The House on the Hill
The road to Rockledge began, literally, with the clearing of a winding dirt road up the side of Mill Mountain in 1891. The journey to the top of the mountain took three hours by carriage, although many people preferred to walk.
Two decades later, a group of businessmen opened the Scenic Incline Railway, allowing visitors easier and faster access to the top of Mill Mountain. By railway, the journey took just four minutes and cost 25 cents round trip (equivalent to $6.43 today). You can still see the pathway of the Incline Railway running up the mountain behind Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
William Henritze purchased Mill Mountain and the Scene Incline Railway in 1920, when the automobile had quickly become a popular form of transportation. So Henritze and his brother paved a concrete road allowing motorists to drive up and down the mountain at their leisure.
Having owned the entire mountain and gained incomparable success with the paved roadway, Henritze constructed his home, Rockledge, in 1929. Today is continues to serve as a symbol of Roanoke's history--from dirt roads to stone manors. Pieces of this history remain on site, including a Lord Byron medallion in the back wall and enormous millstones believed to be from the original "mill" on Mill Mountain.
The current owners, Nancy and Kevin Dye, have filled the inside of the home with pieces of history as well. Unique works of art and artifacts they've collected over the years in keeping with the style of the home and Henritze's enthusiasm for travel and collecting.
Here is an in-depth look at a select few pieces of art and artifacts that call Rockledge home.
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Tea Shop Trade Figure, Foyer
Aside from the grand staircase and impressive chandelier, the statue of the Chinese tea girl is the first thing you notice upon entering the foyer at Rockledge. It was made in England circa 1850 for the shop front of W. Stewart, a tea dealer in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by artist Bentham Hall. It is made of carved pine and still retains much of the original paint. In addition to the figure, which welcomes guests with a proffered cup of tea, Nancy and Kevin Dye have a print of the statue framed and hanging in the adjacent radio room depicting its original placement on the shop front.
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"Caught," Living Room
There are myriad paintings throughout the home, but this one in particular has a story to tell. Literally. Painted by artist Alfred Walter Bayes in the 19th century, "Caught" reveals the moment when a priest walks in on a group of women clandestinely playing cards. (The woman on the far right holds her cards in her hand with her arm by her side out of view of the priest, while the woman on the far left appears to have dropped several of her cards as she glances over her shoulder to see the priest arrive.) Bayes is perhaps best known for illustrating the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, as well as for the artistic success of his children, Walter, Gilbert and Jessie.
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Pietra Dura, Radio Room
The decorative panels above the fireplace in the radio room are original to the house. They are an example of pietra dura, an Italian phrase that means "hard stone" and refers to the technique of creating intricate works of art from colored stones, especially amethyst, jade, onyx and topaz. Though developed in antiquity, the craft was revived during the Renaissance, and the Medici family established the first workshop in Florence in 1588. The scene in the panels at Rockledge reflects the fascination with the Orient--cartoonish faces and Asian landscapes based on travelers' sketches. Panels of this sort were often sold to tourists on the Grand Tour, usually in Paris. It is possible that Henritze acquired this piece during one of his European travels abroad.
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Joan of Arc bust, Kitchen Addition
Like the pietra dura panels, the bronze bust of Joan of Arc that graces the mantle in the kitchen addition is also original to the home. It was removed from an outdoor wall, and the Latin inscription, "Patron Saint of the French Military Order," was revealed beneath the concrete base. Although the provenance of the bust is still to be determined, this piece is exceptional considering the timing of Rockledge's construction. Joan of Arc has been an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism for centuries, but she was not canonized until 1920, 9 years before Henritze built the home.
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"Margot Wearing a Bonnet, No. 1," Upstairs Bedroom
The Impressionist movement is one of the most famous in history, producing such works as Monet's Water Lilies and Degas's The Dance Class. Often overlooked is the sole American Impressionist, Mary Cassatt, who studied alongside Monet, Degas, Renoir and Pissarro, and presented at four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1879 and 1886. Cassatt is best known for her poignant family portraits, including Margot Wearing a Bonnet, No. 1. Margot Lux was a child from the village near Cassatt's home and is often depicted in studies Cassatt completed around the turn of the century. Although she spent most of her life in France, Mary Cassatt worked as an art adviser and benefited many public and private collections in the United States, including the Havemeyer collection, most of which is currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Photography by David Hungate