A historic property on the south side of Milledgeville has had new life breathed into it. Thanks to three industrious investors, guests can now enjoy all this historic home has to offer.
“When the Rockwell House became available for purchase, we saw a perfect opportunity to resurrect an almost-lost historic treasure and imagine a future for the property that supported the surrounding the community,” said Ross Sheppard, an agent with Ansley Real Estate who specializes in historic properties.
Sheppard, along with marketing professional Will Walker and Jacob Hawkins, executive director of the Stanley M. Herzog Charitable Foundation, purchased the Rockwell House in 2019 and set out to restore the property and preserve a piece of Baldwin County history. Sheppard said the decision was based on a mutual appreciation for local history.
“We've all grown up and lived in communities that have seen damage to their historic fabric,” said Sheppard. “We want to help preserve the vibrant histories of Georgia while creating space for them to thrive in today's world.”
The group leveraged their combined talents to see their project to fruition. Sheppard has been a real estate agent since the age of 18 and has experience in navigating the process of historic preservation. That, combined with the marketing, communication and sales experience brought to the table by Walker and Hawkins, has allowed the trio to pull off a massive turnaround for the Rockwell House.
Built in the 1830s, the Rockwell House is named for its original occupant, Colonel Samuel Rockwell, a lawyer who moved from Maine to Georgia along with the building’s architect, Joseph Lane. Two decades later, the house was owned by Governor Herschel Johnson, the leader of the Georgia anti-secession movement.
The house gained even more notoriety in the following century as the home of the Ennis family from 1915 until the 1960s. Marion Ennis was one of the victims of the notorious Stembridge murders of 1953, events that were immortalized in Pete Dexter’s fictional retelling, Paris Trout.
“We were lucky enough to have Marion's son, Buddy Ennis, come for a visit and share some of his stories from childhood,” said Sheppard. “He showed us his baby footprints in the concrete at the base of the back porch steps.”
The house was sold in the 1960s and barely escaped destruction by fire before being sold once again in 1971 to Cecil and Joanne Ogden. Sheppard credits the Ogdens for investing in important structural updates that kept the building standing until he and his team purchased it in 2019.
“The Odgens did the most important work to protect the home, including keeping the roof in good condition,” said Sheppard. “While the Ogdens were unable to continue the restoration of the home, it's thanks to them that Rockwell is still standing.”
Sheppard admits that it was a major undertaking to tackle the renovations to bring the Rockwell House to where it is today. Phase one of the project involved addressing what Sheppard calls “critical systems” of the house, including new electrical, plumbing and central heating and air conditioning, as well as the rebuilding of a fireplace that had collapsed and the building’s entire back porch. Phase two addressed “superficial restoration” such as plaster repair, the modernization of the existing bathrooms and the addition of two new bathrooms in the upstairs suites. Vinyl flooring was pulled up in the kitchen, and all of the home’s original wooden floors were sanded and refinished. Sheppard said the team also worked with outside partners to replicate the original moldings in the dining room as accurately as possible.
While the trio worked with various outside contractors, they are proud of how much work they were able to do on their own. More renovation plans are coming down the road as well, including restoring the original wooden windows and adding shutters to reflect the home’s original design.
With the recent closure of the Antebellum Inn in downtown Milledgeville, Sheppard says he and his co-investors saw an opportunity to fill that void in the market with the restoration of the Rockwell House.
“We all love Milledgeville's historic sites and stories and understand how much of a benefit historic tourism is for the community,” said Sheppard. “We're excited to have stepped in to open the Rockwell House for visitors looking for a historic home to fully experience – from hosting events to staying in the home.”
The Rockwell House can accommodate up to 14 overnight guests and features four guest suites, each with its own private bath, sitting area and TV. Sheppard describes the suites as “spacious and comfortable … with a beautiful mix of antique and modern pieces so the design feels welcoming and inviting.”
Each suite can be rented by individual parties, or groups can choose to rent the entire house for their stay. There are also numerous common spaces in the house, including a library, fully equipped and updated kitchen and a front parlor featuring a self-playing baby grand piano. The property also features a large back porch overlooking a pond on the 12-acre property. The Rockwell House also welcomes reservations for group events such as weddings and family gatherings.
The property opened for reservations in December, and the team has already seen a positive response.
“We hosted our first guests in December 2020, and things have been picking up pretty quickly. So far, the reviews have been great,” said Sheppard.
Sheppard says that he and his team are proud to bring new life to a historic property that could have easily been lost many times throughout its history.
“The south side of Milledgeville has a rich history and strong community, but a severe lack of investment. While Rockwell was passed over by many, we immediately envisioned a bustling pillar of activity for the Midway community,” said Sheppard. “This was a passion project and we're proud of ourselves, but we're just as proud to have something that we can share with the community.”
Those interested in learning more can visit the property’s website at www.rockwellhousega.com.