Between 1818 and 1823 Robert Bolling IV constructed Centre Hill, Petersburg’s “most stately home.” He served as a Captain in a Dinwiddie County militia cavalry unit when the British entered the city on April 25, 1781 after winning the Battle of Petersburg. He became wealthy by owning several tobacco warehouses in Petersburg. Inheriting the property from his father in 1839, Robert Buckner Bolling modified the original Federal house to the Greek Revival style in 1850. In 1901, Petersburg attorney Charles Hall Davis purchased the house and conducted a major restoration of the house and grounds.
Three presidents have visited the house: John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, and William Howard Taft. In 1864 Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet made Centre Hill his headquarters, as did Union Major General George L. Hartsuff on April 5, 1865. President Lincoln met with General Hartsuff at the mansion on April 3, a mere 11 days before he was shot in Ford’s Theater in Washington. President Taft drew a huge crowd to the luncheon in his honor on the home and grounds during his 1909 visit.
Soon after President Taft’s visit, Mr. Davis experienced financial difficulties and he sold lots on the grounds. Centre Hill National Historic District surrounds the mansion, and the early 20th century homes in Centre Hill Court are a mix of bungalows, Colonial Revivals, and Foursquares. The house and property were sold at auction in 1936 and went through several hands before being deeded to the City in 1972.
Centre Hill is situated on five acres overlooking the Appomattox River, and is prominent in the vista heading south on the Boulevard from Colonial Heights into Petersburg. The property retains the remnants of a brick wall and a wrought-iron fence. The Garden Club of Virginia has restored its landscaping. The mansion was featured in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln,” filmed in Petersburg just before Christmas 2011.
The property is now Centre Hill Mansion Museum, a City of Petersburg museum. It features many superb 19th and 20th century pieces of furniture and decorative arts, many with local significance. The property is on the National Historic Register, and the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is charged, and tours are given every half hour. The site includes an orientation exhibition and gift shop with a fine selection of books.