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Behind the Scenes: Teddy Roosevelt’s House

Lobbyist Ben Barnes spent $4.2 million restoring the former president’s home.

Teddy Roosevelt’s son Archie was born in this house. He went on to be wounded in the same knee in both world wars. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

Ben Barnes has a Washington player’s résumé. He’s a Democratic lobbyist, he’s made a fortune in real estate, and he’s a former lieutenant governor of Texas and speaker of the state’s House. But there’s another side to him: history buff, art collector, preservationist. These are embodied in his building on 19th Street in downtown DC, where he has set up the Ben Barnes Group, a team of six including partners and staff.

It’s the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, who lived there when Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission. Barnes’s office was the couple’s bedroom, where Roosevelt’s fifth child, Archibald, was born in 1894. Barnes bought the building eight years ago and spent $4.2 million restoring it. The oak floors are from the period. The five fireplaces all work. The walls are hung with 19th-century American art. The restoration made Barnes a student of TR.

He proudly shows off a copy of Roosevelt’s 1905 address to a joint session of Congress after his presidential reelection. Barnes has learned that what made the house especially appealing to Roosevelt was its proximity to his stable in Rock Creek Park. He might have been born to money in New York City and educated at Harvard, but the future Rough Rider was a cowboy at heart.

Another bonus: The restaurant Roosevelt frequented with Secretary of War Redfield Proctor was only two blocks away. Barnes has his own dining options: “It doesn’t hurt that the Palm and i Ricchi are across the street.”

This article appears in the June 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

  • Bdlipson

    I worked in that house back in the 1970s, when it was occupied by a Washington law firm. At the time, it was also occupied by a ghost we named "Teddy," assuming it was Teddy Roosevelt's spirit. He was friendly and mischievous, playing on the elevator (which had not existed during his residence there), and changing radios from AM rock stations to FM classical music stations. One night, when one other woman and I were the only two people in the building, getting dressed to go to our annual Christmas party, "Teddy" stood watch outside the two offices we were using as dressing rooms, pacing back and forth on the tile floor outside. When I opened my door to look, there was no one there -- and the building was locked up tight. When I went back into the office, the pacing started again. I called out to my friend to ask if she was walking around, and she was not. When I told her about the footsteps, she panicked, threw on her coat, and left to go home to finish dressing, inviting me to come with her. But I stayed, and as I walked back into the private office, I told Teddy he could also stay, but not to peek. Again, the pacing started as soon as I closed the door. When I was finished, I left, turning out the lights and locking the door behind me. But first I said good night to Teddy. Sorry to say, he didn't answer -- or at least, not so that I could hear. Absolutely true story.

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