Across Virginia

Maymont Park and Estate Visitor Tips

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Maymont pergola
Maymont's Italian Garden with a long pergola is popular with both visitors and wedding parties. ©

Maymont park in Richmond is a unique blend of mansion, gardens, farm, zoo, nature center, history, events, waterfall and rolling green hills. Even better, the grounds and most of the exhibits are free.

This 100-acre Victorian country estate resides in the middle of a Richmond neighborhood that has grown up around it over the last century.

James Henry and Sallie May Dooley bought the acreage in 1886 and completed the Romanesque-style mansion in 1893. Major Dooley died in 1922, and Mrs. Dooley died in 1925.

Upon her death, the estate was bequeathed to the city of Richmond. It opened as a public park and museum six months later. Management of the estate now lies with the private, non-profit Maymont Foundation.

Maymont farm animal
The Children’s Farm, with numerous animals to feed and pet, are a popular spot for families. ©

Maymont Attractions

Unlike most major estates, the 12,000-square-foot, 33-room mansion is not the main attraction, although it still serves as a well-appointed museum representing life in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The main attraction is the sprawling, rolling 100 acres of hills and trails containing the contributions of the Dooleys, the city of Richmond and the Maymont Foundation.

Its most popular attractions are a children’s farm, wildlife exhibits, nature center, mansion, gardens and arboretum.

Its widely diverse activities make it unique among the major attractions in Virginia.

But be prepared for plenty of walking. For anyone who is not comfortable with extensive walking, the estate offers horseback carriage rides (for a fee; reservations required).

Maymont Italian Garden
The Italian Garden lies next to a stream that tumbles down a hill, over a waterfall and into another stream that feeds a small, koi-filled lake. ©

Beautiful Gardens

People who love the beauty of nature will find plenty of it with the Italian Garden, Japanese Garden, Arboretum and various specialty gardens. Their origin dates back to Mrs. Dooley, an estate manager and 20 groundskeepers.

The Italian Garden, a popular spot for weddings, sits at the top of a steep hill next to a stream that turns into a 45-foot waterfall and then into another stream through the gardens below. The Italian Garden’s lengthy pergola is especially popular.

Stone steps will take visitors down to the bottom of the hill and into the Japanese Garden. It has raked sand areas, trained shrubs and trees, stone lanterns, paths and bridges.

In the Japanese Garden, visitors get a better view of the waterfall that turns into a stream and flows under a small bridge. The waterfall has a rocky ledge next to it that attracts people who sit, watch and listen.

Nearby, visitors can wander through the grotto with a gazebo and a stepping stone bridge that draws special interest from young children. Giant red and white koi roll through the water next to the gazebo overlooking the large pond.

The Japanese garden and grotto lie next to the Cactus Garden, which was an overgrown area that may have been a garden from the original estate and that failed because of a lack of water. The answer to the water problem was one of Richmond’s first public cactus gardens.

Other gardens include the Carriage House Garden, Daylily and Daffodil Garden, Herb Garden and Vegetable Garden.

Maymont pond
A tumbling stream by the Italian Garden rolls over boulders, into a waterfall that turns into another stream feeding a peaceful lake. ©

Children’s Farm and Nature Center

Families will find a Children’s Farm with goats, sheep, chickens, donkeys, cows, rabbits, pigs and ducks. In many cases, visitors can feed and pet the animals. The goats are especially friendly and stick their heads through the fence as they look for food from visitors. At least one goat likes a good scratch on its rump.

Wildlife exhibits are spread throughout 40 acres in a valley between the historical estate, Children’s Farm and Nature Center. The wildlife includes black bears, white-tailed deer, gray fox, bison, bobcats, owls, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

The birds of prey, which have permanent injuries, can be viewed up close and easily photographed.

The nearby Nature Center has a Richmond focus with an emphasis on the environment of the nearby James River. It features a 20-foot waterfall that tumbles into a large aquarium linked with 12 more. They contain turtles, fish, river otters and other water creatures.

The center, which welcomes thousands of school children each year, also has alligator and venomous snake exhibits.

Maymont arboretum
Maymont has a sprawling arboretum with thousands of large trees. The Nature Center lies in the background. ©

Sprawling Aroretum

Maymont’s sprawling acres contain thousands of trees including more than 200 exotic species.

Experts note that the landscapers planted the original trees with plenty of space around them. The result is numerous specimens more than 100 feet tall that tower over well-groomed lawns.

Their extensive shade has made them popular with families who bring picnics during their breaks from touring the park. Benches are scattered around for anyone wanting to sit for a while.

Maymont mansion
Maymont’s mansion still contains the original ornate furniture and artwork from a century ago. ©

Mansion and Mausoleum

The mansion sits at the top of the estate with wide views in every direction.

It is unusual in that it opened as a museum within six months of the death of Mrs. Dooley. As a result, it largely contains the same ornate furniture and artwork that filled the home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The design represents the style of the cosmopolitan millionaires who lived during the Gilded Age before the Great Depression.

It has undergone extensive restoration and conservation since the Maymont Foundation took over management of the property.

Other original buildings next to the mansion include a Carriage House, Stone Barn and Water Tower.

The nearby mausoleum, designed like a Doric temple, quietly overlooks the estate.

Maymont waterfall
A small waterfall tumbles over the rocks by the Italian Garden. Families pose for photos, have a picnic or simply relax. ©

Hours and Donations

Maymont is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April through September and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March.

Although entrance to the grounds and gardens is free, the park encourages visitors to make a donation for specific activities to support the parks maintenance and development.

The mansion and children’s farm barn, which are open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, have a $4 suggested donation. The nature center has the same opening times and a $3 entrance fee.

Parking and Directions

The estate is popular during good weather and has limited parking space, so it is advisable to arrive early. Anyone wanting to see most if not all of the park also should arrive early on hot summer days because of the amount of walking that the tour requires.

The park has three widely dispersed parking lots — the Spottswood Entrance, the Nature Center Entrance and the Hampton Entrance. The Hampton Entrance lots often fill quickly, leaving late comers to find parking in nearby streets.

The Spottswood Entrance at the corner of Spottswood Road and Shirley Lane is located nearest to the Children’s Farm and wildlife exhibits. The Hampton Entrance, 1700 Hampton Street, is located nearest to the mansion and gardens. The Nature & Visitor Center is located at 2201 Shields Lake Drive.

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