The Rose Hill Plantation House has gone through the Civil War, neglect, and fire, and several different owners—but has survived and continues to be used as a private residence today.
A Brief Timeline
- 1718: Rose Hill Plantation, once part of Devil’s Elbow Barony, is granted to Sir John Colleton by King Charles II.
- 1850s: Construction on the Rose Hill house is started in the late 1850s by planter and physician, Dr. John Kirk and his wife Caroline.
- 1860s: The work is halted by the Civil War as John and Caroline seek refuge in Grahamville, South Carolina. Although the house is occupied after the war, the economy makes it impossible to complete the interior. Letters written between 1803 and 1868 reveal the pathos and tragedy of the Kirk family history.
- 1946: John and Betsy Gould Sturgeon purchase the house and employ prominent architect Willis Irvin to direct the completion of the house in a highly sophisticated manner.
- 1955: Vogue Magazine publishes a feature story on the house, with photos of the furnished interior.
- 1980: The Rose Hill Plantation Development Co. (the Welton family) purchases the land for development of a planned residential community. In 1983, the Rose Hill Plantation House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the efforts of Iva Welton. The house is opened to the public for tours, and an extensive rehabilitation of the house is completed in 1986.
- 1987: A major fire causes devastating damage to the entire house. The copper roof melts and caves in, and the entire 2nd floor and attic are gutted.
- 1990s: The copper roof was replaced and the porch’s posts are redesigned to the Kirk’s original wood & Gothic look. Inside, only the central domed hall & spiral staircase are restored and painted. The rest of the house remains charred, in an unfinished state.
- 1996: Rose Hill Plantation House is purchased by the Middleton White Foundation and restored as a private home.
The Beginning: James Kirk
Rose Hill’s first known inhabitants were the Yemassee Indians, who were invited to settle here in the 17th century by Lord Cardoss, the leader of a Scottish settlement in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina.
The first titled owner of the land was the Barbadian planter Sir John Colleton, one of the eight original Lord Proprietors of Carolina (land granted to them by, and named after, King Charles II of England in 1718). Rose Hill was but a small piece of the 12,000 acre Colleton Neck Barony. (Colleton Neck Barony was also known as the “Devil’s Elbow” Barony because of the elbow shape of its source from Port Royal Sound around Spring Island and back into the backwaters).
In the 1750s, his grandson (also Sir John Colleton) began to put the family’s land to work raising cattle and growing corn, cotton and indigo.
The Civil War Era: Dr. John & Caroline Kirk
We are told that in 1830s, while John and Caroline were abroad on their wedding trip, they selected plans for their manor house and also selected a builder.
Construction began on Rose Hill sometime in 1858. It has been said that an architect named Dimmick designed the house, although we learned from family letters that he was actually the plantation’s overseer and perhaps only assisted in the building process. It was also thought that the mansion was built by E. B. White, the same man who built the nearby Church of the Cross (the only other Gothic building in the area – also built in the 1850s).
“Hidden in the Woods”: The Pinckneys, Walkers, Clements, Copes and Moores
The Kirk descendants held title to Rose Hill until approximately 1928. Thereafter, the plantation changed hands several times. The house had “stood for more than ninety years gaunt and half-completed, hidden in the woods and for long periods abandoned to the elements, known only to animal prowlers and passing huntsmen.”
Among the owners other than the Kirk descendants were William M. Wilson, William E. Pinckney, J.R. Walker, Bub Walker, & Joseph O. Pinckney. We have been told that tenant farmers lived in the unfinished house during some of those years. Recently, we have been visited by or in touch with members of several families who lived here during the early 20th Century, among them are the Clements family, the Walker family, the Cope family and the James Moore family.
Residency and Restoration: The Sturgeons
In 1946, John and Betsy Gould Sturgeon, III, purchased the house, situated on 1400 acres, and employed prominent architect Willis Irvin, Sr. (pictured right) to direct the completion of the house into an elegant home. During this restoration, the conservatory, which had originally been a bay window alcove that John Kirk replaced with a small music room for daughter Emily, was expanded to a large room filled with windows. The copper roof was sound, and Irvin “found original scaffolding still in place inside when he began the project.” He stayed “within the original style in his additions” and the finished interior reflected the sophisticated taste of Mrs. Sturgeon.
Rehabiliation: The Welton Corporation
Betsy Gould Sturgeon died in 1966. After John Sturgeon’s death in 1978, the estate was purchased, in 1981, by The Rose Hill Plantation Development Co., a joint venture of the Welton Corporation and Ontario Properties.
The company developed Rose Hill Plantation into a gated community of approximately 950 residential home sites that vary in size from patio lots to multi-acre tracts, an Equestrian Center, a golf course, and many amenities for the use of its residents. The plantation house was a showplace and focal point of this development.
Under the supervision of Mrs. Iva Roberts Welton, Director of Rose Hill Plantation House, a rehabilitation of the house was completed in 1985.
Drawn Out of the Fire: The Middleton-White Foundation
After the fire in 1987, most areas of the house were so totally damaged by the fire that a complete reconstruction of the interior would be required to make it safe and/or habitable.
The plantation house remained in this condition until 1996, when the Middleton-White Foundation, with Robert and Robin Sumners White as proprietors, purchased it and the surrounding 12 acres. The purchase agreement was signed on April 12, 1996 (Robin’s birthday) and one year later (April 12, 1997) after initial reconstruction had begun, Rusty and Robin were married in the conservatory.