A dining room table that survived the Civil War and remained in the Kirk family for more than 150 years has returned home to the Rose Hill Mansion, along with other family heirlooms with historic ties to the Bluffton area.
The table has a burned ring on it caused by Union troops placing a hot pot on it after they broke into the mansion, said Robin White, the mansion's owner. The original owner of the mansion at Rose Hill Plantation, Dr. John Kirk, refused to have the burn mark polished out, "so that what had been done here would be remembered," according to White.
On Wednesday, Kirk's great-great-granddaughter sat among 25 members of a tour group near that same historic wooden table inside Rose Hill Mansion as she heard how a benefactor with family ties to the home recently donated the Civil War heirloom.
Kathryn Kirk was that benefactor, but no one knew. She played the unassuming visitor, walking through the house built by her family in the late 1850s.
About an hour later, the tour was over, and her identity revealed.
"This might be the most special tour I've ever given," said White, who restored the home over the past 14 years. "With us today, we have a great friend to the house, a great friend of mine, Ms. Kathryn Kirk, who has given this house so much."
The group cheered and embraced Kirk. Over tea and snacks, they listened to stories and reveled in living history.
"This is stunning," she said of the restored home. "It thrills me, and it's letting Dr. John Kirk, my great-great-grandfather, live again."
Kirk's fourth visit to Bluffton from her home in Tierney, Mo., not only brought the table, but two hand-carved dining room chairs with needlepoint cushions; two original mid-19th-century portraits of William Kirk's in-laws (William was John Kirk's son); and a mirror that was in the house in the 1860s. The frame of the mirror is not original, but the glass is, White said.
Kathryn Kirk's brother, William Kirk, also donated items to the Rose Hill Mansion in the past, including a card table, watch fob ornament and cotton stamp.
"To have the items from the Kirks has been some of the greatest joys of my life," White said. "They have been so generous, and they understand how important it's been to us to connect back to the history of this precious house."
As she told of the house's diverse history, White often smiled and pointed to ornate mantles, windows and artwork inside the four-story Gothic Revival home.
White says being able to live in the house with her family is a great joy.
But no one was more excited Wednesday than Kirk.
"Robin has really brought this house alive and fulfilled my family's dream," Kirk said. "I don't have any children, so I don't have anyone to pass these things on to. This is where I'd want it to be."
Soon she will return home to Tierney, population 93, where she raises horses and great Pyrenees dogs.
But her heart resides in the Lowcountry, where her family settled more than 150 years ago.