Maymont MansionOpen Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays)
12-5pm (last entry at 4:30)
Upstairs guided tour;
self-guided basement exhibit
Suggested donation: $5 per person
In 1886, James and Sallie Dooley acquired farmland on the banks of the James River, where they planned to build a new home. Their architect, Edgerton Stewart Rogers (1860-1901), born and educated in Rome, combined the Romanesque Revival style with the picturesque Queen Anne for the Dooley residence. By 1893, the Dooleys were living in their new 12,000 square-foot, 33-room home, which they named “May Mont,” a name which combines Mrs. Dooley’s maiden name and the French word for hill.
Among historic house museums, the Maymont Mansion is rare in that no intervening families or adaptive conversions separate us from the original owner’s 32-year occupancy. Despite the fact that no architectural drawings or other early records of its construction and design have survived, its physical integrity and ongoing research has provided a solid base of documentation. Within six months of Mrs. Dooley’s death in 1925, the mansion was opened to the public as a museum. The upper floors’ interiors and a large original collection remained relatively untouched until the beginning of the restoration in 1970. Since the nonprofit Maymont Foundation took responsibility for the estate in 1975, extensive conservation and restoration have greatly enhanced its authenticity, condition, and presentation.
Thus today, Maymont Mansion is a well-preserved document of Gilded Age design and the taste of well-educated, cosmopolitan millionaires. The house also illustrates the dynamic interplay between server and served, working class and upper class and black and white through a compelling exhibition in its restored belowstairs rooms – the culmination of a decade-long research project that was completed in 2005.
In Richmond, Maymont was the most elaborate of several elite homes that reflected the high style of the day, characterized by the juxtaposition and often asymmetrical arrangements of patterns, tones and textures, and historical and exotic styles. The principal rooms each have distinct characters. The adjoining drawing rooms mirror French 18th-century styles. The walls of both rooms are covered in silk damask, the hearthstones are white onyx, and the friezes and ceilings are embellished with fine, ornamental plasterwork and decorative painting. The small den is Near Eastern, and the living hall with its imposing English Renaissance-inspired mantelpiece brings to mind the “baronial hall” of romanticized history. The library is a superb expression of eclecticism and “artistic” taste of the late 1880s and 90s. The ceiling and frieze are embellished with stencilling and strapwork carried out in mahogany, the wood used throughout the room, including the original Venetian blinds. The principal rooms are enriched by stained glass transoms, carved woodwork, and decorative ceiling and wall treatments.
The second floor includes a central living hall, lit by an immense Tiffany Studios stained glass window that rises above the grand stairway; the morning room, furnished with a painted satinwood set; the famous swan bedroom; two additional bedrooms; and two tiled bathrooms.
When completed, the Maymont Mansion boasted the latest modern conveniences of the era: electric lighting, an elevator, three full bathrooms, and central heat.
Twelve restored rooms on the first and second floors are on view during general tours.
Maymont Collection Details
Collection Highlights List
When you enter Maymont Mansion’s upper floors, you step into the luxurious world of James and Sallie May Dooley. But at the same time, many men and women experienced Maymont as a workplace. At any given moment, the Dooleys employed seven to ten domestic employees—nearly all African-American—to maintain the elegance and order of their home.
Domestic Staff Duties:
• Cleaned the thirty-three room mansion
• Fed a dozen people on a daily basis and hundreds on occasion
• Washed and ironed
• Helped the Dooleys bathe and dress
• Transported them in well-running carriages and motor-cars
Maymont Mansion witnessed a dynamic interplay between employer and employee, upper-class and working-class individuals, white and black, old and young. This relationship was played out against a background of rapidly changing domestic technology. It was also set in the turbulent social and political landscape of a strictly segregated South.
Restoration of Maymont's kitchen, wine cellar, laundry, butler's bedroom, maids' bedroom, butler's pantry, and other service areas was completed in May 2005. Through eight period rooms and informational panels, visitors can now meet specific employees and consider their lives in and outside the workplace. They can also examine an era of dramatically changing household technology and learn the historical context of domestic service in Gilded Age Richmond, the South, and the United States.
Maymont's domestic employees met the challenges of running an elaborate estate, but they were much more than the sum and substance of their duties. Behind the scenes, they were individuals with their own skills, personalities, goals, and challenges. And, upon leaving Maymont's gates, they took pride, a work ethic, and modest wages into the community to raise families, support businesses and churches, and to help build today's Richmond.
Belowstairs Floor Plan
Meet the Butler
Read “From Morning to Night”
Other Belowstairs Resources
The Belowstairs exhibition was made possible in part by a generous grant
from the National Endowment for the Humanities.