Centre Hill Museum

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Col. Robert Bolling was a loving husband, but had his share of heartaches…

 

DESCRIPTION

The handsome, Flemish, bond-brick Federalist/ Greek Revival style/Colonial style Centre Hill Mansion is now a historical city museum, that showcases “19th and 20th century pieces of furniture and decorative arts, many with local significance.”

The first floor contains all the beautiful 19th and 20th century furniture of the well-to-do from that era, while the second floor rooms showcase various historical artifacts from 18th, 19th and 20th centuries of the people who lived in Petersburg during that time.

It has long been a much loved landmark by the people of Petersburg, Virginia, as well as deemed valuable treasure by the state of Virginia and the National Historic Register folks. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places;(1972), Virginia Landmarks ERA and is recognized as a “contributing property” of the US Historic District Petersburg.

Centre Hill Mansion was built to last for years, with great house bones. This historical property was fortunate by the fact that owners throughout its history took good care of it; having money to properly maintain the structure and make improvements along the way, which explains its three architectural styles.

Greek Revival “architectural ornamentation” is a strong, beautiful addition and fits in well with the remaining early Federal style, and later Colonial Revival style outside and inside as well. “The mansion’s North and South Facades are dominated by a Greek Revival-style veranda with ionic columns.” A shallow-pitched roof with a flattened cupola on top, plus a dentil cornice surrounding the house are some of the handsome details seen by people for many years.

The 1850 small East Wing is a nice addition. It has a more embellished outside decor, but has the same kind of window and green shutters so it does has similar qualities as the rest of the house.

Inside the mansion, the first floor common rooms are truly glorious, with lovely fireplaces in two parlors, ceiling decor, a beautiful dining room, and a grand central staircase. Fine art detail and lovely wood decor flows throughout. This historic treasure, its marvelous view, and what is on display inside is truly worth visiting.

 

HISTORY

Centre Hill Mansion was built in 1823 by Robert Bolling IV, who was a brave, hard-working, honest Revolutionary War veteran. He started out as a Captain in a Dinwiddie County Militia Cavalry unit when the British entered the city on April 25, 1781, after defeating the Patriots during the Battle of Petersburg. By the end of his military service, he had risen to the rank of Colonel; probably due to his bravery, wits and sense of duty. Centre Hill was his dream retirement mansion; known as the “most stately home” in Petersburg that he moved into with his wife Anna and their children.

Colonel Robert Bolling the 1V made his money being a tobacco merchant, building up his business; having several warehouses. He bought a prime location for his retirement mansion;a lot of five acres on a hill that overlooks the Appomattox River, in a prominent place, seen by all; being in the “vista”, especially for those who are heading south on the Boulevard from Colonial Heights into Petersburg. Centre Hill was never allowed to sink into fixer-upper status for very long. There was always a buyer to lift it up to its best appearance.

Col. Robert Bolling was a loving husband but had his share of heartaches; having three out of four wives die before him for various causes while still married to him. His fourth wife, Anna Sithe Wade, outlived him by twelve years. From his four wives, he had seven children and was blessed to see his grandchildren as well.

In 1839, his son, Robert Buckner Bolling inherited this estate upon his father’s death. To suit his sense of fashion, he renovated this original Federal-style house adding the beautiful, Greek Revival style. Afterall, the mansion needed to be brought up to standards of beauty and living for the time. The first building project was finished in 1842, and finished completely in 1850. He spent 10,000 dollars on this huge, two part remodeling project, according to the 1842 & 1850 land tax books. Each finished project increased the value of the house a whopping $5,000 dollars. His Greek Revival Style additions were tastefully done to blend in with the original styles of the house.

The 1842 building project changed the style of the roof, added the Greek Revival style to the interiors on the first floor, and the two verandas on the mansion’s north facade where he added “modified Ionic entablatures and columns.” The 1850 building project was the addition of the East Wing. Bolling also added a tunnel; going from the basement to Henry St, so his slaves could more easily and safely bring in food and take out items.

Petersburg was a military prize during the Civil War, due to the railroad that ran through it. It was vital for The Confederacy to have control of this city to deliver supplies to Confederate forces in the Richmond area. Naturally, while it was one of the first Union Army targets, Confederate forces managed to keep them out until the very end of the war. After Union Forces got control of the city and railroads, General Lee surrendered; ending the Civil War.

During the long, on and off Battle of Petersburg that lasted from 1862ish-1865, Centre Hill Mansion suffered some damage, but not total devastation. It was a favorite place for both Confederate and Union Generals to stay, depending on who had control of Petersburg;The Confederacy or The Union forces. “In 1864 Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet made Centre Hill his headquarters, as did Union Major General George L. Hartsuff on April of 1865;” (when the Union forces finally won).

