New York — The White House of the Confederacy, after 10 years of painstaking restoration, has been reopened to the public. ``With the return of the mansion's historic interior,'' says curator Richard C. Cote, ``the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., will join the ranks of nationally prominent house-museums that are associated with major persons and events in American history.''
The house today features Southern taste of 125 years ago and interprets daily life in the executive mansion as it was from August 1861 to April 1865. During that period, it was the official and family residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Extensive research and conservation has been conducted by museum curators, consultants, and restoration architects to insure the authenticity of the mansion to that Civil War time period.
Although the Davises' furnishings were sold at an auction in October 1870, about 80 percent of the major pieces have been recovered. Many have been donated to the museum, though numerous decorative pieces are still in private hands or in other museums.
The original two-story mansion was built in 1818 for Dr. John Brockenbrough, a prominent Richmond physician and banker. Its design is attributed to Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument and America's first native-born professional architect.
In 1857, a third floor was added, a cupola placed on the roof, and rooms redecorated. The city of Richmond purchased the house and its furnishings in 1861 for $42,000 as an intended gift to President Davis, but rented it to the Confederate government to serve as his official residence. The house was the center of political and social activity during the war years.
After President Davis and his family fled the capital in April 1865, the Union Army used the house as headquarters until the end of Reconstruction. It was then returned by the Federal government to the city of Richmond.
The house became a school from 1870 to 1890 and was saved from destruction by a group of Richmond women who formed the Confederate Memorial Literary Society. They raised $30,000, purchased the badly deteriorated landmark building, repaired it, and in 1896 reopened it as a Confederate Museum for the display of artifacts, manuscripts, and memorabilia. The house served thus until 1976, when a modern and far more adequate museum opened.
Renovation of the mansion to its 1861-65 appearance began in 1977, when the Commonwealth of Virginia appropriated more than $l00,000 for exterior restoration. A second phase included recording the architectural history of the house, installing new climate control and fire/security systems, and stabilizing interior plaster walls. The final phase of restoration began in 1985 and included recasting of silver, weaving of Brussels and Wilton carpets, and restoration of mirrors and statues.