New Book Details Two Generations of the Family Behind Maymont | Community Idea Stations


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New Book Details Two Generations of the Family Behind Maymont

A new book explores the family behind one of Richmond’s most popular public spaces - Maymont. Author Mary Lynn Bayliss spent decades piecing together the history of the Dooley Family. 88.9 WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find details of Mary Lynn Bayliss's book The Dooleys of Richmond: an Irish Immigrant Family in the Old and New South and upcoming speaking engagements scheduled through July 2017.


A stone gateway leading into Maymont’s Italian garden is inscribed with “Via Florum” or flowering way.

Mary Lynn Bayliss: This is the way Mrs. Dooley would have come from her house to check on her Italian garden on a daily basis.

Author Mary Lynn Bayliss says at one time, this 100 acre estate had 600 rose bushes.

Bayliss: There’s one of them and notice it’s pink....

Hundreds of thousands of people come to Maymont each year, to explore the Italian and Japanese gardens and tour the ornate mansion, still filled with the Dooley family’s furniture, artwork and books. But Bayliss says guests often ask, who were the Dooleys?

Bayliss: They weren’t known very well, even in Richmond. We knew their names, we knew they were very generous. Mrs. Dooley had given the money for the first public library in [Mr. Dooley’s name], she had given the money Crippled Children’s Hospital which is now called Children’s Hospital. He had given a hospital at MCV called Dooley Hospital and he was always on the board of what is now called St. Joseph’s Villa and I said these people surely, we need to know about them.

Bayliss’s new book The Dooley’s of Richmond documents two generations of the family. She traces their early years emigrating from Limerick, Ireland in 1834. She follows John Dooley as he built a successful hat manufacturing company and became a major in the Confederate Army. After son James was wounded and taken prisoner of war, John Dooley organized the Richmond Ambulance Committee.

Bayliss: He was a very efficient business man and he owned railroad stock and he said let’s see if we can organize the railroads and get some volunteers who will go to the battlefields and remove the wounded. And in fact that’s what they did for the next four years. There were 90 Richmond men who volunteered for the Richmond Ambulance Committee and at their own expense, went to every battle and removed the wounded both from the Union and the Confederate Army and brought them back to hospitals in Richmond. Churches, warehouses and people’s houses were turned into hospitals… He and one of his associates actually turned one of their own warehouses into Dooley and Richardson’s hospital and they hired a surgeon.

Son James Dooley was a lawyer and spent seven years in the House of Delegates. Like his father, he had a shrewd sense for business and began investing in real estate and railroads.

Bayliss: By 1880, two years after he left the legislature, he bought his first stock. He and one other lawyer Thomas Muldrup Logan…  bought some shares in the Richmond and Danville, where James Dooley’s father was an original investor. Then they bought more a year later, when Pennsylvania Railroad who mostly owned the Richmond and Danville, decided to pull out. They poured money into rebuilding it, then they pulled out. So the young gathered as much money as they could from as many people as they could and they bid at an auction and they got it.

Then, they had to raise more money. Railroad tracks weren’t the same gauge and funds were to needed to make it uniform throughout the state.

Bayliss: And they realized that they couldn’t just stay in Virginia. If Richmond was to prosper and Virginia was to prosper, they had to be able to extend the railroad out of the state into the far west if possible. Their idea of the far west then was the border of Texas and within a few years they did it. And that was marvelous, it helped Richmond tremendously and it helped the middle West because things came both ways. They sent out industrial products, they brought in wheat and other agricultural products and some of that went off to Europe and some stayed here in Richmond.

Bayliss has spent decades combing through newspaper archives, census records and the Dooley family library to put together this detailed history.

Bayliss: My first research job was actually making a list of the books in [the library] for insurance purposes. And it took me three years because I started reading the marginalia.

Many books were second-hand, says Bayliss, and some were given to the children by their father.

Bayliss: Books given as awards to them for their work in school, so this here were not just the books of a grown man, but the books of a family.

The books survived, but the family papers were burned after Sallie May Dooley’s death. Bayliss says that just made her job more exciting.

Bayliss: It was like trying to put together a million piece puzzle.

Bayliss’s book also examines the women in the Dooley family, their charitable work, volunteerism and contrasting views on women’s suffrage, which James Dooley’s mother and sisters supported and his wife Sallie May Dooley opposed.

Bayliss: There’s a very funny episode in archives of the Art Club in which his niece Nora Houston who was pro-suffrage and her friend Adele Clark brought him a petition, pro-women’s suffrage petition and they wanted him to sign it. He refused, but we know Mrs. Dooley was on the opposite and he had to go home and have dinner with her, he did not sign the petition. I imagine there was a lot of tension in the family.

When seeing Maymont and an even bigger estate called Swannanoa in Afton, Virginia While the family’s wealth is evident. But Bayliss hopes her book will shine a light on the Dooley’s charitable work, supporting educational, cultural and healthcare initiatives.

Bayliss: Richmond is a volunteer city, you still feel the tremendous number of people who are willing to volunteer for good causes, you see it today and it’s a tradition that goes back before the Civil War.

Around the Maymont grounds, visitors see another investment made by the Dooley’s: hundreds of trees, from feathery pines to majestic magnolias.

Bayliss: Every tree planted here was probably planned for its 100 year growth, that’s why you know they had expert advice.

The Dooleys were friends with the City Arborist, and Bayliss suspects he may have helped in the long-term vision for the grounds.

Bayliss: We are the beneficiaries more than 100 years later, very nice.

For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.