Located over the Holston River in Tennessee, this impressive brick mansion was built in 1818 by Rev. Frederick Ross. Since then, it has been plagued with misfortune and death brought on by the old Southern culture.
The first legend, though there are many different versions, centers mainly on the reverend’s beloved daughter Rowena. Being a rich plantation owner, he was able to provide her with lavish gifts and an expensive education. His memoir states she was beautiful–petite with black hair and brown eyes. Two years after finishing school, she fell in love with a young man from a neighboring town. However, tragedy struck when he and his friends went fishing in the nearby river the day before the wedding. They hadn’t even made it out of Rowena’s sight when the flimsy boat capsized. Some say she witnessed the accident, and ran frantically down to the river. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do. All the passengers made it safely to shore except for her fiancé, whose body was found an hour later.
Affected deeply by the sudden loss, the beautiful Rowena disappeared from public sight. There are no mentions of where she spent these couple years as a hermit. When she emerged, healed and still eligible, a wealthy man from Knoxville proposed. They had not been married even a year before he died from yellow fever, and Rowena again faded into seclusion. This time it was ten years before she remarried. This led to Rowena giving birth to a daughter, whom she named Theodosia, after her mother.
Six years later, the still unhappy Rowena drowned herself in the same river near her home. Nobody is sure what finally caused this. It may have been that she never fully recovered from previous losses, but other stories claim it was her daughter’s death that put Rowena over the edge. Some even say she had heard her first love calling to her from the river. Not long after, Rotherwood became home to “The Lady In White”. The name comes from the long white nightgown she supposedly wears as she strolls along the river holding a lantern, still searching 125 years later.
The reverend also faced misfortune when he became bankrupt trying to break into the cotton market. Faced with little choice, he sold the mansion to an infamous slave owner named Joshua Phipps. The town hated him, as his cruelty caused slaves to scream loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Phipps even went so far as to build a whipping post inside the house. As karma would have it, he fell ill with an awful disease that confined him to bed in his carriage house. A young male servant, whose job was to fan his cruel owner, was the only one to witness Phipps’ death. As he was sleeping, an enormous cloud of black flies entered the room. They filled his mouth and nostrils, eventually suffocating the man to death.
Joshua Phipps’ reign of terror lasted even after his death, when he joined Rowena’s spirit in the haunting of Rotherwood. Obviously much less polite, he is known to tear covers off beds and laugh at sleeping residents, peer eerily through windows, move objects around, and laugh maniacally through the halls. Scarier yet, an enormous black dog lurks around the property and often howls. The dog is said to be another manifestation of Phipps, first sighted jumping out of his coffin at the funeral and shocking guests. For good reason, Rotherwood is still private residence, and therefore no live visitors are allowed.