By Ezra Powers
Garland and lights glistened up the wooden banisters of the grand staircase while music continued to filter in from the Roosevelt piano, mingling with the sounds of dozens of visitors as they shouldered their way inside the foyer and out of the cold. Christmas had finally returned to Meadow Croft, and it’s presence glowed throughout every corner of the former John Elis Roosevelt estate.
The unmistakable smell of vanilla grew stronger the closer you came to the kitchen, where on the dining room table, a set of festive place settings waited for the arrival of Christmas dinner. It’s the very same table, Head Docent Jerry McCluskey is bound to mention, that once sat the 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt as he dined with his cousins. The attention here paid to the historical details are matched with an effort to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, complete with artificial flames glowing in the cast iron stove. The result makes Meadow Croft feel more home than museum, as if it’s still lived in today. All the more so, on the first weekend in December when Christmas trees adorned nearly every room and laughter filled the halls as it once must have.
Situated a stone throw from the Sayville-Bayport border along Middle Road, these days the historical building and grounds of the estate are a part of the Suffolk County Parks Department and home to it’s caretakers, the Bayport Blue Point Heritage Association, who have carefully restored the Isaac Green original. A Christmas at Meadow Croft is the Heritage Association's largest undertaking of the year, bringing through its doors an estimated 800 people over two days.
It’s no small feat. The entire weekend is the product of a dedicated army of volunteers, led by Heritage events chairperson Leanne Berg and President Mary Bailey, who clean and decorate over 21 rooms, the exterior, the auto house, and carriage house. It’s there you’ll find a merry ole fashioned St. Nicholas to snap photos with and a steaming cup of hot chocolate to warm your hands. For the first time this period piece Santa Claus is played by Tom Maher, who took up the mantle this year from his father, the original Meadow Croft St. Nick. For those still in need of holiday presents there were raffle baskets up for grabs and gifts available to purchase. The yearly holiday open house has taken place for over 30 years, with the notable exception being 2020, and serves as both a fundraiser for the association and a farewell for the winter, after which guided tours won’t return until June.
Despite the opulent trappings of wealth, being in Meadow Croft during Christmastime tells the tale of a simpler time. On display in one of the seven upstairs bedrooms were painted miniature houses made from cigar boxes, just the thing a child might unwrap on Christmas in 1910 and a far cry from the new iphones many of us asked for this year. The first artificial christmas trees, crafted out of split goosefeathers dyed green to resemble pine needles, are scaled down versions of their modern day counterparts.
Many of these holiday antiques were generously shared by Heritage member Erich Haesche, whose vast encyclopedic knowledge of historical facts endlessly entertains anyone lucky enough to encounter him while visiting the estate. His 100 year old Christmas lights, whose bubbling effect is caused by liquid methylene chloride’s low boil point, was particularly impressive. Whether you are a history buff, an art enthusiast, or simply filled with holiday spirit, Christmastime at Meadow Croft proves to be charmingly timeless.
Photos by Kate Berube