Belmead in Peril



Other than Bartholomew Stovall’s vast lineage, he also left a fair-sized tobacco farm outside of Richmond, Virginia.  He lived there no more than twenty years before passing, but ironically, the original 320-acre parcel can be identified today at a point where Deep Creek empties into the ocean bound River of James.

In the past, I’ve detailed the history of this sacred place.  The farm has survived iterations of ownership; each century witnessing the plot being bundled with a larger parcel.   Most of those who have read Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant are not surprised that you can still walk on the grounds where Bartholomew harvested his crops and helped raise his family.   Most of those who follow this blog understand how the terminus of a young English lads dreams could evolve into a sanctuary that focused on providing help for underprivileged African American and Native American men and women.

If you are not familiar with Belmead, I encourage you read this blog entry from 2013, before you continue with this post.  It begins with an introduction of Bartholomew acquiring the first 320-acre plot and then continues with the progression of ownership.

 Belmead – Then and Now

In 1706, when Bartholomew Stovall walked the boundaries of his newly acquired 320-acre farm, he had no idea that the property would eventually be ravaged by giant construction machines. 

One hundred and thirty years after Bartholomew’s passing, plantation owner Philip St George Cocke had no way of knowing that his magnificent, 1,200 acres, self-sustaining, plantation would be divided into parcels less than one acre, lined with carved, asphalt streets and stately homes.   

Fast forward to, 1890 and imagine Katherine Drexel considering plans to convert what remained of John Croke’s slave supported plantation into a home for African American and Native American girls and boys.  How could she possibly imagine that the institution she had built using her own funds would be closed, abandoned, demolished and then sold to the highest bidder.    

In May of 2016, the Catholic Church made their decision that the group of Nuns who looked after this sanctuary should retire or be relocated, and that all property and its assets would be made available to investors, implying that “Sister Katherine’s dreams have been accomplished.” 

In February of 2017 the doors were bolted tight at Belmead and everyone was told to leave the premises.  This holy sanctuary was officially closing it’s doors for good.  

After two years, it appears that efforts have intensified, and other parties have shown interest in the 2,200 acre plot on the James.  At this point, the worst-case scenario seems likely.  Belmead may soon bear the name of the avenue leading into another overpriced suburban community.   

Belmead on the James Inc.

With news that Belmead was for sale, a grass roots, nonprofit organization was formed with the goal of “acquiring the historic Belmead property and preserving intact as much of its 2,265 acres of land as possible.”  Belmead on the James, Inc. (BOJI) stated that their mission is “for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans, as well as to preserve the cultural, historical, spiritual, ecological, and educational legacy associated with the property.” 

So far, BOJI has raised $140,000 from organized donation campaigns.  They have secured one million dollars in promissory grants from The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. 

They sent out a challenge to speculative investors who shared their ideas of preservation and conservation.  With good fortune a philanthropic lender did step forward, but delays in the closure of Belmead forced the prospective lender to reconsider their commitment. 

Today Belmead sits with no offers, but one very serious buyer who is trying to garner enough money for the purchase.  Will the owner of this property wait until BMOJ has enough funding for closure, or will they sell to the first buyer and rid themselves of all the issues?

The property is over 2,200 acres of rich, river basin farmland.  It’s filled with Loblolly pines and other hardwood trees, but parts of it are swampy and useless for development.  Prospective buyers will note that there are cemeteries and many very large, old buildings on the grounds.  Ironically, some of the structures are in good shape due to publicly funded efforts through donations.  One thousand acres is protected by a Conservation easement, but none bear the seal of the ultra-protective, Historic easement.

Some of these items may appear as negatives for those looking to purchase the property.  Ironically, BOTJ wants them to remain as is.  Leave the graveyards to be managed by the caretakers.  Leave the Church and the areas that have been restored for parishioners.  The swamp laden marshes and the swift flow of the James; leave this all to nature.    

In and around that area of Virginia, Belmead is a sensitive topic.  It’s worth has been set and its history has been recorded.  With the good Lord willing, our luck will continue and all three parcels can remain together, free in nature.

As of November 19 there are no significant details to report on the sale of Belmead.  It is important to note that in closing it was mentioned, “for now we are not asking for additional donations for Belmead on the James.”

If you are interested in helping save Belmead look for an update on this blog page, or visit Historic Belmead on Facebook.

About bartholomewstovall

Author of Bartholomew Stovall. A novel about the immigrant who came to America in 1684.
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