This is a haunted gothic tale about the Rotherwood Mansion located in Kingsport, Tennessee. If a house has a heart, the heart of Rotherwood Mansion has been broken for many years. It is considered the most haunted place in East Tennessee. This is a tale of sadness, curses, mystery, true crimes, and ghosts. Come with us as we walk through history and the mystery that still haunts Kingsport, Tennessee in the place of the Rotherwood Mansion.
Who was Reverend Ross?
Frederick Augustus Ross was born on December 25, 1796, in Cumberland County, Virginia. His father was David Ross, who was an emigrant from Scotland and a wealthy businessman in Richmond, Virginia.
Frederick Ross attended Dickinson College located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. However, he did not graduate from his class in 1815. Sometime after this Fredrick would marry Thedoria Vance.
During this time Ross emancipated his slaves and his indentured servants and entered into a Presbyterian ministry. However, this would not be the last time that he would inherit or own slaves. Although he would do as much as he could to free those he inherited at a later time.
The Rotherwood Mansion
Reverend Frederick Ross inherited the property of 2,500 acres on Netherland Inn Road in 1818 and built the Rotherwood Mansion. This road was located near what was once called Rossville but later became Kingsport, Tennessee. The location that Ross chose for the beautiful mansion sits on a hill that overlooks the Holston, River. The property is located on the north and south forks of the Holston River. At one time the land ran from Bay’s Mountain to the Virginia border.
The three-story manor is built with red bricks, dark shutters, and thirty-foot-high Doric columns holding up an elevated porch that is surrounded by white banisters that is great for viewing the river below. There was a pool on the roof, hanging gardens, and a curved driveway. On the opposite side of the house, it has a beautiful bay window that overlooks two smaller added-on rooms.
Ross would go on to lay out the plans for the building of the city of Rossville which would later become Kingsport, Tennessee. He was very wealthy and very well respected in the community.
Who was Rowena Ross?
Reverend Ross had a beautiful daughter named Rowena born on September 2, 1824. Ross sent Rowena to the finest boarding schools in the north to have her educated. With her raven hair and famed beauty, she also was well-educated, very well-liked, kind, and had great manners. By this time her father, Reverend Ross, would be a billionaire. Her beauty, mannerisms, economic and social status, and education made her a sought-after bride in the who’s who of Tennessee’s prominent families.
The First Tragedy
When she returned to the Rotherwood Mansion she was heavily courted by men from the well-connected, most prominent families in Rossville. However, Rowena had set her heart upon a rich young man from a neighboring town and the two became engaged.
Ross was so well pleased with Rowena’s choice of suitors that he had another exact replica of Rotherwood built across the river. The only difference was that it had white brick instead of red. However, this house was never lived in as it burned to the ground just as it reached completion. This unfortunately would be an omen of the things that would come.
On the day the two were to be wed, the young man decided with several of his friends to go fishing and took a boat ride on the Holston River. Within plain view of the Rotherwood Mansion, and his love, Rowena, the boat capsized. Three of the four men were able to be saved from the icy water. However, the young groom drowned in the accident and his body was never recovered from the depths.
Rowena fell into a deep depression and rarely left the third-floor room that gave her a clear view of the Holston River. She stayed in this room for two years as she silently mourned the loss of her love.
The Second Tragedy
After two years of her self-seclusion, Rowena ventured out into social circles once again. Once again the young men of the area began to court her with marriage on their minds.
She again fell in love with a rich young man from Knoxville, Tennessee. They became engaged and shortly before the two were to be wed, the gentleman died of yellow fever. Some sources say that they were married and he died within days after the wedding. Once again, Rowena withdrew from social life and became a recluse for the following ten years.
Ten years later, Rowena would meet and marry Edward S. Temple on May 23, 1850. She would have a daughter, Theodosia T Ross Temple in 1852. For six years, Rowena would live with her husband and young daughter in marital happiness. But there was something that was dark that loomed over the marriage in the last year that was unexplained.
The Third Tragedy
At the age of 32, Rowena and her family decided to vacation back at Rotherwood Mansion to see her father. Rowena began hearing the call from the Holston River from her first fiance and claimed that she saw his pale ghostly hand come out of the water to beckon her.
On April 5, 1857, Rowena answered his call. She put on her first wedding dress. Looking like an angel with her veil and dress blowing in the wind behind her she walked barefoot into the Holston River and drowned.
