Rockwell House

Rockwell House
The cast-iron fence in front of the Rockwell House is reported to have cost $2,600 when it was new while the house cost $2,500. The story is told that when Colonel Rockwell heard the cost of the fence, he had a heart attack. There are no markings on the fence as to where it came from. One source says London, England. Many historians believe the fence to have been cast in Milledgeville. It has been attributed to the Dugal Fern and Brothers Foundry.

This magnificent home was built in 1838 for Colonel Samuel Rockwell in Milledgeville, Georgia. The ideal location for a house during the antebellum period was thought to be in the middle of a grove of trees at an appropriate distance from the road on the crest of a hill. The home was built by architect Joseph Lane Sr., whom Rockwell brought with him from Maine. Lane also designed buildings at nearby Oglethorpe University.

Rockwell House

The Rockwell House consists of eight rooms along with a front and rear foyer on both levels. The front porch greets visitors with steep steps and towering columns. The risers of the steps had to be replaced off and on by the owners of the house one by one until the last original one was replaced in 1971. The amount of labor that went into constructing this home is astounding. Each piece of lumber was hand cut. An unusual feature of the house is the spiral staircase. It is believed to be a copy of the chaperone stairways standard in homes of this period. As a rule, these stairways were not as elegant as this one though. The Rockwell House was constructed using a notch and peg system. The only use of nails was in the weatherboarding on the exterior and in the slats used to the hold plaster inside. The same notch and peg system were used to build the slave quarters and carriage house at the rear of the house.

Rockwell House
Rockwell House, February 2017

Samuel Rockwell was the 7th generation of the Rockwell family in America. He was born in 1788 in Albany, New York. Rockwell moved from Maine to Georgia in 1834. He was a slaveholder and a member of the Georgia Militia. Before his law practice in Milledgeville, Rockwell served as an attorney in Savannah. He served as Inspector of the 3rd Division and Adjutant General under General Sanford during the Creek Indian War in 1836. He was also on the building committee for the first buildings at the State Lunatic Asylum in Milledgeville, later renamed Central State Hospital.

Rockwell Mansion
The exact origin of the woodwork is a mystery. Museum experts say the woodwork came from New England.
Rockwell Mansion
The oval spiral staircase begins on the eastern wall and curves against the wall to the second floor.
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Sometime in the 1920s, the solid mahogany railings and spindles of the staircase were painted white.

Col. Rockwell and his family occupied the Rockwell House for only a short period due to his untimely death in 1841. Records indicate Oliver Hillhouse Prince purchased the home after Rockwell’s death. Mr. Prince and his wife lived in the house for two years. While returning from a trip to New England, the couple was lost at sea during a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. Later, Hershel V. Johnson purchased the property. In 1853, Johnson became Governor and used the residence as his summer home. It was not unusual back in those days for citizens to own homes in Milledgeville and also have another summer home nearby.

Rockwell House
The second floor back hallway with the less intricate woodwork.
Rockwell House
The back staircase from the second floor to the attic.

Rockwell Mansion

In the following years, numerous merchants and farmers owned the Rockwell House. Mr. Marshall Bland purchased the house in 1904 and lived there until 1915. The Blands moved out for a year in 1910 when Mr. Bland believed he sold the house. A man from out of state wanted to buy the house and paid Mr. Bland a deposit. The man never returned to take possession of the house, so the family moved back into the house in 1911. Mr. Bland sold the house to his cousin, Oscar Ennis, who occupied the home with his family until 1962. Dr. Robert Watson purchased the home in 1967. Dr. Watson began work to restore the home until tragedy struck. In August 1969, while removing paint with a blow torch, workers set fire to an upstairs portion of the house.

Rockwell Mansion
The woodwork details on the staircase are hand carved.

In 1969, through efforts of numerous groups, the dining room of the Rockwell House was selected for the Winterthur Museum near Wilmington, Delaware. The museum was able to purchase the room after the fire. The money from the sale went towards repairs on the house. What the museum purchased was the black marble mantle, the woodwork, and impressions of the plaster around the ceiling medallion. The woodwork included two sliding panel doors that were between the living and dining room and all of the door facings along with the wainscoting. However, the owner would not sell the pine floor. The room was reassembled to create a ‘historically accurate’ room known as the Georgia Room in their museum.

