Houses are mere shells for their inhabitants. What happens on the inside is what transforms them into a home – or into a troubled abode that is best forgotten. As October unfolds, residents and visitors in Northeast Tennessee will turn their attention to the beautiful panorama of colorful fall leaves. But many will also seek out scary stories and tall tales of woe to explore and share for Halloween.
Among the many sites and stories of devilish doings across Northeast Tennessee, perhaps none has a sordid history that can compare to The Rotherwood Mansion. Known locally as the most troubled house in Kingsport, local storytellers and the recorded history of the house seem to indicate that evil can indeed embed itself into the very mortar and dirt of a property.
Before providing just a taste of the terrible succession of tragedy and evil that surrounds this stately home, a warning. The current owners of the home wish to have nothing to do with these legends, and do not wish to be disturbed. The home and grounds are private property, and trespassers will be prosecuted under the law. They also seem to discredit all alleged paranormal activity reputed to surround the home and property.
Fredrick Ross, Rossville & Kings Port
Those who are familiar with the history of what is now Kingsport, Tennessee, know that Fredrick Ross played an integral part in the town’s early beginnings. Poised as it is at the confluence of two great rivers, the area was prime territory for a river port that offered trading and commerce to grow a town. Alternately known as Rossville, Big Island, and Kings Port (among other names), the town finally received a permanent charter after 1917.
Already, The Rotherwood Mansion enjoyed an established reputation for tragedy, evil and hauntings. The Presbyterian minister that built the home in 1818, Fredrick Ross, served city residents at the Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church until 1852, eventually moving away in 1855 after selling the home to his plantation overseer. During his tenure in the home, he suffered incredible tragedy through his favored daughter, Rowena.
Lavishly schooled in the North, Rowena was the belle of Kingsport at the time, and was considered quite a catch. Sadly, over her lifetime, she would lose two husbands in tragic circumstances, and would later take her own life, though not on the property as some allege. At the time of her suicide, she lived in Alabama.
Joshua Phipps, Rotherwood & Uncharacteristic Evil
As Fredrick Ross encountered financial reversals, many brought on because of the approaching Civil War, he moved and sold his property at Rotherwood to his onetime overseer and bookkeeper, Joshua Phipps. This man was renowned already for his cruel treatment of the slaves, most often behind the back of his more benevolent employer. Ross undoubtedly knew about his overseer’s cruelty, for he freed as many of his slaves as possible before selling the property.
Now the owner of Rotherwood, Phipps reputedly unleashed his terrible soul and freely abused his slaves, treating them mercilessly and without a shred of decency or compassion. The storm of ill will that was Phipps now manifested itself with inhumane slave quarters located in the dank basement of the home, and a seemingly well-known whipping post on the third floor. One former resident who claims to have grown up with her family there tells of the whipping post and Phipps’ great joy in using it as often as possible.
Phipps’ hellish treatment extended past his slaves to his own family. He is reputed to have arranged the death of his daughter’s beau in battle during the Civil War to prevent their marriage. He proudly boasted of this act to his daughter, including his mangled reasoning for such a hateful act toward his own child.
The Ghosts of Rotherwood
Famously terrible resident Joshua Phipps is said to have met his end in a terribly gruesome and otherworldly way, as recalled by a small slave boy who was tending him. And even his funeral party and subsequent burial were fraught with peril, as if the ground refused to accept his evil body.
Tales are still passed around of Phipps, Ross, and Ross’ daughter Rowena, who prowl the property at random. Phipps is said to be often accompanied by a particularly wicked black dog that appeared at his burial, usually called a hound of hell. The tortured souls of former slaves are said to still be heard in portions of the home and throughout the property. No doubt, after exploring more about this story, anyone would imagine strange noises and happenings.
Of course, as far as we can tell from our research, the current owners have not encountered any such spirits, ghosts, noises, or visions. While they refuse to be interviewed about ghosts and the house, in past connections, they have downplayed any supernatural activity. A story of a haunting that occurred during a somewhat recent renovation raises some questions, but it cannot be corroborated, nor could this writer locate an original source for the story.
What do you know about The Rotherwood Mansion? How is it distantly connected with singer Diana Ross? Why not do some of your own haunted history research and discover more?
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