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History on display at Rotherwood's bicentennial celebration

Katherine Scoggins • Sep 17, 2018 at 4:30 PM

The evening of Saturday, Sept. 1, was a very special day for some of us as we gathered at Rotherwood Mansion to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Rotherwood looked particularly beautiful with sparkling crystal, gorgeous flowers, several rooms with newly-painted walls and trim, and books and pages of history from Rotherwood’s last approximately 200 years.

Rooms of the mansion featured historical notes: their original purpose, any modification, current purpose, including structural and/or cosmetic changes, and an information packet of upgrades and changes to the homes (interior and exterior) over the years. It was amazing to read the amount of effort that has gone into updating the house, not only to make it beautiful, but also to make it safer, more structurally sound and, in many cases, more historically accurate.

View a beautiful Tim Mullen gallery of Rotherwood photos

One of the favorite points of interest of the home was the mural in the front hallway. Researched and painted by Bertina Dew, the mural features landmarks, individuals and historical elements all leading up to the establishment of Rotherwood and, subsequently, Kingsport.

After some time spent touring the house and reading about its history, it was time for cake. A beautiful and delicious strawberry cake and chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were served, and birthday cards and letters were read. There was a collection of sonnets, written for the occasion by former City Manager Ray Griffin, read and presented to the home's current owner and our host, Dr. Lenita Thibault.

There was also a beautiful plaque presented by Melissa Roberts, general manager of the Symphony of the Mountains, expressing the Symphony’s appreciation and gratitude for Dr. Thibault’s gracious support of the Symphony activities, including numerous events held at Rotherwood over recent years. Burton Bumgarner then gathered everyone for a toast to the next 200 years.

Following more cake and wine, guests were seated in the Music Room for a solo concert on a Steinway Grand Piano and Harpsichord by Bob Greene, and a concert by the string quartet, Tensegrity, composed of members of Jonesborough's Lugo family: Cameron, David, Jonathan and Natalie. The ensemble performs a diverse repertoire from Baroque to Bluegrass at various performance venues throughout the East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region and beyond.

Friends attending the celebration included Carol Soloman (Atlanta, Ga.), Burton and Cathy Bumgarner (Hendersonville, N.C.) Dr. Dave and DeMette Ginn, Pete and Ann Holler, Melissa Roberts, Jenny Smith, Alan and Sheena Hunter (Summerville, S,C,), Alice Keithie Knowles (Black Mountain, N.C.), Dr. Pat and Beth Flannagan, Jordan and Andrea Pennington, Charles Webb, Dr. Ralph Lugo, and Dr. Art and Charlotte Ellis.

Music performed was from the 1800s, and several of the hors d’oeuvres and beverages were also authentic to the 1800s as well. Dr. Lenita Thibault and DeMette Ginn were both clothed in traditional Regency dress.

As guests departed from this living history lesson, they were each given a silver julep cup, etched with “Rotherwood” and the dates 1818-2018.

Rotherwood: A Brief History

Early 1800s: David Ross bought much of the land in anticipation of settling the area. After his death, a son Frederick A. Ross bought his siblings’ shares of the land and moved to the area.

1818: Frederick A. Ross built Rotherwood I, a white stucco over brick house that was situated across Netherland Inn Road from the current mansion.

Rotherwood II (current mansion) was basically completed in three stages:

* The north one-third of the house (a two- story structure), which is closest to Netherland Inn Road, was built around 1818. It may have been used by F. A. Ross and his architects as housing while Rotherwood I was being completed. It fronted Netherland Inn Road.

* There was a separate, parallel house, the south one-third (also a two-story structure) that was probably built around 1820 or so. It is unknown why there were two parallel houses, although there is evidenced by indentations in the brick where knives were sharpened. These two houses may have been used by the plantation overseer. The old roof lines are clearly visible at the back of the house. Portions of the old roofs can also be seen from the third floor.

* By about 1845, the two separate houses were joined into the current house, but without the porch or front columns. The third floor is only over the middle area where the houses are joined.

1847: F.A. Ross sold most of his property to his plantation overseer, Joshua Phipps. The Phipps took up residence at Rotherwood II. They never lived in Rotherwood I. The Rosses remained at Rotherwood I for a while. Rotherwood I was then rented out, but burned in 1865. Some say the fire was accidental, others say it was set by Yankee stragglers.

1906: Rotherwood II and surrounding land was sold to Holston Farms, which was controlled by George L. Carter. Jim Dobyns moved into Rotherwood II. About this time, the brick porch and white columns were added to the front.

About ten years later, Rotherwood II was acquired by John B. Dennis, who renovated the mansion, putting in electricity by 1921. A few years later he added a new kitchen area (the one-story projection beside the north, or oldest portion of the house) and built the current guest house. The latter was built for his servants, the parents of Jill Ellis.

World War II: John B. Dennis sold the house to the U. S. Army during the war. It was used as officers’ quarters during that time. Dennis had the option to buy the house back after the war, which he did, and then sold it to Herbert Stone, a vice-president at Eastman.

1945 to early 1980s: The Stones resided at Rotherwood II until the early 1980s. The house was subsequently sold at auction in 1984 to Sam Pickering, who died a year after acquiring the property. The house was sold again at auction in 1987 to Roger Baugh who, in the one and a half years before he died, worked on the grounds and outside of the house (including the infamous but now filled in “pond” in the front yard.) The guest house was renovated by Baugh as well, though very little renovation was done to the mansion.

1991: Dr. Lenita Thibault bought the mansion in June of that year. Almost seven years later, after extensive work and renovation, she was able to begin living in the mansion.

In other recent happenings...

Earlier in the month, H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Potential Evolve) held its signature fundraiser. The theme was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” hosted at Taylored Events in Downtown Kingsport. The food and settings were very elegant and creative, but the dancing and contests... So funny! I had several friends among the guests: Sharon Duncan, Ashley Cooper, Amory Mott, Bobby Mott, Lorrie Cooper and Scott Cooper. Miles of pearls and bling - for the ladies AND the men. Some pretty snazzy socks, too! Thanks for being such great sports!

Katherine Scoggins is a Sunday Stories columnist who highlights local happenings and community organizations twice a month in Out & About with Katherine.

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