Rosson House: Take a Step into Phoenix History
Rosson House from the outside
Photos by Niki D'Andrea
Downtown's Rosson House is a rare example of historic Phoenix architecture at 116-years-old. The home in downtown's Heritage Square was built in 1895, and all of the furnishings inside are from that period. The house also retains many of its original features, including parquet wood floors, nine Gib doors, a Queen Anne style staircase, and the kitchen sink.
The building is classified as Eastlake Victorian, but there are also other foreign touches, including French-inspired towers, Italian-inspired brick half-circles over the exterior windows, and an Asian-inspired moon gate. The house, originally built by Dr. Roland Lee Rosson in 1895 cost $7,500 and was owned by a handful of families until the 1960s, when it became a boarding house. Restorations began in the early 1970s (at a total cost of $750,000), and in 1980, Rosson House reopened as a museum.
Tours of Rosson House are available for $7.50. And while visitors are prohibited from taking photos inside because so many of the furnishings and items are fragile antiques, we can tell you what's inside.
To the right of the entrance is the first parlor, decorated by a ruby glass transom window over the door. There's also an old organ in the parlor, which cost about $60 from a catalog during the Rossons' time.
The dining room contains a sitting area with the original fireplace and mantle, as well as the oldest piece in the house, a grandfather clock from Whales that shows all the phases of the moon on its face.
Upstairs, there's a sewing area that was used by the wife of Stephen W. Higley, once part owner of The Arizona Republican and namesake of Higley, Arizona.
The Higleys lived in the house from 1902 until 1914, when it was sold to the Gamul family, who resided in Rosson House until 1948.
The main bedroom features a walnut bed and dresser, a sink, and yet another fireplace. The second bedroom includes several cast-iron toys on loan from the nearby Arizona Doll & Toy Museum. There's a photograph in the north bedroom of Hazel Goldberg and her sister (the Goldbergs bought the house from the Rossons in 1897 and lived there for five years). Hazel Goldberg was the first bride wedded in the state of Arizona, and her ring bearer was a very young boy named Barry Goldwater.
Though there are four bedrooms, there's only one bathroom (two bedrooms do include sinks). The bathroom includes an old claw foot tub and period curling irons and toothbrushes.
Back downstairs, toward the rear of the house, is Dr. Rosson's office. Rosson, who's credited with performing the first hair lip repair on a 15-month-old child, would see patients here and then usher them out the back through one of the Gib doors. This room includes an old wheelchair, a table covered in old medical tools (including a shock treatment kit), and a physiological mannequin from the 1890s.
The most stunning piece of furniture in the office is the old Wooten desk. These desks were made in Indianapolis, Indiana, and featured opening doors with pigeon holes in the sides and a fold out desk table in the center. They were a mark of the affluent until production ceased in 1884. A Wooten desk cost about $400, which was a lot of money considering the average wage in Phoenix in 1895 was $10 a week.
There's a second parlor downstairs featuring a stereoscope, a piano, a violin, and a beautiful old Edison phonograph, complete with four phonograph wax canisters (the predecessor to records). This room also contains a photo of Whitelaw Reid, who was an editor of The New York Tribune and a candidate for Vice President of the U.S. under President Benjamin Harrison in 1892. Reid stayed in the house for several months two years in a row, and his handwriting set is still the parlor beneath his photograph.
It might be hard to imagine a section of downtown Phoenix now without asphalt streets and automobiles, but taking a tour of the Rosson House can give visitors an idea of what life was like for the well-to-do in early Phoenix.
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