Holly Grove Mansion - Ruffner Mansion
Holly Grove Mansion, also known as the Ruffner Mansion, is the oldest home in the city of Charleston, WV. The home was built in 1815 by Daniel Ruffner, brother of David Ruffner, Joseph Ruffner Jr., and Tobias Ruffner, (sons of Joseph Ruffner Sr.) who were largely instrumental in developing a thriving salt industry to the Kanawha Valley in the early 1800s. The Ruffner Mansion served as the home for the family who helped develop the Kanawha Valley while also being a center of industry and commerce during the early 19th Century. Holly Grove Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and now sits on the West Virginia State Capitol Complex.
Backstory and Context
After relocating from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Joseph Ruffner Sr. and his family arrived in the Kanawha Valley in 1796 after purchasing 502 acres of land encompassing the famous salt spring at the mouth of Campbells Creek. Ruffner would go on to own land from Elk River up to the Kanawha, including all of present-day Charleston. Ruffner’s sons, David and Joseph Jr., strongly influenced the progress of the Kanawha Valley. Together the brothers created a salt industry that could produce up to 3.2 million bushels of salt per year.1 David Ruffner was the first to use coal in the manufacture of salt. He went on to become a justice of the peace in the Virginia legislature for 47 years. David Ruffner’s, son, Henry was the author of the “Ruffner Pamphlet” which opposed slavery on the grounds that it threatened the growth of the industry.
Daniel Ruffner was the third son of Joseph Sr. and was also involved in the salt industry. He built Holly Grove Mansion in 1815 and named it after the holly trees present on the land. Holly Grove was built to replace the log cabin the Ruffner family had occupied until 1795. The house was originally a part of a plantation encompassing all of the present East End of Charleston and a good portion of downtown. The Ruffner Mansion is a symbol of the family’s success and was built to last—the walls are 18 inches thick! During its early years, the Holly Grove Mansion served as an inn for travelers along the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. Famous guests of the inn are reported to include Henry Clay, Samuel Houston, John J. Audubon, and President Andrew Jackson.
A fire in 1832 ruined much of the original interior of the house. James H. Nash purchased Holly Grove in 1902 and made many changes to the structure, which gave the mansion the appearance still seen today. The Ruffner Mansion was later purchased by the state of West Virginia in 1975; it neighbors the Governor’s Mansion as a part of the Capitol Complex. The house was used for state offices for the Bureau of Senior Services until 2004. A $3 million renovation project was approved in 2014 to make the home safe for tours, make the first floor accessible as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to create a public conference space inside the home 3, but the renovation was canceled, with the exception of stabilization work, due to budgetary concerns3.
2. Harding, James E.. NRHP Nomination Form. NPS. May 13, 1974. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/kanawha/74002007.pdf.
3. Steelhammer, Rick. Holly Grove mansion’s 200 years bring Ruffner reunion to Charleston. Charleston Gazette-Mail. June 17, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20150617/GZ01/150619348.
Marshall, Paul D. "Holly Grove." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 28 January 2013. Web. 07 February 2016.
Holly Grove Mansion. Why Charleston?. December 05, 2008. Accessed June 08, 2019. http://whycharlestonwv.com/headline/holly-grove-mansion/.