Rose Hill Plantation House (sometimes Rose Hill Mansion) is an historic Carpenter Gothic house located in Bluffton.
According to tradition, the house was spared ordered destruction during the Civil War after a Union soldier declared “this house is too beautiful to be burned.”
The original Rose Hill Plantation property of 1880 acres was a wedding gift from James Brown Kirk to his eldest daughter, Caroline in 1838. Construction on the plantation house began in 1858. During these years, the Kirk family profited from the labor and talent of enslaved people who grew cotton, rice, and indigo on the land. Rice and cotton were the primary cash crops. The nearby brackish creeks yielded salt for harvesting.
Caroline Kirk died in June 1864, but Dr. Kirk moved back to Rose Hill by 1866.
His son William and brother in law Clarence Kirk joined him. The Kirks attempted to plant crops once again, but never realized the wealth and prosperity of those years before the war. After the war, family letters indicate that the Kirks were in dire economic straits. Many of their former slaves who had tended the crops had run away and others (freedmen) who had remained for wages now refused to work. Dr. Kirk died in 1868, with his two children Emily and William inheriting the plantation. They were able to retain Rose Hill in the Kirk name until the early part of the 20th century.
During the ensuing years, the house sat hidden in the woods for long periods abandoned to the elements, while tenant farmers lived in the house during some of those years.
In 1946, John and Betsy Gould Sturgeon, III, purchased the house, situated on the remaining 1400 acres, and employed prominent architect Willis Irvin, Sr, to direct the renovation of the house into an elegant home. Irvin stayed “within the original style in his additions” and the finished interior reflected the sophisticated taste of Mrs. Sturgeon.
Betsy Gould Sturgeon died in 1966. After John Sturgeon’s death in 1978, The Rose Hill Plantation Development Co. purchased the estate in 1981. The company developed Rose Hill Plantation into a gated community of approximately 950 residential home sites. The plantation house was a showplace and focal point of this development.
Under the supervision of Mrs. Iva Roberts Welton, Director of Rose Hill Plantation House, a rehabilitation of the house was completed in 1985. The plantation house was open for tours by reservation and many social events were held. In 1983, due mainly to the intense efforts of Mrs. Welton, the National Register of Historic Places added the Rose Hill Plantation house to its list.