The home that Rockefeller restored Bassett Hall: The historic residence of John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in Colonial Williamsburg is open to visitors again.

April 28, 1996|By Scott McCaffrey | Scott McCaffrey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- John D. Rockefeller spent most of his life accumulating wealth. His son, John D. Jr., spent most of his life giving a large chunk of that fortune away to an array of causes.

The project nearest John D. Jr.'s heart was the restoration of the historic town of Williamsburg, Va.

Now visitors to Colonial Williamsburg can visit Bassett Hall, the place Rockefeller and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, called home while they were overseeing restoration work on the town.

Restored itself in 1992, the house remains much as it was when the Rockefellers moved in during the 1930s.

Bassett Hall is hardly a mansion -- instead, it's a comfortable, two-story, 18th-century frame building surrounded by nearly 600 acres of woodlands near the old Virginia Capitol building.

The house was built between 1753 and 1766 by Col. Philip Johnson and was purchased in 1800 by Burwell Bassett, the nephew of Martha Washington. Several 18th- and 19th-century additions give the home its current appearance.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. -- the only son of the Standard Oil billionaire and manager of John Sr.'s business empire -- first came to Williamsburg in the late 1920s.

He conceived the idea of restoring the dilapidated community with W. A. R. Godwin. According to legend, the two men devised their plans under the 300-year-old Great Oak that still stands on Bassett Hall property.

John D. Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller purchased the home, then spent the spring and fall months of the early 1930s renovating and decorating it.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's extensive collection of American folk art went into the house, as did an eclectic mix of 17th- through 20th-century furnishings gleaned from the couple's other homes.

Although many of the folk-art pieces have been moved to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, a museum built for it in Williamsburg, a selection remains in the house.

Included are European porcelains, American earthenware animals and brass candlesticks. English and American antiques are complemented by 1930s-modern easy chairs and beds.

Over the years, the house has played host to President Lyndon Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Queen Mother Elizabeth of England and Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller died in the 1940s, and her husband died in 1960. After his death, a memorial service was held at Bassett Hall.

John D. III and his wife, Blanchette, inherited the house and grounds, maintaining the interior in a 1930s style. The home continued to be a Rockefeller residence until John D. III's death in 1978, when it was donated to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Bassett Hall was open to the public for a decade after its donation, but closed in 1992 for restoration.

Visitors view an introductory videotape outlining the Rockefellers' contributions to the restoration of Williamsburg, then follow a self-paced audio tour of the house and grounds.

The tour leads from the entrance hall and morning room into the parlor. Upstairs, it showcases the master bed- room and a guest bedroom.

Returning downstairs, visitors view the dining room and are led outside through the west entrance.

The outdoor portion of the tour takes visitors to the Rockefellers' teahouse, to their spring-fall garden and to the Great Oak where the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg was conceived.

If you go

What: Bassett Hall, home of John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller

Where: 522 E. Francis St., Williamsburg, Va.

When: The house and grounds are open daily except Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4: 45 p.m. by appointment

Admission: House tours are included in packages offered by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which also cover other foundation properties. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg Patriot's Pass, Good Neighbor Card or Museums ticket; those packages average

$29 Information: Call (804) 229-1000 Ext. 3525.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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