Maymont (Richmond)

https://maymont.org

Many larger cities have historic homes that hearken back to the Gilded Age, places like the Biltmore in North Carolina or the Hearst Castle in California. In Richmond, we have Maymont, a home built in 1893 for the wealthy Dooley family. The home and its grounds are a wonderful place to visit, especially in the fall.


History

James and Sallie Dooley were one of the wealthiest families in Richmond during the late 19th century. James built his fortune on railroads and investments. His wife, Sallie May, was a writer, and together, they made large contributions to the Richmond arts and philanthropic community. 

Their home, May Mont (named after Sallie and the French word for mountain), was completed in 1893 on a bluff above the James River. The 13,000 square foot Queen Anne-style home is one of the few historic homes to have remained the same without renovations or additions by subsequent occupants. The Dooleys were childless so upon Sallie’s death in 1925, their vast estate along the James River was bequeathed to the city for a park. Maymont opened in 1926 and is a wonderful place to visit with your family.


Visit

Maymont is several things at once – a park, a zoo, an aquarium, and a historic home. It’s full of fun for even the smallest of visitors and with some planning, you can spend an entire day on its grounds! With older kids, a visit to the mansion is a must while younger kids will enjoy the farm and nature center.

The historic mansion is located at the Hampton Road gate. You’ll walk along the pedestrian-only road leading to the mansion, lined with a carriage house, herb garden, and stone barn. Be sure to check out the fancy carriages and sleigh. 

The mansion tour is a 45-minute guided tour through the 1st and 2nd floors of the mansion. I recommend it for children 10 years and up. Be sure to get your tickets in advance as space is limited.

You’ll enter the mansion through the front doors, just off the beautiful porch overlooking the James River. 

The home’s interior is extravagant and eye-popping, with every surface covered in elaborate paint or wood. In the foyer, the tour guide will talk more about the Dooleys, including both their positive and negative contributions to Richmond. The Gilded Age is after Reconstruction and during the rise of Jim Crow laws so these hard topics are discussed along with the lives of the servants in the home. 

You’ll make your way through the opulent downstairs rooms and learn more about the culture of the time period. Each room has so many details to observe, from the watercolor-painted ceiling and gilt fireplace in the pink parlor to the beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows in the staircase.

You’ll see rooms behind-the-scenes, such as the butler’s pantry with its dumbwaiter. As you go upstairs, the rooms become less ornate but just as comfortable. Several bedrooms and a sitting room contain original furniture and watercolors from the time period.

My favorite bedroom was Mrs. Dooley’s, which includes her original swan bed taken from her summer home in the Virginia mountains, Swannanoa. It’s truly something to see!

Don’t miss her dressing table which is made of real narwhal tusks!

The tour will end in the basement where you can view an exhibit about the lives of the servants.

My son couldn’t believe how much manpower was needed to enable the Dooleys to entertain. This picture shows how much work it took for Mrs. Dooley to host a ladies tea for 4 friends – an eye-popping 14 hours, 45 minutes. 

The exhibit includes the laundry, kitchen, and the maids’ bedroom. I felt like I was on the set of Downton Abbey!

Be sure to walk around the exterior of the home as you leave, taking in the statues and grounds. My son loved pretending he was alighting from a carriage at the carriage stone.

Mr. and Mrs. Dooley are buried in a mausoleum just down a hill from the home. The grounds of their estate have now been turned into one of Richmond’s most family-friendly parks. You’ll want to take some time to explore the many different areas with your family.

From the house, you can walk past the carriage house to the Italian and Japanese gardens, just downhill from this fountain.

You can also walk to both the nature center and farm but be forewarned, it’s a long and hilly walk. With little children, I recommend driving to the nature center or farm.

The Robins Nature Center is an aquarium and play space all in one!

You’ll need to buy tickets in advance to secure your time slot. Also be sure to pick up a scavenger hunt at the front desk. Kids big and small will love seeing fish, turtles, snakes, and other animals from the James River. My son’s favorite animal to see was the adorable otter.

There’s play structures for both older kids and younger kids to explore.

The farm is a mini-zoo, including animals as varied as pigs to bobcats to eagles. I’ve visited it many times with children at several different ages, and they always love feeding the animals, where possible, and running down the big hills to catch a glimpse of the elusive black bear or red fox. Note the paths are stroller-friendly but very hilly! 

Maymont is a wonderful place for families visiting Richmond to learn history while also enjoying the outdoors. Fall is the perfect time to spend the weekend outside enjoying its rich history and lovely grounds!


Helpful hints:

  • Cost: 
    • Grounds: Free
    • House tours: $8/adults; $6/ages 3-12; free/children 2 and under
    • Nature Center: $8/adults; $6/ages 3-12; free/children 2 and under
    • Farm: Free
  • Recommended: 
    • Grounds, nature center, and farm: all ages
    • Mansion tour: 10 and up
  • Tour time:
    • Grounds, nature center, and farm: 1-2 hours
    • Mansion tour: 1 hour
  • Gift shop located at nature center
  • Transportation: Parking lots are available at the farm, nature center, and Hampton Street entrance. Note these lots fill quickly, especially on the weekends. There is plenty of street parking available in the surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Dining options nearby: Maymont is the perfect place for a picnic! Pack your own or pick up from one of the many options in the nearby Fan or Carytown district. Coppola’s Deli and New York Deli are good nearby sandwich options. Maymont often has food trucks on busy weekends.
  • Hotel options: See my Richmond guide for suggestions!
  • Nearby attractions include: Shopping and dining in Carytown, Hollywood Cemetery, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Children’s Museum of Richmond, and Science Museum of Virginia.

Books to read:

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