Rouss Day highlights water project

Posted: May 23, 2013

The Winchester Star

Charles Broadway Rouss

Winchester — A good, clean source of water is essential to a town’s survival and growth.

One of Winchester’s greatest benefactors, Charles Broadway Rouss, recognized that fact, and gave $30,000 for the city to buy what is now Rouss Spring, allowing it to build its first water plant, said Becky Ebert, archivist for the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives at Handley Library and the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

“He made contributions so the city could develop waterworks instead of everybody just having a well in their yard or a well down the street,” Ebert said.

The donation and what it meant to Winchester will be the highlight of Saturday’s Charles Broadway Rouss Day, she said. This year’s event will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1400 S. Pleasant Valley Road. The event is free and open to the public.

Organizers have been working on plans for this year’s event for more than two years, said Sally Coates, executive director of the visitors’ center.

The last two years’ celebrations have each focused on contributions Rouss made to the city. The focus in 2011 was on contributions to the city hall and various fire companies and in 2012 the money given toward Winchester Memorial Hospital.

This year, organizers wanted to focus on the waterworks project, Coates said.

“This is one of the contributions that Mr. Rouss made to Winchester, a very valuable contribution,” she said. “The acquisition of this water made it possible for Winchester to have its first water treatment plant in the Hollingsworth Mill.”

The day starts with a presentation by Ebert and then a tour given by Dr. Woodward Bousquet on “The Nature of Rouss Spring: Geology, Plants and Animal Life.” Bousquet is a professor of environmental studies and biology and chair of the environmental studies department at Shenandoah University. People are advised to wear comfortable walking shoes.

An ice cream social will follow the tour behind Abram’s Delight and Hollingsworth Mill, next to the visitors’ center, hosted by Cissy Shull, executive director of the historical society.

The day ends with a wreath laying ceremony at 12:15 p.m. at the Rouss family’s elaborate mausoleum in Mount Hebron Cemetery, said Winchester Planning Director Tim Youmans, who is involved in the Rouss Day celebration.

John Lewis, president of the Mount Hebron Cemetery board and Mayor Elizabeth Minor will preside over the event. Usually the door to the mausoleum is open so people can go inside and see a “beautiful Tiffany stained-glass window” between a small anteroom and the burial chamber and a bust of Rouss, Youmans said.

“We are also hoping that at least one or two members of the Rouss family will be present,” he said.

Rouss was an important person in Winchester’s history, but he does not always receive the attention he deserves, Ebert said.

Charles Baltzell Rouss was born Feb. 11, 1836, in Maryland. His family moved to Berkeley County, now in West Virginia, in 1841. He was enrolled at an academy in Winchester at age 10, according to Garland R. Quarles’ book, “Some Worthy Lives.”

After working for Joseph Senseny and then owning his own store, Rouss, who had accumulated a “modest fortune of $60,000,” moved at age 24 to Richmond.

The Civil War left Rouss penniless and in debt. In 1866, he moved to New York City and, after years of struggles, eventually surpassed his original wealth — he was worth $1 million by age 60, Quarles’ book states.

“He went back and made another fortune and paid back all of his creditors,” Ebert said. “He was an amazing person.”

Rouss purchased so many properties on Broadway, he legally changed his middle name from Baltzell, according to Quarles’ book. He also had a chain of retail stores throughout the country by 1890.

During his life, Rouss gave generously to the city — $30,000 went to building Rouss City Hall, which was almost half of the cost of the structure, and another $30,000 for the waterworks.

He gave $5,000 for Rouss Fire House, $25,000 to the city’s various fire companies, $5,000 to Winchester Memorial Hospital, $10,000 for a mortuary chapel at Mount Hebron, and $7,500 for a fence around the cemetery, Quarles’ book states.

He had an obelisk erected in Mount Hebron over his parents’ graves, and in 1901, had the largest private mausoleum in America built at the cemetery, according to “Some Worthy Lives.”

When Rouss died March 3, 1902, his body was brought to the city by private train car during a blizzard and lay in state in the city hall that bears his name, prior to his burial in the mausoleum.

Information

Charles Broadway Rouss Day will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1400 S. Pleasant Valley Road. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact the visitors’ center at 540-542-1326 or go to visitwinchesterva.com.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com