A chance to see history

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The home has an imposing presence on Bank Street. Even set well off the road behind a wrought-iron fence, and even on a street where other of the city’s large, historic houses remain, this one overshadows them all.

In fact, the old Truitt mansion at 204 Bank St. overshadows arguably every other historic home in the city. And that was just the lumber magnate’s point when he built his 5,800-square-foot classical revival home back in 1909. It was built to make a statement, and it quickly set the standard for all the other homes of Suffolk’s wealthiest families. Truitt was reported to be Suffolk’s first millionaire, and he clearly wanted there to be no question about his standing with the folks who might walk or ride past his home.

Six large white columns rising from a marble slab define one of Suffolk’s landmark structures, which for many years vied with the old county courthouse itself for the status of icon. But the real treasures of the mansion — which is slated for the auction block, along with all of its antiques and other furnishings, next month — are to be found inside.

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The double-doored marble entry hides five and a half levels on three floors. There are 21 rooms, nine fireplaces, a formal parlor, a third-floor ballroom and a musicians’ gallery so guests can enjoy the entertainment without having to mingle with the less-than-genteel entertainers. There is a screened porch, a carriage house and stables, along with the requisite servants’ quarters that such a family would have required for its staff.

Clearly things have changed since such a home could be built in Suffolk. And surely the customs and conventions of our society have changed to the point that such things as servants’ quarters seem overly patrician at best, overtly bigoted at worst.

Still, though, many folks in Suffolk will have seen the house while driving by and will have dreamed of what it must be like inside. Even if you’d never be able to afford to buy this mansion, you’ll have a chance to find out what it’s like during an open house on Aug. 24. It’s a chance you’re never likely to get again. You should take it, even if you don’t own a tophat.