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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Within a year, Hess would become the first vice president of the Friends of Rockwood, a volunteer group she helped create. For 20 years, the Friends would grow steadily, becoming as much a part of Rockwood’s fabric as the damask on its walls. A succession of county executives welcomed the Friends’ presence, largely because the executives had priorities they considered far more important than tending to an aging mansion that just didn’t seem to jibe with their plans.
“The people in the administration were tickled to death,” says Boulden. “They wanted someone to guide it, to take care of it.”
That’s just what the Friends did. They recognized the uniqueness of Rockwood, a Rural Gothic villa in an area dominated by 19th- and 20th-century interpretations of French architecture, a one-of-a-kind conservatory, and a house furnished with English, Irish, Continental and American decorative arts spanning three centuries and a succession of family owners. Volunteers went through boxes of old letters and typed summaries of their contents, helping guides to better tell the stories of the Shipley and Bringhurst families. For some, it must have seemed that they represented the next generation of those families, and they wanted to keep that history alive. As people learned about the house, they loved it, they wanted to be part of it, a former Friends member says.
The Friends, besides offering tours, sponsored special events, exhibits and other programs, and generally did whatever the county and the museum director asked, right down to dusting the furniture and washing the conservatory windows. Rockwood was important to them because its residents had been multiple generations of a single family, and all of the furnishings were those that they had acquired for their personal use over the years—unlike Winterthur and other venues, where only portions of the furnishings, if any, were used by the actual residents. Simply put, the Friends believed that the preservation of a historical building like this was important, and would benefit Delawareans for years to come. So coupled with the letters and diaries of family members left with the property, the Friends were able to piece together and share with those interested a family history from the 1850s into the 20th century.