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Rosewell: Gloucester County's Colonial Ruins~ Part One
By Zachary J. Loesch

     INTRODUCTION

     The Rosewell ruins site in Gloucester County, Virginia, is open to the general public from April through October each year from two o'clock to five o'clock every Sunday afternoon. This visitation time is sponsored by the Rosewell Preservation Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Rosewell as a historical monument. Last year I devoted a number of Sunday afternoons to volunteer work as an archeological site laborer and tour guide. Visitors to Rosewell were grateful for any information I could share with them and this encouraged me to read up a bit on the history of Rosewell mansion and its most famous residents, Virginia's illustrious Page family. It has given me great happiness to meet with people from all walks of life and from many different parts of our country who bring to Rosewell a genuine interest in Colonial and Early National Period history. Many nice local area residents also come regularly to revisit the site. Whether from nearby or far away many guests arrive with little or no knowledge about the family that built and resided within the walls of this ancient structure. The silent ruins bear witness in mute testimony to the accomplishments of Gloucester County's Page family and the activities of a great plantation estate in a bygone era. Even some local residents are unaware that one of Virginia's first governors during the Early National Period came from Rosewell and was one of Gloucester County's leading citizens. Not too long ago I didn't either.

     I have in the past worked as a historical interpreter in costume at a Colonial Williamsburg crafts display shop, my first job after high school years ago. More recently I was employed for a time at the Yorktown Victory Center where I gave variations on the same orientation lecture four times an hour eight hours a day. In 1990 I worked on the project to build the ship Susan Constant at Jamestown, Virginia. Born in the borough of Queens, New York, my interest in Colonial and Early National Period history began in childhood as a young resident of the New England states of Rhode Island and Connecticut where, like Virginia, a number of old buildings may be seen. I recall the village of Lebanon, Connecticut where Governor Trumble resided during the Revolutionary times and afterward. In a rural area of southern Rhode Island I was struck by the fact that many of my schoolmates were descendants of black slaves held by the socially prominent Hazard and Perry families, children my age whose families presumably suffered the same indignities of slavery as bad as anything seen in the South during the earliest times of our nation's history. While in Rhode Island our family resided in an ancient farmhouse where brick sidewalks and bits of old glass and pottery were often brought to light in the course of routine garden work. Like Rosewell, my childhood home was haunted. I've not written anything in this paper concerning this aspect of Rosewell's folklore but must refer readers to L. B. Taylor's book entitled, The Ghosts of Tidewater. Nor have I considered the persistent rumors of an escape tunnel beneath Rosewell leading down towards the creek, rumors I feel were inspired by evidence of brick rainwater drainage tunnels, which certainly do exist and have been excavated by volunteer archaeologists. Perhaps the underground passageway truly once existed and is now lost to time, as so much of Rosewell is. I cannot comment with any certainty. Legends of treasure buried by the shore also may be found in the traditional folklore of the Rosewell estate, but do not feature in this paper. I attended Gloucester County High School in the early 1970's. In May of 1983 I took a B.A. degree in English literature from Old Dominion University at Norfolk. This same school awarded me an M.A. in Humanities in August of 1990. While in collage I developed an interest in the Colonial and Early National Period German language printers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. To conclude this autobiographical statement allow me to comment that I have lived in Virginia over half my life and with time have come to love the state.

     Gloucester County is located on the edge of the greater Hampton Roads metropolitan area and has grown rapidly in population during the past thirty years as suburban neighborhoods were built and new communities were interspersed among the older country villages which continued to grow. The plantation or farmed estate and an agricultural way of life now exists side-by-side with suburban tract development. In the southern and most developed area of the county Colonial and Civil War Era earthwork structures, landmarks for many generations, are now proudly featured in a public park, Tyndall's Point Wayside by Route 17 at Gloucester Point. Another earthwork structure, a star-shaped redoubt of some sort, serves as a parking lot at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Powhatan's Chimney, a Colonial brick hearth reputedly built by early British colonists for the Indian Emperor, is now the centerpiece of a suburban community named in its honor. 

     Parenthetically, I sometimes wonder what might be seen at the suburban development given the name Stonehenge, located just a few miles from Rosewell. The Rosewell Preservation Foundation was established to fashion a different fate for the mansion ruins. It is my opinion that the site must continue to develop as a museum facility if it is not to be engulfed by the residential community certain to develop nearby. The public elementary and middle school tour groups from the Gloucester County school system demonstrate how valuable use of the site may be made in public service. In addition, for the past several years an Archeological Week observance during the month of October has been celebrated with an exhibit of artifacts at Rosewell. 
     
     The Colonial Era heritage of Virginia is a national treasure, a legacy for all Americans to share. It saddens me to realize that the acreage held by the Rosewell Preservation Foundation does not include a small section of waterfront property where the brick foundations of several Colonial Era storage buildings, perhaps tobacco warehouses, may be located. Similarly, the Foundation property does not include the famous Rosewell spring that the estate was named for. Having noted that, it must be observed that the Foundation has done excellent work in clearing vegetation, repairing masonry, and in sponsoring archeological surveys at the site. It is my dream that Rosewell's front gardens might someday be excavated then restored as accurately as possible to its original appearance. More modestly one might wish for a permanent exhibit in the archeologist's trailer on the property.

© 2001 Zachary Loesch All Rights Reserved.
 


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