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. When completed, the mansion boasted the latest modern conveniences of the era: electric lighting, an elevator, three full bathrooms, and central heat.
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. Guests can tour twelve restored rooms on the first and second floors. Find out more about items on display in the Maymont Mansion Collection.
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 included cleaning the thirty-three room mansion, feeding a dozen people on a daily basis and hundreds on occasion, doing the washing and ironing, helping the Dooleys bathe and dress, and transporting the Dooleys 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. Find out more about life belowstairs.