, Port Arthur, Texas

February 17, 2014

Rose Hill fate could be decided by voters

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Port Arthur voters may have the opportunity to weigh in on whether to spend taxpayer dollars on renovations at the city’s aging Rose Hill Manor.

Built in 1907, the Southern Greek Revival home was bequeathed to the city in 1948, and has fallen into disrepair over the years.

Making the necessary repairs will cost the city an estimated $875,000 — a figure high enough keep Port Arthur City Council last month from giving the project the go-ahead.

City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to place a proposition on the May 10 election ballot to let the voters decide the issue.

Lezlie Armentor, president of the Rose Hill  Manor board of directors, said it would be a shame if voters decided not to fund the renovations.

It is more of a shame, she said, that the city has not kept pace with the manor’s upkeep.

“Outside Rose Hill  has a lot of wood rot , there is a hole in the ceiling from plumbing problems, paint is peeling, you can’t even walk on the balcony because of the shape its in, there are just a lot of problems the city has not taken care of,” Armentor said.

The historic manor was built by Rome Hatch Woodworth after the turn of the century. The Woodworths moved into the home in 1906 during the Victorian era and hosted many social gatherings at what was known as the “beautiful house on the hill.”

Rose Hill features 14 rooms with a gallery wrapping around three sides of the home.

Its 12-foot high ceilings, five baths, formal parlor, library, fireplaces and grand staircase all overlook the banks of Sabine Lake, and make the mansion stand out as a Port Arthur treasure.

The Woodworth family remained in the manor until the only surviving member, Phebe, moved to Houston in 1946.

Two years prior, in 1944, when Mrs. Woolworth died, her will stated the home be given to the city with the stipulation that her daughter Phebe live their as long as she wanted.

Per Mrs. Woodworth’s wishes, the home would be managed by The Department Club of Port Arthur — a group that continues to manage it today though struggling from a declining membership.

“It is in her will that the city is supposed to be taking care of this. I don’t know how they can go against it,” Armentor said. “They should not have accepted this if they were not going to maintain it.”

In a previous interview Albert Thigpen, Port Arthur’s parks and recreation director, said the city performs little more than maintenance on the manor.

Armentor said Rose Manor’s board has let the city know the building’s needs, but those needs have largely gone unmet.

Aside from the maintenance tasks performed by the city, Armentor said rental fees assessed those using the manor for weddings, showers, parties, etc. are used to purchase materials needed for the once majestic home.

District 6 Port City Councilman Bob Williamson said he does not expect the city to decide to put the matter before voters Tuesday. Instead, he believes a workshop session should be scheduled to more thoroughly discuss the needed renovations and the cost of performing them.

“We definitely need to maintain Rose Hill, there is no question in m mind that ultimately we will do it, but the cost  is ultimately a factor,” Williamson said.

Williamson said the information provided to Council does not support an $800,000 estimate.

“Rose Hill is a historical landmark and part of the city’s history, and we need to preserve it. I think everybody agrees that Rose Hill needs to be preserved, we are just trying to determine how best to do that with tax dollars,” Williamson said.


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