Below the Stairs: Visiting Maymont Mansion

It’s not often that I get to be a tourist.  Even when we’re on tour, our schedule is so tight that we never get much time to explore.  Last weekend, during a personal trip to Richmond, I woke up feeling inspired.  I checked Trip Advisor and the thing to do in Richmond is tour Maymont.  The short history of this famous estate goes like this….

“During the Gilded Age of the late 1880s through the 1910s—the era of Carnegie, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt —millionaires demonstrated their prosperity through their elaborate homes. Richmond-born financier James Dooley was among this new class in American society. His home, Maymont, stands today as a remarkably complete expression of Gilded Age luxury and opulence.”

Opulence, it has!  Each room is decorated with worldly treasures, hand-carved chairs and bookcases, and even a vanity made from the ivory of Narwhals’ tusks.  A single serving of their finest dining set cost them $2800.  Just to put that in perspective for you, the average annual income for a man in 1900 was $591 (a woman was $254, but we’ll save my bitterness for gender gap pay for another post).  In summary, they had money and lots of it.  All of this extravagance and show-off glamour and glitz made me wonder… there has to be more to this story.

Afterall, this was the south just after the Civil War.  In fact, Dooley served in the Confederate Army.  Our tour of the mansion was all about the Dooleys’ accomplishments and their nauseatingly tacky things, with no speak of the “help”.  Even the kitchen was closed off from the tour.  I don’t think that was on purpose, but it did make me wonder about THEIR hidden stories.  For all of Dooley’s success, what did it really amount to?  Money.  Most of us will never know that amount of wealth.  They were a giving couple and for that, I respect them.  In fact, I came across an article online about a relative of former paid servants of the Maymont house.  “My mother came to work as assistant to the cook and there were five siblings who worked here with their mothers. I was able to go to college (from their works). I was the first person in my family to go to college.”  You can read more HERE.

All 100 acres was gifted to the city of Richmond so that tourists like me could marvel at its epic-ness.  Donations are suggested and I highly suggest visiting when you can.  It’s rare to find history untouched.


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