Rockwood Can No Longer Function With Small Intimate Groups of Visitors
County Executive Tom Gordon says he’ll need to create programs in order to keep museum afloat.
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“It was like a blank canvas,” Boulden says. “We realized we could do anything we wanted.”
But Rockwood’s design made it a poor fit for any of the uses that were discussed. And so it became a museum.
The choice was made not so much because the county had a master plan but because Rockwood came already furnished, filled with tables and chairs, sofas and beds, portraits and place settings. Those items, however, remained the property of the Hargraves family, the heirs of Joseph Shipley, the mill owner and merchant who built the mansion in the 1850s, and his grand-nephew, Edward Bringhurst Jr., who moved into the home in 1891. That was one of the conditions of the will of Nancy Sellers Hargraves, Rockwood’s final resident. (Joseph Shipley was the great-grandson of William Shipley, who arrived in Wilmington in 1735, purchased property in what is now known as the LOMA district downtown and moved his family into a house near Fourth and Shipley streets, which was named in his honor.)
The county hired a manager and a gardener to get the place in order, and made the mansion available for meetings of community groups. However, it was in no position to start purchasing the furniture, especially when the Hargraves family insisted it would accept nothing less than the values set by a high-priced New York appraiser.
Grayce Hess of Chadds Ford doesn’t remember the date, only that it was some time in 1976. Hess, who had been a tour guide at Winterthur for about 15 years, got a call from a friend. “She said, ‘Grayce, I’ve just been to a meeting at a fantastic place that has your name written all over it. You’d better get down there. They have no volunteers.’”
She drove over to see for herself, knocked on the door and met Alan Degas, who had been recently hired by the county to oversee the mansion. After Hess introduced herself and mentioned her Winterthur experience, Degas promptly invited her to join a tour being led by a part-time employee.