Other people of importance who came to Centre Hill Mansion were President Lincoln and President Taft. “President Lincoln met with General Hartsuff at the mansion on April 3rd, a mere eleven days before he was shot in Ford’s Theater in Washington. In September of 1865, plans were made here for a local court of conciliation for newly freed slaves.

Members of Robert Buckner Bolling the 1V’s family stayed here from the days of Reconstruction until the turn of the century, when it was sold. The Centre Hill Mansion must of taken a lot of money to maintain, as historic homes often require.

In 1901, Petersburg attorney Charles Hall Davis bought the now fixer opportunity; Centre Hill, and conducted a major restoration of the house and grounds. Attorneys and lawyers have had a long history of keeping historic properties in tip-top shape, being a reflection of their businesses.

On May of 1909, President William Howard Taft came to Petersburg to unveil a memorial honoring the Pennsylvanians and their commander Hartranft who fought bravely in the last siege of Petersburg during the Civil War when the Union finally gained control here. Charles Hall Davies hosted a reception for President Taft, and a luncheon on the front lawn with President Taft. Afterwards, President Taft stood on the north portico of Centre Hill and gave a speech to the people of Petersburg. Because of this visit, Centre Hill Mansion became the symbol of national reunion and sectional reconciliation.

However, in 1909-10, Charles Davis ran into financial difficulties, so he sold much of the Centre Hill’s five acres, except Centre Hill Mansion and the immediate grounds to John W. Hayes’s Centre Hill Building Corporation for a whopping boatload of money:25,000 dollars. The central court of woodlands was sold to a subsiderary of Centre Hill Corp.; Centre Hill Company, with the promise to preserve these woods and the trails.

This company divided the acreage into 29 individual lots, streets off of the circular Centre Hill Ave., and sold them to individual people, who had some money themselves. Centre Hill Mansion and its grounds was called LOT ONE. Building here happened during 1914-1916 WW1 years, because of the population explosion in Petersburg due to the growth of “war-related industries.” It became known as Centre Hill Court, made up of early 20th century bungalows, Colonial Revivals, and Foursquares.

This area that surround Centre Hill Historic Museum is now under the protection of Centre Hill National Historic District; one of seven Historic Districts in Petersburg, for this city is one of the oldest ones in Virginia, being founded in 1750. This Center Hill Historic District has homes from the early to middle 19th century to the mid 20th century.

In 1936, Centre Hill was sold at auction; meaning that perhaps the Davis family didn’t fare well in the Depression, and /or couldn’t afford to stay there and maintain a historic home. Edgar S. Bowling stepped up to the plate and bought it at this auction, and gave the estate to the National Park Service to be used as a museum. It opened in 1950. The National Park Service gave this estate to the City of Petersburg in 1972. Luckily, there was nothing in the air here like other cities that have torn down historic places in the name of urban development.

The Centre Hill Mansion was prized as a historic place. It was restored a little and turned into a city historical museum, showcasing historic treasures of past centuries on the second floor. On the first floor, treating visitors to antique furniture from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries that go well with the lovely Federalist/ Greek Revival style/Colonial style interior. The Garden Club of Virginia has restored its landscaping, adding much to the outside yard, giving visitors a glimpse of what it must of looked like in earlier years.

Apparently, the living aren’t the only ones who love the Centre Hill Mansion Museum as it is today or was yesterday!

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Children who die in this world, often like to stay in place they were familiar with, and felt loved.

Spirit of a child still remains here, after dying probably of disease or an accident. He or she may be attracted here because of the kind spectral lady.

People who adore their home in this world, may decide to continue residing there as a spirit person.

A kind, giving spectral lady in a white gown likes to visit children, and still enjoys her home.

Once a mistress of an estate, always a mistress of the property; alive or in spirit.

She has been here for a very long time and has her standards of etiquette and hospitality, and may be a little strict about room usage.

People who lose their property due to consequences in their life, sometimes will reside in their lost forever home as a spirit.

Perhaps circumstances dictated that someone had to stop living here early in the property’s history.

Major events that create a lot of energy, can cause residual hauntings; where the seen apparitions or unseen presences repeat the same actions, and never pay attention to anyone living; never interacting with this world.

A lot of energy must of soaked into the structure after a regiment of soldiers tromped up the central staircase to see a General in residence.

They may have been called in for something they did wrong; causing a high anxiety issue among the soldiers.

Former residents heard a horse-drawn coach pull up to the house. The front door is opened and footsteps are heard as well tromping up the staircase.

 

MANIFESTATIONS

The chandelier in one of the upstairs bedrooms started twirling in front of a paranormal investigator. As a ghost tour group was leaving the front room to continue on their tour one Jan 24th, a green shutter of one of the windows flew open, scaring all the participants who screamed! Spirits have to have their chuckles too!

