Delaware Public Media

Restored Rockwood Museum Conservatory reopens

Oct 22, 2018

A portion of New Castle County’s historic Rockwood Mansion is reopening after undergoing significant rehabilitation.

The public can once again tour the mansion’s conservatory. Museum officials believe it to be the oldest conservatory attached to a house in the nation.

They closed it about two years ago because it had deteriorated to the point it was considered a danger to staff and visitors.

New Castle County Public Works project administrator Stephen Rubel says after $292,000 worth of work - that’s no longer the case. 

“The majority of the problem in the conservatory were extensive wood rot throughout.  So that project was able to accomplish not only taking care of that, but getting the conservatory to loom exactly like it did in 1851 when it was built,” said Rubel.

“This is a great win to have all of this done," said Rockwood Park and Museum director Phillip Nord.  "It’s fantastic.”

And Rubel says the goal was to make this round of work last.

“[In] previous renovations, they usd species of wood we really woudn’t have recommended.  We woked with the architect to identify a couple of species of wood that would hold up for a long period of time.  So we used a combination of Spanish Cedar and Sapele,” said Rubel.

But getting work started was a challenge.  County Execuive Matt Meyer says a county apprenticeship requirement stalled efforts to find a contractor until county code was changed last year.

“It basically was impossible because we would need someone with this unique historic carpentery trait, a firm that did that, that [also] met our local apprenticeship requirements," said Meyer. "And based on what I was told, for this project, there was no such carpenter around ”

County officials also credit the change with helping drive down the cost of its investment into Rockwood.   Initial estimates put the cost for work on the Conservatory at $450,000, and the total project, which also includes rehabilitating the mansion’s exterior, the Gardeners Cottage and Porter’s Lodge, at $4.1 million.  The total project is now expected to come in at $3.1 million. 

Rockwood Museum accounted for neary 7,354 hundred of the 40,617 tvisitors to Rockwood Park last fiscal year.  The park hosts events such as summer Ice Cream Festival and the upcoming Holiday Open House in December.