Maymont: Richmond, Virginia


Minutes from downtown Richmond is a striking Gilded Age mansion surrounded by 100 acres of undulating lawn, thoughtfully designed and manicured gardens, and an arboretum with 200 species of trees from six continents. Estates on this scale often remain in private ownership and closed to the public, but Maymont continues as its original owners Major James and Sallie May Dooley intended: an extraordinary gift to Richmond for all to enjoy freely.

Designated Area

Maymont is located at 2201 Shields Lake Drive and 1700 Hampton Street and borders north bank of the James River.

Quiet, contemplative spaces, such as the Japanese Garden, contribute to the many uses and experiences available at Maymont. Photo Flickr user J.W.Photography, Creative Commons license.

Planning Excellence

The mansion and furnishings, children's farm with domestic animals, and carriage collection are impressive, but what keeps generations of guests returning is the dramatic and varied landscape, described by garden historian Denise Otis as "an anthology of gardens." Unexpected alcoves, waterfalls, and hidden pools provide intimate opportunities for conversation and contemplation while the expansive lawns are natural areas for childrens' field games, family picnics, outdoor concerts, and special events.

Following Mrs. Dooley's death in 1925, the estate was transferred to the City of Richmond. However, no endowment came with Dooley's gift to cover maintenance and ongoing expenses. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the property showed signs of serious disrepair.

In response, the nonprofit Maymont Foundation was established in 1975 to partner with the city and raise funds for annual expenses and capital improvements. Considered a model for public-private park management, the partnership ensures Maymont remains free and, according to a local newspaper from 1928, "a tonic for a sick heart, a reward for a hard day's work, [and] a stimulus for a difficult morrow."

Only minutes from downtown Richmond, Maymont's rolling lawns provide an urban retreat where the community gathers for games, picnics, concerts, and special events. Photo Flickr user Robert Harkess, Creative Commons license.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Historic significance

  • The 33-room mansion (1893) is unparalleled example of a Gilded Age ornamental estate; remarkably intact, it was designed in a combination of Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles
  • Example of traditional American estate in style among late 19th and early 20th century millionaires
  • More than 25 original buildings and garden structures preserved since 1925
  • Carriage Collection established in 1975 to exhibit period vehicles
  • Added to Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places (1971)
  • 2011 recipient of Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to Preservation and Care of Collections by American Institute for Conservation

Public-private management

  • Maymont Foundation has raised nearly $60 million for annual operations since 1975 with City of Richmond contributing 16 percent; since late 1990s capital campaigns have raised $30 million for individual projects
  • Project for Public Spaces considers partnership between City of Richmond and Maymont Foundation a model of public-private park management; foundation autonomous in most park planning roles except major capital improvements
  • Foundation raises funds (more than $2 million annually) through an annual fund campaign including individual, corporate, foundation, and government contributions; special fund raising events like Vintage Maymont Wine and Lifestyle Auction; an affinity groups like the Maymont Council (conservation, preservation and restoration projects), the Dooley Noted Society an active group of young professionals; and the Adopt-A-Living-Thing program, which raises funds through "adoption" of animals at Maymont

Varied landscapes, detailed gardens

  • Original amenities include Italian and Japanese Gardens, Maymont Mansion Ornamental Lawn, and Via Florum Garden, a walkway of flowers between Maymont Mansion and Italian Garden
  • Italian Garden (1910), designed by prominent turn-of-the-century Richmond architects, features classic elements such as pergola, fountain, pool, urns and a hillside setting; used local Petersburg granite, Maymont's bedrock
  • Unique Italian Garden pergola: constructed of 52 hand-hewn granite, not wood, columns; adds rustic texture to a typically refined garden detail
  • Original views from Italian Garden of James River now obstructed by protected riparian buffer; views during winter months reveal dynamic vista
  • Gardeners Muto and Zuki developed Japanese Garden (1910) as traditional strolling garden; impressions change as one walks through the space
  • Japanese Garden renovated in 1978 by Earth Design, Inc. with classical elements of gardens in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Nara; features koi pond, trained and pruned trees and shrubs, water areas, bridges, stepping stones
  • Grotto, rare example of its type among U.S. gardens, built in 1911 from actual cave formations; restored in 2007 by 1772 Foundation grant
  • New additions include Cactus Garden, Carriage House Garden, Daylily and Daffodil Display Garden, Herb Garden, Jack's Vegetable Garden, Marie's Butterfly Trail, Native Virginia Landscape, wetland habitat
  • The Dooleys' "magnificent tree collection could not be duplicated in 100 years," declared the director of Brookgreen Gardens in 1982

The Italian Garden (built 1910) features classic elements such as pergola, fountain, urns, and a hillside setting. While classic and typical of such estate gardens, the pergola is unique: the columns are made of hand-hewn Petersburg granite, the local bedrock. Photo Flickr user Redden-McAllister, Creative Commons license.

Community attractions, events

  • Attracts 500,000 visitors yearly; fee-based tram, carriages inside estate complement trails; North Trail bike route connects other riverfront sites
  • The Robins Nature & Visitors Center (small fee for nature exhibit), wildlife habitats, and Children's Farm dedicated to native Virginia species
  • Annual events include X-Country Festival with sporting events, concert and performance series like the Richmond Jazz Festival and On Stage @ Maymont, Maymont Flower & Garden Show, Herbs Galore and More, Family Easter, and Old Fashioned Christmas.