Living at Rose Hill
10 Jul 2008
July 10, 2008,
The Ellington family from Kentucky came to visit us.
Jim Ellington(on right in photo) is the nephew of John and Betsy Gould Sturgeon who owned this house from 1946-1978. Jim's mother Elizabeth (now in her 90's) is John Sturgeon's sister. When Jim was in college in the early 1960's (attending Armstrong State in Savannah) he lived here with his aunt and uncle at Rose Hill Plantation. He and his family have been coming to Hilton Head on vacation for many years and, after seeing our ad in a local magazine, called to inquire about touring the inside of Rose Hill, which they had not seen since before the fire.
It was remarkable to meet someone directly related to the Sturgeons - someone who knew them personally. Jim was able to answer many questions that I've had over the years concerning their time here. He helped his uncle and Mr. Ben Aiken ( the handyman) do chores in exchange for his stay here. He remembered a giant Live Oak with limbs that touched the ground that he would have to maneuver around with his mower. During his time here the oyster shell drive still wrapped around Mirror Lake and continued out to the front gate at Hwy78. In the years after Mr. Sturgeon had died, this gate was heavily guarded by a bit of an eccentric character - a local man who was very loyal to Mr. Sturgeon. I guess this was Rose Hill's very first security guard? :-)
Jim's bedroom was one of the smaller back bedrooms that overlooked the marsh - now my bathroom. He said that in those days the doorway to this room had access to the back stairs only and afforded privacy for him to come and go without disturbing anyone. Prior to his stay with the Sturgeons, this had been the butler's bedroom. The butler was a Gullah man from Ridgeland named "Push". Rose Hill had a staff of 3 during Jim's time here - a cook and 2 maids. He remembered that these 3 Ridgeland ladies would all ride to work together each day in a white station wagon. He remembered asking permission to lunch with these ladies one day, since he preferred their "down home" cooking to the more formal dinners that the Sturgeon's enjoyed.
He remembered his aunt's porcelain Doughty bird collection, the silver closet and the servant's paging system in the butler's pantry, the dumbwaiter, the antique Chinese wallpaper that once graced the walls of the dining room, and the beautiful double-tiered chandelier that once hung in the entryway. This was a home worthy of a double page feature in Vogue magazine in 1955. (Photos of the wall paper and the shaft from the chandelier are shown in the Sturgeon photo gallery - see Histor IV from main menu.)
His uncle loved to hunt and had about 15 to 20 deer hounds on property and raised spaniels as well. The grounds were stocked with pheasant and quail, which were hunted for sport. He also stocked wild turkeys, but noone was allowed to hunt them. Betsy was an avid equestrian with the same passion for horses as the Kirk women the century before. Jim said that Mr. Sturgeon would've loved our gentlemen's room with all the mounts and hunt mantel, etc. Our parlor had been a library for Mrs. Sturgeon, who would sometimes give teas and luncheons for local ladies. The planter's office ( wood paneled back then) was Mr. Sturgeon's study and a room that was very much off limits to everyone. The conservatory was filled with plants and relaxed furnishings, just like today. The house had all cedar lined closets.
Mrs. Sturgeon's bedroom and bath was the first room at the top of the stairs. I showed him what was left of his aunt's elaborate bathroom mantel that I am hoping to one day restore for that room. There was once a connecting doorway between her room and Mr. Sturgeon's bedroom. The bathroom for his bedroom was in the same spot that our library's bath now occupies. Our library was a sleeping porch back then. The other two bedrooms beyond had very different wall configurations than today. We didn't have plans or photos to go by during our restoration, so we placed walls in the area around where the chimney had collapsed, which created a space for a 5th upstairs bathroom and a sitting room to the side of the bedrooms as well.
Jim had answers for so many questions that I've puzzled about over the past 13 years. There wasn't enough time that day to ask everything of course, so they have promised to stay in touch and come back again. As they were leaving, he stood on the front porch looking out in the direction of what is now the polo field and the surrounding neighborhood of Polo Estates. He said that in those days there was a field of hay out there as far as you could see and it was dark enough at night to see the stars and as quiet as a whisper.
The Sturgeon's enjoyed those jeweled days before development, when Rose Hill was changing from a working plantation into a country estate. Farming was no longer a necessity, but more of a pleasurable pursuit and land was still affordable enough that privacy was never compromised. Hwy 278 was just a little road back then with hardly a passing car. This was the time that is often marked as "before the bridge". Bluffton was... very different than it is today. This was perhaps Rose Hill's most opulent of lifetimes when, for the very first time in its history, all of Rose Hill's construction (or rather reconstruction) was complete. It was a Rose Hill that John and Caroline had hoped to one day enjoy.
It was so good to have Mr. Ellington and his family come home. He even looks a bit like Mr. Sturgeon too, and I realize that he is probably as close as we will ever get to these fascinating people that I know we would've liked very much. Wow, glad we ran that ad!
Here is another Rose Hill family - The Sturgeons. John and Betsy Gould (1946 - 1978) and their nephew Jim Ellington who lived here in the early 1960s.
Rose Hill Plantation House
Since this visit, Jim Ellington has sent more memories of Rose Hill.
To read exerpts from his correspondence .....