Rockwell Mansion
The northwest room where the woodwork was removed for the Henry DuPont Winterthur Museum in Delaware.
Rockwell Mansion
The upstairs front hall replicates the trim of the downstairs front entrance hall. The paneled double doors open to the balcony.

There are many stories and rumors about the Rockwell House, including a tale of gold buried in the vicinity of the house. The house stands today thanks to the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Ogden. A local man planned to buy the home and sell the valuable doors and mantles out of it. Mr. Ogden was able to buy the house. A renovation has been underway since 1971 to restore the Rockwell House. However, very little has changed over the last several decades. The base of the columns on the front porch was originally wood, and now they are concrete. The front porch buttresses were initially wooden before being replaced with brick.

Rockwell Mansion
Looking out between the massive Greek Revival columns onto the front yard from the second-floor balcony
Rockwell Mansion
The ornate woodwork is in the front foyer on the two main doors and on the foyer of the upstairs main doors. Also, the ornate woodwork is contained to only the living and what was the dining room. The other rooms have a simpler pattern.

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The Rockwell House was purchased in 2019 by three investors, led by Ross Sheppard, a realtor in Atlanta who specializes in historic preservation. Sheppard credits his consultant, Kyle Campbell with Preservation South in Greenville, South Carolina, for managing the tax credit application process and providing general preservation consulting. You can follow the restoration progress of the Rockwell House on the Rockwell House blog and on Facebook.

Rockwell House

Rockwell Mansion

In February 2021, I was invited back to the Rockwell House to photograph the restoration. I was thrilled to be back and see the huge amount of work Ross and his team have accomplished over the last two years.

Rockwell House
Rockwell House, February 2021

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

Rockwell House

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Rockwell House

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13 Replies to “Rockwell House”

  1. My boyhood friend Buddy Ennis lived in this house in the 40’s and 5o’s, his Dad
    Was Marion Ennis a local attorney. My self and Marion Bonner lived within sight
    Of the house, on Allen Memorial drive, played in the beautiful yard many hours.
    Pete May, Augusta, Ga

    Like

  2. Taught at GMC for several years in the 1960’s and drove by the house many times. Problem with old houses is the cost of maintenance and utilities. Learned my lesson with an 1883 Victorian here in Savannah.

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    1. Hi John…My name is Heidi and I am seriously considering the purchase of a Victorian sometime in the next year or two. You have my interest with your comments. Sounds like there’s some not too pleasant discoveries in going through with “this little dream”! Would love too hear a bit about it!

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      1. Heidi, Looks as though I failed to send this email. If anything I can help you out with, let me know. I do have a lot of experience with old houses.

        John A. Brown

        Savannah GA

        912-844-1914

        Like

      2. Hi, sorry for such a late reply. The 1883 house i purchased and restored in 1974-75 was quite a lot of work. Luckily I was able to rent the upstairs and the carriage house to help cover the cost of all the maintenance and utilities over the next 20 years. I sold it in 1995 for $215,000. The owners did some work on the house over the next 25 years, mainly on the upstairs bathrooms, repainting and replacing kitchen floor. You can look it up on zillow with the address of 22 East Gwinnett ST. Savannah GA 31401. The photographs were quite impressive although my furniture was much more appropriate. I have been restoring another house at 206 East Gwinnett for the past 25 years and is an ongoing project. I am having the exterior painted and some weatherboards replaced. This started October 1 and is costing approximately $30,000. Recently had front steps replaced at $9,000, HVAC system worked over at $21,000 and roof replaced at $22,000, upstairs plaster work repaired and painted at $12,000. It really adds up as you can see. There are beautiful old homes available but in rather undesirable towns and neighborhoods.
        Bes of luck,
        John

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  3. Is the home for sale or does anyone know? I’ve been looking for a home to restore and eventually move into. Homes like this have such beauty and need to be restored. Please let me know if this is for sale or if you know of any other mansions buyable if this one isn’t. Thank you. 😊

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