YOUR FIRST VIEW of Rose Hill Mansion in Bluffton is pure romance.
The antebellum beauty stands at the edge of a salt marsh, beneath live oaks dripping Spanish moss. Across a wide, green lawn, at the end of a white gravel drive, she waits—rich in Southern history, European style and fairy-tale charm.
You might feel awkward approaching her in a motorcar—surely, a horsedrawn carriage would be more fitting.
“Not only is it an original plantation house, it’s unusual looking,” says Rose Hill’s owner, Robin White. “You don’t see Gothic Revival structures, especially not in this relaxed, Lowcountry setting.”
Robin and Rusty White fell in love with Rose Hill from a tiny black-and white photo in Historic Preservation magazine in 1995. Even when they met the old girl in person and saw its gutted interior, devastated by fire in 1987, they recognized it as their future home.
The Whites, members of Palmetto Electric Cooperative, spent 10 years on a painstaking restoration of the 10,000-square-foot house, during which they lived in the cozy caretaker’s cottage. Now they open their home—thought to be the only antebellum plantation house still standing in Beaufort County—for hour-long public tours every afternoon.
Each room is packed with artifacts found on the property—pottery shards, a Civil War rifle, medicine bottles, uniform buttons—and family treasures donated by descendants of John and Caroline Kirk, the home’s original owners.
“In every room, we have at least one or two pieces from the original Civil War era, returned back to the house, thanks to the generosity of Kirk family descendants,” White says.
One of those descendants is now Rose Hill’s director, Cynthia Glendinning, a seventh-generation great-granddaughter of James Kirk, Caroline Kirk’s father and the co-founder of Bluffton.
Glendinning leads the daily tours, focusing on the human stories in Rose Hill’s history. In the elegant entry hall, where James Kirk’s portrait hangs below a sweeping spiral staircase, she talks about her ancestors and the slaves they bought to tend the plantation’s cotton, rice and indigo.
She tells about the Union troops who occupied the house during the Civil War and perhaps saved it from Gen. Sherman’s torch; about the marauders whose vicious postwar outings made the home unsafe for habitation; and about the squatters who dismantled the plantation’s slave cabins during the Depression, burning the wood in the mansion’s fireplaces to stay warm.
“People enjoy the history—it’s not sugar-coated,” Glendinning says.
With one tour a day and no time limit, visitors are welcomed like houseguests. Enjoy a glass of plantation-label wine, if you like, as you follow your guide from room to room, admiring the architecture and antiques. Wander through back rooms where framed memorabilia line the walls, relax in front porch rockers or stroll about the grounds. After the tour, settle in the dining room for peach tea, lemonade and assorted cakes, pies and cheeses.
“The main thing we have always tried to offer is Southern hospitality,” White says. “It would be a boring, sad thing if we kept all this to ourselves.”
Rose Hill Mansion is located at 199 Rose Hill Way, Bluffton. From I-95, take Highway 278 East about 11 miles and turn left into Rose Hill Plantation gated community. Stop at the guard gate for directions to the mansion.
TOURS: Monday through Friday at 2 p.m.; reservations required. Private groups may schedule morning or luncheon tours.
ADMISSION: Adults, $25; ages 6–12, $5. No children under 6.
RENTALS: The house and grounds can be rented for weddings or special events. The caretaker’s cottage can also be rented for overnight guests.
DETAILS: (843) 757-6046; rosehillmansion.com.