Rose Hill: The bloom is back

If you go

What: Trinity Episcopal Church’s 55th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour
When: Oct. 15-16
Where: Three homes are on the tour (11 to 5 Saturday, 1 to 5 Sunday), with tea served at the Middleton Inn, Main Street in Washington.
Tickets: $30 (includes tea), available at Trinity Parish Hall, Gay Street, Washington. Individual houses can be visited for $10. Call Helen Williams at 540-937-4279 for more information.

By Helen Williams
Special to the Rappahannock News
Rose Hill, a Civil War-era brick home on U.S. 211, will be opening its doors to the public for the first time in more than 50 years on Oct. 15-16 for the Trinity Episcopal Church’s 55th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour.

Owner Dwight Dunton Jr. and Claudia Ross have been working for eight years – renewing wiring and plumbing, pointing bricks, replacing and painting trim, and finally, decorating the interior – to bring the home back to its original glory. No one but those two or an expert could know about the termite damage, stone foundation repair, fallen-in ceilings, monster cobwebs and other assorted rehab challenges which, thankfully, are now only memories (albeit terrifying ones).

A slideshow of the “before” pictures will be playing during the tour, so visitors can see for themselves how much work was needed to make Rose Hill a showcase once more.

Rose Hill has always had a place in Rappahannock’s history, since it was the headquarters of Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks in 1862, and the birthplace of Elizabeth Lane Slaughter, mother of one of the VMI cadets killed in the Battle of New Market. Early in the 20th century, boxwood cuttings from Rose Hill made their way to the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

In 1957, the Rappahannock County Garden Club included Rose Hill and its outbuildings on its last house tour. Since then, Rose Hill has been a sleeping Cinderella, with the greenery shielding the house from the road more and more each year, waiting for a prince (and princess) to bring her back to life.

THE DINING ROOM at Rose Hill. Photo by Piers Freezer.
THE DINING ROOM at Rose Hill. Photo by Piers Freezer.

New life begins in the center front hall, with the graceful staircase and its handmade banister leading the eye upward. To the left is the library, its original fireplace topped with a magnificent mirror and flanked by matching sofas. The dramatic three-tone grey color scheme accents the bookcases on the fireplace wall, and the bar is made from wood from a walnut tree cut down by Dwight and his father when Dwight was a teenager. Dwight has carried this wood around all of these years. When the carpenter, Andrew Freezer, was asked to build a bar for the library, the walnut was a natural.

Near the bar is an antique French baker’s rack, newly renovated and filled with intriguing books and mementos. An ornate crystal chandelier highlights the octagonal ceiling.

To the right of the center hall is the living room. The original fireplace and curio cabinet on the far wall draw the eye, and the paintings and prints, inherited from family or collected for their relation to the house and area, contribute to the Victorian style. An interesting 1861 print of the Louisiana Zouaves in military costume points to the legend that members of the troop stayed in the house during the Civil War.

Down the center hall is the dining room, with its massive chests and silver decor making an impressive whole. The china and crystal in the built-in cupboard, the horticultural drawings in large mirrored frames, and the intricate chandelier over the round oak table that opens to seat 16 – all set the tone of a gracious era. The kitchen is new, with glass-fronted white cabinets, black granite counters and dazzling overhead lighting.

The house has an interesting second level, divided by the two-story center hall. On the front side of the house are two guest bedrooms, one severe and dignified – a muted cream, black and tan color scheme, with a large sleigh bed of black leather and cherry – while the other, called the “Oo-la-la” room by the family, is decidedly feminine, with a burnt salmon color scheme, fabric headboard, dressing table with flowered skirt and intricate silver mirror. Between the two bedrooms, on the landing, is a large sofa, making a comfortable place to relax and read, or a perch to look out over the green lawns and sedate old trees of the yard and gardens.

BEDROOM SWEET: Mirrored chests provide the visual excitement and the dark wood bed adds weight in the master bedroom at Rose Hill; two tea carts serve as nightstands. Photo by Piers Freezer.
BEDROOM SWEET: Mirrored chests provide the visual excitement and the dark wood bed adds weight in the master bedroom at Rose Hill; two tea carts serve as nightstands. Photo by Piers Freezer.

The master bedroom suite is on the back side of the house, up a separate half staircase. A brand new bathroom and a tiny bedroom called the nursery (or dressing room) are on either side of the bedroom. Two mirrored chests provide the visual excitement here, while the dark wood bed provides the weight. Two different types of tea carts serve as nightstands. In every room, paintings and prints finish off the decor and add to the effect.

Outside, Dwight and Claudia are slowing reclaiming the gardens. Stone walls have been uncovered and repaired, trees pruned and mulched, the two-level porch of the east side renewed and refurnished. Downstairs, the porch is screened, with a charming place for dining and relaxing. Upstairs, the porch is open and has a wonderful view of the property.

Eight years of thought, hard work and money spent are finally coming to fruition, but if, as Dwight says, “we are getting it ready for the next hundred years, not just the next generation,” then visitors will certainly attest that it was a worthwhile effort.

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