Maymont Mansion is one of the most complete, authentic Victorian houses anywhere.The day we visited was absolutely beautiful, if a little chilly. According to our guide, over 90% of all the furnishings currently in the house belonged to the original and only owners, James and Sallie Dooley, who donated the land and structures to the City of Richmond upon their deaths in 1925. It sat vacant and deteriorating for quite a few years, since the bequest didn’t include funds for upkeep. In the 1970’s, we were told, the full estate, including the mansion, was finally restored and opened to the public. It is truly a thing of beauty – You really do feel like you’re time traveling back to the late 1800s while touring the house, with the owners’ belongings still there as if they might return from a stroll around the grounds at any minute.
The House is set in the middle of 70 acres of cultivated grounds, landscaped gardens, and architectural complex consisting of the carriage house/garage, stables, barn, and menagerie compounds.
There’s something interesting around every corner: a gazebo, a mausoleum . . .
You can see the Richmond Carillon in the distance.
The library is the first room on your right when you enter the house.
Mrs. Dooley’s first parlor (There are two.), called the “Pink Parlor” by the guides, is a subtle pink, with beautiful sculptures and furniture everywhere. The light streaming in from outside added to the magical quality of the room.
The dining room is opulent any time of the year, but it was set for the holidays when we visited, so all I can say is Wow!
A Louis XIV grandfather clock sits in the anteroom between the parlors and the grand staircase.
Sallie Dooley definitely had a thing for swans. This bedroom, while completely furnished with her things, especially the custom-made swan bed, was actually used by her at the couple’s other estate, Swannanoa, which was built in 1912. It was where she actually lived for several years following James’s death.
The whole house is filled with Tiffany stained glass. The rooms have transom stained glass panes that are color coordinated to the wall coverings and furnishings. (No expense was spared in this place, for sure.) There are also several full-sized stained glass panels, curiously religious in nature, but custom made according to the Dooleys’ specifications.
Below stairs, we took a self-guided tour of the kitchens, pantries, butler’s quarters, laundry, and wine cellar. We watched a series of short videos about the servants and the daily working of a grand estate in 1890s Richmond. It was surprisingly factual, with not too much glossing over of working conditions, wages, and racial issues that influenced life at Maymont until 1925.
Finally, the menagerie compound should be mentioned, because while it was a historically accurate part of the Dooley estate, during a time when people of means apparently kept exotic animals in some kind of ostentatious display of wealth and disregard for the innate liberty of wild animals. I really think it is wrong to still hold animals there in considerably less than appropriate conditions. (It currently consists of enclosures housing a bear, several bison, black bears, a bobcat, deer, a gray fox, as well as several raptors and vultures). Instead, It would be a great idea to have statues of the kinds of animals once held there during the Dooleys’ lifetime, with commentary on the social significance of having such a menagerie and why it just isn’t appropriate today.