Maymont Mansion: Richmond’s Gilded Age Treasure

Maymont is a Victorian estate and public park created by Richmond lawyer and philanthropist James H. Dooley and his wife Sallie between 1890 and 1893. Like Ashville, North Carolina’s larger Biltmore House, Maymony featured electricity, central heat, plumbing, indoor bathrooms, and expansive, well-kept grounds. Maymont also includes an indoor/outsoor nature center featuring wildlife associated with the James River. When the Dooleys died, the estate was left to the City of Richmond.

We enjoyed our visit to Maymond last week. It was an oasis of calm in a busy city. The main floor and upper floors of the mansion are seen via a guided tour. The basement, which contains kitchens, laundry, and servant’s quarters, has a self-guided tour. Our rental car didn’t have a GPS system. Without one, finding Maymont was a bit tricky. It was easy to get near the estate by driving west on Meadow. Signs directed one in Maymont’s general direction, but in following them we ended up in a labyrinth of neighborhood and public park roads, many of which had no street signs, with no additional Maymont signs suggesting when or where to turn.

“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.” – Maymont website.

Once there, be prepared to walk from the front gate to the house and out buildings. From the lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, it appears that many locals visit the estate as a place to get away from it all.

“Whether strolling through the gardens, touring the mansion, watching river otters play, petting a goat or picnicking on the lawn, Maymont is a gift of 100 acres given for all to enjoy.”

Japanese Garden – Wikipedia photo. The other photographs in this post are by Malcolm R. Campbell.

On TripAdvisor, Maymont has 1,458 reviews with an overal average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Comments on the site today include “Maymont is gorgeous and is situated on historic grounds. It is family friendly and its animal farm is terrific for kids and adults. The Japanese gardens are beautiful and the coy pond is always clean and spectacular. My children (now grown) have taken me to Maymont for the past 23 years for Fathers day and we’re still going” from John and “I’ve been visiting care since I was a little girl. And now we bring our kids here. The estate is sprawling and gorgeous. And one of my favorite parts is there’s no admission. That means that you can pay what you were able to. This makes it accessible for the whole community.  There are so many storybook picture-perfect views: looking down the cascade waterfall in the Italian garden, underneath the enormous trees near the carriage house, crossing the stepping stones in the Japanese gardens, the stream near the foxes… always something new to discover and so much room for the kids to really stretch their legs, play and explore. We hope to visit for generations to come!” from Orexi.

I agree with their assessments.

“Maymont is home to hundreds of animals including mighty black bears, iconic American bald eagles, playful river otters and friendly goats. Many animals can be seen at the Maymont Farm, Nature Center and wildlife exhibits, and others are important members of the environmental education team, participating in public and school programs.” Click here for more information about the nearby nature center.



One can spend hours enjoying the grounds and statuary.

After walking around Washington, D.C. for several days prior to heading down I-95 for Richmond and stopping by Civil War Battlefields en route, we were tired by the time we got to Maymont. In fact, we were exhausted. While the estate lifted our spirits, we were too wiped out to see everything. I hope we have time to go back.


Selling Lottery Tickets in Holland

Aboard Rambler in Holland

Aboard Rambler in Holland

I came across an old photo (I’m the one on the right in the row of those standing) of an international group of people who worked together for one month during the summer of 1967.

The first phase of our work consisted of traveling from Amsterdam to Gronigen aboard the motor barge Rambler selling lottery tickets to those attending the annual sailboat races. The lottery tickets supported the second phase of our work: the restoration of an old German ship as a school ship for the children of Dutch shippers.

The men lived in one hold of the ship, the women in the other. Since the holds were not intended as places of habitation, we got up and down with a movable ladder. Even so, this was a very relaxing way to travel and also a somewhat unique view of the country.

We quickly learned enough Dutch to sell the tickets. We had cheat sheets with us with answers for typical questions such as how much the tickets cost and what they were for. They cost one Guilder each (about a quarter) and supported work on a very unique schoolroom for children who moved around a lot.

We sold a fair number of tickets and, hopefully, made a good impression. When we got to our destination, the small town of Hoogezand (in the north, near Gronigen) we became front page news in the local paper. Since we worked on the old ship in a canal along the main road, we were an ever-changing local attraction. People stopped en route to work and, truth be told, were very impressed at the sight of women clinging to the side of the ship removing years old old paint with blow torches and jack hammers.

The ship, known as the White Swan, still exists, I think, but served its intended purpose for a while with a new life. I never saw the final result of the restoration, but always hoped I might one day travel back to the Netherlands and find the ship while the shippers organization was using it as a school.

This old photo stirs up enough memories for a Saturday afternoon and a long evening. But, I have current promises to keep and many chores to finish before I sleep. So, I write a snapshot of them here as I think back some 40 years and wonder how many children used the White Swan and where all the others in this old photograph are today.