There are many who have claimed over the years to have seen Rowena walking along the banks searching for her love. There have also been sightings of the young man and the couple standing on the steps of the mansion in wedding attire very happy together.
The Fourth Tragedy
Rowena’s death deeply grieved Reverend Ross. During his depression before the Civil War, he began to make business decisions that failed and backfired. Several investments failed and he lost most of his money. At the time, Ross was considered to be a billionaire and suddenly was facing bankruptcy.
In 1847 Ross was forced to sell Rotherwood Mansion due to several financial setbacks. Rotherwood Mansion was sold to Joshua Phipps the land overseer and bookkeeper. Before the sale of the Rotherwood Mansion was complete, Ross once again freed as many of the remaining slaves on the property as he could. However, because some of them at that time were tied up with the property of the land, he, unfortunately, could not emancipate all of them legally.
These former slaves would move to what is now the Zion Hill, Tenessee area and take on the Ross name. Diana Ross, the famous singer, and actress would be descended from these freed people. Unable to emancipate the remaining slaves, Ross left in his carriage and would die later a broken man in Huntsville, Alabama on April 13, 1883.
Changes to the Rotherwood Mansion
Joshua Phipps was not a kind man to those who were enslaved under him and Rotherwood Mansion no longer was a happy place but became a place of fear. The kind personality of Ross kept Phipps well at bay. Phipps was well known as being a harsh man of evil temper that had a cruel and irritable nature. Without the calming nature of Ross at the helm of Rotherwood Mansion, Phipps’s malice was unleashed.
Screams could be heard from the tortures by neighboring farms and plantations. According to sources Phipps had a mistress that was equally as cruel as he was. However, Phipps was not only cruel to his slaves. He was equally as cruel to his family.
The Fifth Tragedy
Phipps had a daughter, Pricilla, who had fallen in love with a farm hand. The Civil War had started and so the young man was called to arms. Phipps hated the young man and had arranged for his death during a battle. Phipps took great glee in telling his daughter what he had done. Shocked and horrified by this news, the young woman fell into despair and deep grief and mourning for the young man. She would die of this grief as a widow at the age of only twenty years old.
The Sixth Tragedy
In the Summer of 1861, Joshua Phipps would fall into an illness. He had a high fever and was delusional. The residents of the Rotherwood Manor moved him to the carriage house to prevent the contagion from spreading to other members there. The doctors could not explain what the illness was nor could they give him relief or cure him.
After lingering for several days he died. There was never an explanation given as to why he fell ill. However, there is a legend that a swarm of flies attacked Phipps as he lay feverish on the bed and killed him. It is believed that because of his cruelty to his slaves they placed a curse upon him and the house.
There are many stories of how the funeral of the most hated man in Kingsport, Tennessee was more of a social event than a sad one. And how disturbances and sudden storms happened on that day. There are also tales of ghostly laughter and empty caskets from Phipps and several disturbances in the night from his ghost.
This greatly disturbed the remaining family and slaves who revolted and beat Phillp’s cruel mistress to death. There is no record of where she is buried.
Rotherwood Mansion Today
Over the next century, Rotherwood Mansion would change hands several times. Even the US Government was an owner of the plantation. The current owners are restoring the house to its original standing and beauty. This is now a private residence. And it should be respected as such. While the mansion and its grounds are not taking tourists it is a very interesting part of the folklore and history of the Kingsport, Tennessee area.
According to lore, the Rotherwood Mansion is haunted by several ghosts. Some of them are grieved, some are evil, and some are joyous. Only the current residents of the mansion know for sure how true these stories are. House Hauntings are nothing new to history. However, the Rotherwood mansion takes on an Appalachian spin of its own as the people of the mountains speak of Rowena and Joshua in hushed tones around the campfires to the next generation. As always, we leave it up to our viewers and readers to make up their own minds concerning the Appalachia Cases. Are they fact or fiction? You ultimately decide. But for this Appalachian…I say this…it is very plausible.
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Tennessee Haunted Houses
The Story Behind Tennessee’s Most Haunted House Will Give You Nightmares
The Legends of Rotherwood Mansion
By Austin Leonard
Rotherwood: House of Hell
by Anthony Justus
The Good and Evil Ghosts of Rotherwood Mansion
Frederick Augustus Ross
Rev Frederick Augustus Ross
Rowena Ross Temple
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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent
I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.