Mansion, Farm at End of Era

  This article appeared in the August 25, 1974 issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch  

800 Persons Gathered in Auction Tent Yesterday to Buy Vestiges of Rosegill


Mansion, Farm at End of Era

By Bill McKelway
Times-Dispatch State Staff

MIDDLESEX -- The home is a remnant of the past -- a white, massive, clapboard museum piece comforted by the shade of tall oak trees to the west, its 800 acres caressed by the Rappahannock River to the east.

Rosegill has been standing since 1650 when the Wormley family built it and called it home for the next 156 years. Since 1806 it has been owned by 11 different families, among them two colonial governors of Virginia.

It has set a standard for gracious living throughout its history and has served, in recent times, as a reminder of a bygone era that was measured by principled elegance; something that exists now more often in the imagination than in fact.

ITS MOST recent chapter passed almost matter of factly Saturday when an estimated 800 persons gathered unceremoniously here to buy up the last vestiges of the county's most famous farm and the discarded household goods of Rosegill's last inhabitants.

On Friday Mrs. Sidney L. Shannon, who until recently owned Rosegill, sat quietly in one of the few remaining chairs in the house. Fighting back tears, she explained that she had to sell her home of the last 30 years because it was no longer possible to live there alone. Mr. Shannon, an executive with Eastern Air Lines, died five years ago.

'There isn't much to say. This had been a home for us. Few people know what that means anymore. I couldn't let myself be here tomorrow for the auction. That would be too much."

The Shannons, deeply reverent of the home's past, refurbished Rosegill 13 years ago. Its barren walls and high ceilings seemed a sad lonely reward for their efforts.

Once one of the finest dairy farms in Tidewater Virginia, boasting registered guernsey cows, Rosegill was a showplace. But the dairy business ended in 1965, and the300 acresof cropland being farmed now may see their last harvest this fall.

THE CURRENT owners, Mrs. Shannon said, are considering turning the estate into a subdivision.

Those who traveled here Saturday from throughout the state seemed unaware of the home, despite its overwhelming presence. Carnival-like tents lent a humiliating air to the historic setting by the river.

The steady amplified drone of the auctioneers bit into the stillness that has been jealously guarded for 324 years. People talked about the next item coming up for bid, the corn crop, the price of machinery, the heat, the possibility of rain. It was just another auction, a little larger, perhaps, than most.

The men in the John Deere caps, or those with the Pioneer seed corn emblems on the crown, follows the auctioneer along as he went from one piece of machinery to the next. Some said the prices were getting good. Others mentioned the tragedy of a farm going under, but for those not associated closely with it, there was the hope of picking up a tiller, combine or tractor.

SAM BRAY, the farm manager at Rosegill for 38 years, said he doesn't know what he will do now. The bank leased the farmland to his brother, but that is only for a year. What happens next depends on the new owners.

Bray's brother, Harry said, "If you know farming, you know this has got to hurt Sam a little. This was his life."

But Sam, busy demonstrating farm equipment, remained silent about that. "The Shannons were real good to me. I don't want to say nothing that might be wrong about the new owners," he said.

So it went on all afternoon -- the barren house, the swarms of people, the sandwich wrapper on the grass, the man trying out the post hole digger in the soybean field.

Let's get the fishing rods, just the ones without the reels first," the auctioneer said. And they went on to the sump pumps, the electric hook saw, the watering troughs, the red cedar shingles, the flag stones, the tar kettle, the road packer, the rotary hoe, the corn planter, the aluminum gates, the dining room suite, the table chain, the lawn and garden furniture, and items too numerous to mention.