21 Jul 2007
A brief history of the Rose Hill Plantation and the Mansion
by Robin White
plus - Robin's presentation at the unveiling of "the Marker"
Rose Hill Plantation was purchased in 1828 by a wealthy planter and local businessman, James Kirk, for whom Bluffton was named - once called Kirk's Bluff. James Kirk was the 2nd largest Sea Island cotton producer in St Luke's Parish and this plantation, just a small portion of his land holdings at the time, also produced this incredibly rich crop.
Rose Hill was given to his daughter Caroline and her husband (who was also her first cousin) Dr. John Kirk. Construction began on this Gothic Revival structure in the late 1850s, and so began the first lifetime for Rose Hill.
The Kirk family (John, Caroline and their two children Emily and William) were living in the home by December 1860 but had to flee to nearby Grahamsville until the end of The War Between the States. Caroline died in 1864, never to return to her beautiful home, but Dr. Kirk and his son did return here to live until John's death in the late 1860s. The Kirk family retained the home into the 20th century with several Kirk families occupying it throughout those years.
By the early part of next century, Rose Hill saw new ownership by families such as the Pinckneys and Walkers and even a few sharecropper families during the great depression.
In 1946, John and Betsy Gould Sturgeon bought Rose Hill and employed prominent architect Willis Irvin to complete the interior - in a very opulent manner. Rose Hill began yet another life.
In April 1955, Rose Hill was featured in Vogue magazine. John Sturgeon died in 1978, and shortly after the Welton family bought Rose Hill and began work on this planned community that surrounds us. Again, Rose Hill started another new life. Thanks to the research efforts of Iva Welton, this home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
In 1987 a fire almost completely destroyed the house - burning the roof and much of the interior. And the house sat for many years...just waiting...for another new life to begin. In April 1995, my husband and I were living in Atlanta and we needed a change. We saw an ad for the house in Historic Preservation magazine and quickly inquired about it, coming here to see it the very next month. The first time we walked through Rose Hill, the smell of fire was still very apparent and the home was in an uninhabitable state missing most of its floors, walls, ceilings, no wiring, no plumbing - just an outer structure in need of a great amount of work. The saying "love is blind" must be true, because all we saw that day was possibility and hope - the hope to start a new life here for ourselves and for Rose Hill.
So, on my birthday April 12, 1996, my husband bought Rose Hill and these 12 acres for me - and Rose Hill started yet another life. We began our restoration efforts. On my birthday April 12, 1997 (and the one year anniversary of buying this house), we were married here in the conservatory. Now, 10 years later, the restoration is finally complete. The phoenix has risen from its ashes.
Iva Welton once called this "the enduring land of Rose Hill" because this plantation has survived centuries of change - from a great war that divided our nation to the great depression and then later a fire that almost completely destroyed this beautiful home - an enduring symbol of the low country.
Rose Hill Plantation house was lovingly built, then restored and restored again by all the wonderful families who have cared for it throughout its lifetime. This marker is here to honor them and this historic structure.
A writer for the Savannah Morning News in 1946 wrote of this house, "A building out of medieval Europe, lofty, imposing, timeless and indestructible, sitting in Gothic splendor beside a low country coastal river - surely someone must have rubbed Aladdin's magic lamp by mistake. But when you blink your eyes and look again, it's still there."
And there it is indeed.
Rusty and I would like to thank Mr. Jody Henson and the Gen. Richard H. Anderson Camp #47 Beaufort Sons of Confederate Veterans for providing this historic marker for Rose Hill. We would also like to thank the Stephen Elliott Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the members of the 11th SC Vol Infantry, my brother Mark Sumners of the Hardee's Guard Battalion and his wife Nancy as well as my little cousin Taylor Sumners for dressing in period attire.
I would also like to thank the members of the Kirk family who have so graciously shown up today for this historic event: Ms Kathryn Kirk of Missouri - great, great grandaughter of Dr. John and Caroline; Mr. Bud Martin of VA; Mrs. Anne Heyward of Beaufort; Mrs. Cynthia Glendinning who lives right here in our Rose Hill community and Mrs. Fran Heyward Marsher who also lives in the Bluffton area.
Rusty and I would personally like to dedicate this marker to his father, Mr. Lewis Griffin White, who passed away on July 1st. L.G. was responsible for so much of the restoration in the early years - the most difficult years - and more recently enjoyed supervising this work just as often as he could get down here. He loved Rose Hill, and he would've been thrilled to be here today to see that his name is now permanently connected to this, his favorite project. Thank you all for coming to this very special and historic day for us and for Rose Hill Plantation.