What Pleases the Spirit Lady

Dressed in white; former mistress of Centre Hill Mansion. This former mistress of the house is fond of children.

One boy who lived here during the 1800s woke up to see a kind, see-through lady who sat on his bed, talked to him and held his hand.

This pleasant spirit lady likes to remember her good times and enjoys herself in her forever home, on the second floor of Centre Hill Mansion.

She has been seen gazing out the window of one of the bedrooms that face the front of the mansion museum; perhaps waiting for someone or enjoying the view of the city of Petersburg.

She likes to go up and down the staircase. People have felt their hair on neck and arms stand up while standing on the 2nd floor landing.

The Spectral Mistress Has Standards

If need be, this spectral mistress of the house will enforce her rules upon the living.

Rules must be followed. We sleep upstairs, in the front bedrooms, not the back bedroom. (Perhaps that was traditionally a servant’s room or even her work room.)

This former mistress of the house didn’t approve of a living owner sleeping in a back 2nd floor bedroom.

When he went to bed, this female spirit pulled off his covers and dragged them to the middle of the room. This happened several times. Finally the owner made it into a parlor upstairs, and the activity stopped.

As any mistress would, she keeps an eye on what the living are doing. People feel that they are being watched by an unseen presence.

Residual Energies

Historically have replayed every January 24th.

Residual Energy 1: A horse-drawn coach pulls up to the south entrance every Jan. 24th at 4 pm.

This was reported by former owners, pre-1950: The door opens, and a single pair of “ghostly footsteps would walk up the front stairs, through the front doorway, into the entry hall and up the stairs ultimately arriving at a large closet which would be heard to open and close about 20 minutes later.”

Residual Energy 2: On Jan. 24th at 7:30 pm A regiment of men, probably unseen presences, tromp up the stairs in their heavy, military boots to a Civil War General’s office that was probably in one of the bedrooms. About 20 minutes later, they tromp down and leave by the back or side door.

It was probably Confederate troops, going to a meeting with Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet in 1864.

Or, it could be Union troops in 1865 or ’66. I’m not sure how long the Union troops stayed in Petersburg after the ending of the Civil War.

Spirit of a little child

Maybe a slave child or perhaps a child who lived here.

During the day when the museum is open, living people are touched by little hands, like a small child would do.

During the January ghost tours, this little child touches people as well.

In the tunnel area, a young child’s disembodied voice, said, “Maybe.”

STILL HAUNTED?

Yes indeed; by two intelligent spirits and by residual activity as well.

The 4:00 residual visit may not happen anymore, because the tours don’t mention it.

Who is this female spirit? She is one of the past mistresses of Centre Hill. It could be Robert Bolling IV’s wife, Anna Dade Stith Bolling as she lived there long after her husband had died. It could be the wife or daughter of Charles Hall Davis who lost the house possibly because of debts and the mansion was sold at auction. Or, perhaps Charles Hall Davis died and his family couldn’t afford to stay there, so they had an estate auction.

Every January 24th, the museum holds its annual Ghost Watch and Tours where participants hear the ghost stories and experience some activity for themselves, as they tour the place.

Hopefully, participants witness the 7:30 p.m. annual floor show of a regiment of Civil War soldiers tromp up the stairs, and their loud exit out the back door.

Tours welcome the haunting by turning off the lights to see if the tromping footsteps and insistent door slams of the soldiers may be heard. Other ghost stories about the mansion are also shared on the tour.

People have had personal experiences listed above, starting in the 1800s through the present day; making believers of many of the existence.

 

LOCATION

1 Centre Hill Ave,
Petersburg, VA 23803

Centre Hill Mansion; now a city historical museum, sits proudly on Centre Hill Ave on top of a large hill; its south facade and lawn overlooks the city of Petersburg.The city of Petersburg’s Historic Centre Hill District, that was built on land that once belonged to the Centre Hill Mansion, is full of historic homes valued by the city and the NRHD folks.

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • Haunted Places: The National Directory, By Dennis William Hauck, pg. 434, Penguin Books, 2002
  • www.progress-index.com
  • petersburgpreservationtaskforce.com
  • www.progress-index.com/news/20190125/ghost-of-chance-at-centre-hill, The progress Index, “a ghost of a chance,” By Chai Gallahun, H-P Writer
    Posted Jan 25, 2019 at 4:11 PM
  • www.progress-index.com/news/20161023/many-haunts-of-petersburg – The Many Haunts of Petersburg, by y Pamela K. Kinney
    Posted Oct 23, 2016 at 2:01 AM

 
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

 

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