it was about a 4-hour ride by train to the depot
at North Garden, their usual destination. From there they rode the
10 or so miles to Pine Knot in a carriage or on horseback.
In addition to Edith's initial visit to inspect the property prior
to the purchase, she and the President made 8 visits here, usually
lasting from 2 to 6 days, before he left office in 1909. [June 1905;
Thanksgiving 1905; just after Christmas 1905; early November 1906;
just after Christmas 1907; May 1907; just after Christmas 1908;
In July of 1911, Edith purchased 75 more acres at Pine Knot, anticipating
TR's intention to run for a second full term as President. But they
never visited the property again after their last visit in May 1908.
Inside the cabin. . .
One of the two downstairs fireplaces. The lower
one larger area where all the Roosevelt's would gather.
When Edith bought it, the existing unfinished farm worker's cottage
offered 12'x32' of space on each of two floors. It had been started
in 1903, and had no stove, chimney, well or "privy".
Immediately after buying the property Edith Roosevelt arranged
to have a ground floor partition removed and end fireplaces added
to make a single lodge room. The central stair was moved to the
A "piazza" was constructed along the rear of the building
with support posts of untrimmed cedar (not pine despite local legend
that this is the origin of the name). At the time they owned the
property, there were fewer trees obstructing the view, and they
could look out over the fields from this vantage point.
The furnishings were very simple and today the only piece remaining
from the Roosevelt's years is a large farm table.
An amusing contemporary newspaper description of the interior tells
us more about the space, including the President's bedroom: "
The first floor consists of a single large room. . . From this room
to the two above is a stairway of primitive pattern, not even boxed
in. The room into which this stairway or plank ladder leads contains
a meager complement of furniture - merely a double bed of cheap
style, an oak bureau that cost a few dollars, a washstand of the
plainest kind, probably worth a dollar and a half, and a goods box
cheaply tricked out as a table." [Daily Progress, Times
Dispatch and Washington Post, 20 May 1907]
Two of the three sleeping spaces upstairs, warmed
by the large fireplaces in the chimneys at either end of the house.
Repair of these chimneys was part of the early stabilization program.
Pine Knot today. . .
In 1996, long-term plans for the development of Pine Knot as an
historic site, open to the general public, were developed and approved
by the Theodore Roosevelt Association. As a result of the Association's
efforts and a grant from the State of Virginia, work on improvements
to stabilize the property and provide limited public access are
Chimneys were repaired and pressured back into plumb with the building,
foundations reinforced, and numerous large and small holes in the
walls of the building, made by the "little forest folk"
whose night calls gave such pleasure to Edith Roosevelt, were sealed
Extensive testing revealed the color scheme of the building. Clapboard
siding, cornices, and beams were originally light yellow, the doors
and window sashes, a grayish, reddish orange, and the louvered shutters
a dark olive green.
Appointments for visits should be made in advance. Inquiries about
Pine Knot may be made by writing to Pine Knot, PO Box 213, Keene,
Contributions earmarked for the support of Pine Knot are tax deductible
as provided by law and may be made toThe Edith & Theodore Roosevelt
Pine Knot Foundation
P.O. Box 213, Keene, Virginia 22946.
Back side of Pine Knot as seen in the fall of 1999.