Rose Hill, an iconic property nestled in the “Between the Rivers Historic District” of Rome, Georgia and arguably one of the finest historic homes in North Georgia, is aptly named for the timeless beauty of the gardens that adorn its grounds. The original Gothic Revival wood frame structure was built ca. 1850 by Charles Henry Smith (1826-1903); however, it was rebuilt in 1909 in the Greek Revival style by a prominent local family. The original footprint of the sizable grounds included the entire block between Third and Fourth Streets and Third and Fourth Avenues.
Mr. Smith, a prolific writer more widely known by his pseudonym, Bill Arp, was one of the most popular syndicated columnists in the South before and during the Civil War. Rome’s strategic location and industrial production capabilities attracted the attention of Union forces led by General William T. Sherman. Sherman’s troops occupied Rome, using Rose Hill from May to November 1864 as a base to plan their infamous March to the Sea. Given Smith’s views, it is not surprising that Sherman and his officers chose his home as their headquarters. The famous photograph of Sherman’s officers sitting around Smith’s dining table beside an oak sapling was taken in the front yard of Rose Hill’s original structure.
The Smith family evacuated Rome before it fell to Union forces, but returned after the war. Mrs. Smith noted in later correspondences that while the house had not been burned by Union forces, it had fared poorly. Mr. Smith served as Mayor of Rome before moving to Cartersville, Georgia around 1877. He continued to write under his pseudonym for the remainder of his life.
Occupying an entire city block, the Rose Hill property was subdivided by the 1870s given the construction dates of several of the surrounding homes, which are built on Rose Hill’s original grounds. An early neighboring home belonged to the Reverend Samuel Axson. Rev. Axson’s daughter, Ellen, would later marry Woodrow Wilson and become First Lady, and is notably responsible for establishing the Rose Garden at the White House. Rome locals often wonder if she drew her inspiration from Rose Hill and its gardens. Tragically, Ellen Axson Wilson passed away while First Lady and was buried in a state funeral at Myrtle Hill in Rome.
Another prominent local family purchased the property around 1890, and in 1909 constructed the present red brick Greek Revival style home, partially on the foundation of the original Rose Hill. The home features six white cypress Ionic columns that stand 25 feet tall and an impressive pair of nine-foot-tall doors that open to a foyer that spans over 75 feet–the entire length of the house–and leads to a matching set of double doors in the rear.
In 1959, the property was sold to another local family who owned it until it was purchased by the present owner in 2011. During that family’s ownership, the home suffered major damage at two points in time. When a large tree fell on what was then a two-story open porch on the west side of the home, the owners enclosed the damaged porches to create the two-story white framed “sun rooms” presently on the west side of the residence. A second large oak tree, known as the Sherman Oak (it was the sapling beside the dining table in the famous photo of Sherman and his officers), fell on the front of the house in the late 1990s, destroying much of the porch roof and the white cypress Ionic columns. The roof and the front of the home were carefully restored to ensure it remained historically accurate.
The present owner, a native of Rome and only the third to own this 112-year-old beauty, acquired the property in March of 2011 and undertook a multi-year restoration of the house and gardens. The property was “re-christened” as Rose Hill in honor of the first home built on the property. The footprint and room layout of the historic portion of the home is as it was built in 1909 and the colors used throughout are generally believed to be a similar palette. The home was meticulously furnished with an extensive collection of primarily 18th- and 19th-century American and British furniture, paintings and decorative arts, as well as an impressive collection of china, stemware and flatware.