Celebrating Fourth of July on Long Island


sagamore hill 1
Teddy Roosevelt's home, Sagamore Hill

The Fourth of July Jones Beach fireworks celebration may be canceled—again—but that does not mean Independence Day celebrations on Long Island are ruined. Look on the bright side. There are a variety of exciting events that Long Islanders can flock to on the Fourth, without the intolerable after-fireworks traffic that can clog up the South Shore. So, let’s take a trip back in time before Jones Beach was even a twinkle in Robert Moses’ eye.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, called Sagamore Hill, his “summer White House” in Oyster Bay, from 1885 to 1919. On the Fourth of July, Roosevelt gathered friends and family for a celebration of a holiday that was very dear to him. Today, 92 years after his death, families and friends still keep Roosevelt’s spirit alive and celebrate the Fourth of July at Sagamore Hill.

“We get 2,000 to 2,500 people every year,” says Josh Reyes, public information officer at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. “The celebration dates back to Roosevelt and his family, and it is something that the local community has embraced.”

TR, portrayed by James Foote, will give a momentous speech on the porch and greet Sagamore visitors as they take in games, patriotic music, and equestrian reenactments. The celebration is free, and runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

And it’s not the only historical haunt on the Island partying it up on the Fourth. For close to 40 years, Long Islander’s have traveled to the Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Bethpage for a fun, family-friendly, Fourth of July history lesson. This year’s celebration, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., re-creates a Long Island July 4th celebration in 1861, the first year of the Civil War, with band concerts, fiddle music, children’s games, musket firings and a patriotic parade and ceremony.

“One of the wonderful things about the Old Bethpage Village Restoration is that it is a family friendly environment,” said Christine Scott, a costumes organizer at the Restoration. “It’s beautiful out here and nice and quiet. If you want to sip root beer and listen to music, this is what you are able to do. You go by your own speed.”

The Restoration also features 19th century baseball games, where players don old-time uniforms and follow the original rules of the game, including not using gloves. Ouch!

“People love the baseball,” said Scott. “The players really get into it.”

But way before the backyard barbecue commences and before you head over to Old Bethpage and Sagamore Hill, the Historical Society of the Merricks is giving everyone the opportunity to utter the indelible words of the Declaration of Independence.

“I think there is great significance articulating what is in the Declaration,” said Lawrence Garfinkel, president of the Historical Society of the Merricks. “It is very important to listen to the words, and this is what we do.”

The reading will commence at 10 a.m., and every attendee, young and old, will receive a copy of the Declaration of Independence and have an opportunity to read a line. It will last about an hour. This annual reading has been taking place for more than 30 years. This year you can be part of the patriotic tradition at the Merrick Gazebo.

And if you want to keep your Fourth a little more low key, or closer to home, you can always have a picnic or a barbecue in the park—or in your own backyard—and enjoy town fireworks across the Island and even over the water as they light up the night sky.

So, lather on that suntan lotion, pack your cooler and celebrate America’s independence the best way you know how, even if that means sleeping on a hammock in your backyard all day. Don’t worry, the fireworks will eventually wake you up.