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THE ROTCHEV HOUSE

The new house for the commandant, built of square beams, 8 sazhens [1] long by 4 wide. There are 6 rooms and a vestibule. Inventory for Mr. Sutter, Dec. 20, 1841.

Along with the chapel, the structure of most historical interest at Fort Ross is the Rotchev house, an existing building renovated about 1836 for Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Ross. It is the only surviving structure which contains construction techniques dating back to the Russian era. This structure was known as the "Commandant's House" from the 1940s through the 1970s. It was titled the "new commandant's house" in the 1841 inventory to differentiate it from the Kuskov or "old commandant's house."

The Rotchevs apparently lived in comfort--or with as much style as they could manage in the wilderness of the California coast. One visitor commented on their "choice library, French wines, a piano, and a score of Mozart" (Duflot de Mofras, 1841). All these refinements disappeared with the Russian inhabitants in that year; the house as it exists now is stripped to its bare walls.

About two years after the Russians departed, William Benitz took up residence in the building. When he married, he enlarged the house by building a two story addition to accommodate his growing family.

The Benitz family sold the ranch in 1867. The house was also used as a dwelling by James Dixon for a short time after his purchase of the fort in 1867, and by Ada Fairfax, her mother, and her entourage, after her husband's death in 1869. The Russian Rotchev house was the George Call family's dwelling from their purchase in 1873 until early 1878, when they built their own house. It then became a hotel, and was so operated into the early 1900s. It was later occupied by a caretaker family.

By the early twentieth century, the building was beginning to fall into ruin. Beginning in 1925, steps were taken to restore the Rotchev house to its original appearance. It received a new foundation and a new shingled gabled roof. A kitchen and the two-storied addition were removed in 1926. Other repairs and modifications were carried out after World War II. The long front porch was removed in 1945, a Russian-style hipped roof of long boards replaced the gabled roof in 1948, and new windows and concrete piers were added. In 1971, the Rotchev house was damaged by an arson fire. At that time it was being used as the Fort Ross Museum, and had many artifacts stored in the attic. The roof burned and most of the artifacts were damaged, lost or stolen. A comprehensive plan was then drawn to guide its restoration. A new hipped roof was constructed, but the original wall timbers, floor timbers, and ceiling were retained along with the original window and door frames. In 1974, the Rotchev house was reopened to the public, its structure restored as carefully as possible. Future plans may include the restoration of the building's interior as it might have been when the Rotchevs lived there.

[1] A sazhen (Russian) is seven feet or 2 1/3 yards. In the French version of the Inventory for Mr. Sutter the term is toise, in the Spanish, braza, each meaning fathom. The correct translation is the seven foot Russian fathom, called a sazhen.(Glenn J. Farris)