RICHMOND, JULY 21 -- Five-hundred bargain hunters showed up today for an auction at the recently closed Confederate Home for Needy Women, but Ann Webb was here for other reasons.

"I'm going to bid and bid and bid, and run up the prices," vowed Webb. "People are going to pay for what's happened here. It's downright dishonorable."

Webb, who used to visit the elderly women at the home, contends that members of the home's board of directors broke faith with the residents when they turned the building, a replica of the White House, over to the state last fall.

The home, constructed at the turn of the century, had served as a final residence for hundreds of widows and daughters of Confederate soldiers.

The board, however, said its trust fund, made up of the life savings of past and current residents, plus donations, was no longer adequate to pay for the upkeep of the ornate but deteriorating structure. As part of the deal, the home's seven remaining residents were transferred to a suburban nursing home.

The state turned the home over to the adjoining Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which will spend $4.8 million to convert the building into offices and exhibit space, including a gallery in which artifacts from the home will be included in a memorial to "Women of the South."

Webb and others said they believe the state should have used that money to subsidize operation of the home as long as any of the women live. "Considering their ages {87 to 99}, that won't be long," she said. Until then, she added, the women could have shared the building with the museum.

"I want to make sure that one or two items don't wind up in some rich Yankee's home up North," said another bidder, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Moss, of Virginia Beach, an Alabama native who spends weekends helping to reenact Civil War battles.

Another reenactment member, Frank James, 26, dressed in tattered garb resembling that of a Civil War soldier, stood guard outside the home, "my silent protest" to the absence of a Confederate flag on the empty flagpole.

While some came to protest, most came to browse or bid. During the pre-auction inspection inside the sprawling house, antique dealers and amateur bargain-hunters squeezed into the once-elegant salons and hallways to examine the 652 pieces on the bid list, only to find that the few fine pieces, such as floor-to-ceiling mirrors, were, like the only working air conditioners, marked NFS (not for sale).

In addition to 56 pieces claimed by the museum, the state's Department of Historic Resources removed valuable pieces for placement in other historic properties around the state.

There were scattered Confederate memorabilia -- flags and medals -- but the few gems were outnumbered by wheelchairs, hospital beds, canes and portable toilets, and the ordinary furniture that adorned the small rooms in which the women lived.

The proceeds of today's auction, expected to be $10,000 to $25,000, will go to the trust fund.

"The state isn't going to keep a dime," said Marquis J. Bolton, surplus property administrator of the state's Department of General Services, which conducted the sale.

The nursing home's six surviving occupants now live in a modern, three-story medical facility in Brandermill, a sprawling planned community that is the Richmond equivalent of Reston.

Bertha Moore, 89, said that while her new home is "a beautiful place, I just yearn for {the Confederate Home} right now."

Moore -- whose father, Confederate Pvt. Joseph Nathan Cox, was wounded in the battle of Malvern Hill -- moved into the home 24 years ago, after the death of her husband. At the time, she recalled, "we were promised" that she could stay there for the rest of her life.

There was also some grumbling today at the auction about Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a grandson of slaves, because of a rumor that he had commandeered some of the finer pieces from the home for the Governor's Mansion.

But Wilder's press secretary, Laura Dillard, said today, "I can assure you" that none will be taken to the mansion.