Guest Author - Brenda Potter Reynolds
Bob Saunderson's eyes twinkle when he tells the story of a woman from another museum coming to visit Rose Hill Mansion.
"She watched the introductory video, but about halfway through, we started hearing all about her museum," he said. "You could tell that she thought that we were small-time compared to the one she worked in."
But midway through the tour, the woman had changed her tune. "She was impressed by some of our pieces, and even gave us a few tips about how to handle certain items."
It's not surprising that the guest soon decided that Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva is something special. This architectural gem overlooks Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region, and is considered an excellent example of Greek revival architecture.
The history of the mansion is equally impressive, if only for the highs and lows the building endured over the years, and the remarkable comeback that it experienced.
The property the mansion sits on was part of a military tract granted to Revolutionary War soldiers. The property changed hands five times from 1788 to 1792, when it was purchased by Dr. Alexander Coventry. Dr. Coventry soon sold the property to Robert Selden Rose, who constructed a basic house where the mansion now stands. In 1837, William Kerley Strong purchased the land, and built the mansion. The former house was moved north to become what is now the Reception Center. The kitchen, however, remained and was integrated into the mansion.
In 1850, Benjamin Swan bought the mansion for his son, Robert, as a wedding gift. Robert had apprenticed at a neighboring farm for a year, and with his new-found knowledge, he farmed the land with great success.
After Robert Swan's death in 1890, the mansion was bought and sold eight times in the next 70 years. In the later years of this time period, the house fell in disrepair.
Joseph N. Strong, a descendant of William Strong, purchased the house in 1960 with hopes of renovating it. Although he lacked the vast funds needed to restore it, he is credited with saving the building from further decay.
In 1965, Waldo Hutchins, Jr., grandson of Robert Swan, bought the house and donated it to the Geneva Historical Society. He also funded the restoration of the buildings on the property, in honor of his mother, Agnes Swan Hutchins. The house was meticulously restored and opened to the public in 1968.
Bob told us this story as he led us through the 21 rooms open to the public, the pleasure of sharing the house with visitors evident on his face.
"There's 11,634 square feet of living space," he told us. "There's a total of 26 rooms."