The ruins of Rosewell, one of the finest mansions built in the English colonies sit on the banks of the York River in Gloucester County, Virginia. Here, visitors may see the remains of the structure which has inspired poets and architects since Thomas Jefferson. Begun in 1725, Rosewell was home to the Page family for more than 100 years. John Page, grandson of the builder, attended William and Mary with Jefferson; and it was here that the two young patriots first began to explore what lay ahead for the emerging nation in which they would play such an important role.
Though altered by a later owner and ravaged by time and economic hardships, Rosewell was regarded as a place of grandeur and importance throughout the nineteenth century. Even in the lean years following the Civil War, parties and dances continued to be held in the Great Hall. But in 1916, the mansion succumbed to a tragic fire, leaving it as a magnificent shell.
When it was built, Rosewell was a testament to human achievement and an exemplar of the highest standard in Georgian design; as a ruin, it serves as a reminder that tragedy and decay are also part of the human story. Rosewell continues to speak to us of the extraordinary but temporary wealth generated by the demand for Virginia tobacco in the colonial period, and the degree to which meeting that demand made Gloucester County part of a worldwide economy. The mansion’s present state asks us to consider how transitory the wealth built on such shaky foundations could be.
What remains of the mansion are the four chimneys, the east wall with its magnificent compass-headed window and carved keystone, the wine cellar, and enough of the walls that one may still perceive the fine proportions and grand scale of this unique structure. The fourth and last family to own Rosewell donated the ruins site to the Gloucester Historical Society in 1979. Since 1995, the Rosewell Foundation has been dedicated to preserving and interpreting this historic ruin.
In the 1960’s and 70’s Rosewell was falling apart and overgrown with vegetation. But with the dedication of many history enthusiasts, the site has been cleared, trees replanted, the graves moved to Abingdon Episcopal Church for safekeeping, and the walls stabilized with iron girders. We have also undertaken many archeological digs, recovered artifacts, and built a beautiful Visitors center telling the Rosewell Story. The blueprint gives us a plan to continue our stabilization work.
The economic collapse in 2007 – 2008 have proven to be a real hardship on the foundation. We had to reduce the size of our staff, lost our Executive Director, slow down the pace of our restoration work, and develop a new organizational model. We are debt free, but now have limited funds for restoration. We are regrouping to raise funds for further stabilization of the ruins and care for the grounds.
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