Because of her efforts and success in restoring the heavily fire-damaged antebellum mansion at Rose Hill, Robin Sumners White was honored with the "Women in American History Award" on Oct. 12. She is the fourth recipient of the recognition from the Emily Geiger Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The award is the culmination of years of research, hard work, patience and persistence that began with looking for a house.
When Robin and her then-fiancé Robert "Rusty" White decided to leave the fast pace of Atlanta for a slower existence in the Lowcountry 22 years ago, the house that drew them to Bluffton was in the classified pages of their first issue of Historic Preservation Magazine.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home was described as "Damaged by fire. Substantial renovation necessary," as Robin told those attending the DAR ceremony in the house's grand entryway.
Undaunted by the dire condition of the once-impressive 1850s mansion, the couple fell in love with the home at first sight. After 10-and-a-half months of "hoops to jump through," the Middleton-White Foundation became the proud owners of Rose Hill Mansion, signing the papers on Robin's 29th birthday in April 1996. "Best birthday ever," she said.
It took 10 years for the restoration to be complete, with nearly every part of the structure needing significant attention to return the home to its original historic condition.
"The biggest challenge was the lack of photographs and information about it," Robin said. "It would be nice to have had some type of pattern to go by."
Descendants of original property owner James Kirk began to contact the Whites and gradually, pieces of the home's history began returning home, becoming Robin's incentive to establish a museum and tour business.
Cynthia Martin Glendinning, a Kirk descendant, is a neighbor and close friend. She received special recognition by the DAR for her own contributions to the preservation, including donating heirlooms and documents.
"The best thing about completing the restoration is being able to share the house and its history," said Robin. "We're big history lovers and we had the need and obligation to share what happened here."
Tours of the house are offered Monday through Friday. For more information, visit www.rosehillmansion.com or call 843-757-6046.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.