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pining for belnemus…

With a title like that you are wondering first “what the heck is a Belnemus?” and second…who the heck says “pining for” anymore?  Well Belnemus is an old plantation home far out smack between nowhere and the middle of nowhere.  It is for lack of a better word a home I have been “pining for” for going on several years now.

“Pining” just fits.  The definition is : to yearn intensely and persistently especially for something unattainable.

Did I ever mention I was a history major in college?  I love history.  I am fascinated by it and could spend hours reading history books.  Such a geek!  Just one of the many layers that makes me,  “me” though so we will just keep moving on with this very long story.

We originally had our home on the market to sell in July 07 and the market dropped and selling it became a distant dream.  Then the market kept dropping and now we sit upside down stuck in a neighborhood where at least I have fantastic neighbors that I love. But… we have never stopped longing to move back out of the burbs.  Powhatan is this great little town out in the middle of the country but still somewhat close enough to the world.  Although pizza delivery would be out (can one survive without pizza delivery?  Every mothers question).   I stumbled upon Belnemus one night while looking at and saw this beautiful old home.  Now the one catch was it was out of our budget.  But something still pulled me to drive out and see it anyway.  Just for a peek.

As I pulled onto this winding driveway, surrounded by rolling fields, the peek of the red roof over the hills beckoned me to come closer.  Now I had no idea if anyone was living there or not, knowing that this is out in the country you wonder if you will be “met at the door”.  It was like a magnet was pulling me to this house though.  And then there it was….this beautiful Georgian style home sitting on it’s knoll, surrounded by these trees!  How can I explain these trees?  There are just no words to describe them.  Ginormous, centuries old trees that flank the sides of the most breath taking home.   As I pulled around the back of the home it was like you could hear the centuries talking to you.  The people and the hustle and bustle that must have once surrounded this house….well I can only imagine what it must have once been like.

So fast forward several years.  It looks like it was on the market for sometime before heading to auction in the Fall of 08.  But no one bought it, I suppose because it is still sitting empty.  Over the last few years I have been slowly gathering history on this home.  Why?  Because it haunts me like no other house could.  I may not be the type to believe in re-incarnation but if , let’s say I did believe in it, I would swear that somewhere in my past I have known this land, this home.   I am stuck on it.  Simply stuck.  Not in the “I have to have it all for me” way.  More in the “OMG!  This beautiful home with this absolutely amazing history is just going to fall into the ground!  Am I the only one seeing this?  Am I the only one who sees this diamond in the rough?!”  type of way…

From what I understand the owners are now divorced and have since moved states away.   It happens.  And then the market crashes and sigh… I feel for them.  I do.  So I am thinking that if Daryl and I can’t sell our home and purchase this home at the moment (and don’t think that I don’t think of ways daily to make owning it possible one day) someone out there must be able to love it and may just not be aware of this gem!  Although I have a gut feeling most have no desire to live that “far out” these days.  Let’s face it, if someone has $599,000 (the current price of the house), they are more than likely going to buy a nice shiny new house with no rehab needed.  I understand that.  This house is for someone who truly loves it (like me).  They will be spending full time caring for it undoubtedly.  I suppose that is the way of it for anyone buying a 200+ year old home.  You buy it fully making a “commitment” to love and care for it.  To honor it’s history and stories of the people that called it “home” once upon a time.  A house that old remembers it’s people.  I fully believe that…maybe I am just a die hard romantic though;-)

But look at it and tell me you can’t hear the stories it must have to tell?

and what it looked like “way back when”… I would venture to say that this one is after/around Civil War era or within 20 years.  The Valentines did a major revamping on it around the turn of the century and from what I have read the house had been sitting vacant for a time and they were not living there during much of the rehab.  I know it was a slave plantation once upon a time.  In one of the applications to become a historical landmark it reads:
“Clarke died in 1831, leaving a substantial estate valued at over $6000 and
including mapping equipment, 16 slaves and “1 fiddle and bow.”

I am assuming the image below was mid 19-somethings.  Notice the driveway location has switched, can’t tell if the fence was gone at that point, and their appears to be a t.v. antenna of a power line going up the right chimney (or at least it looks like it…I could be way off), the front porch was completely new but today no longer has the detail around the top of the porch.
So here is the thing…this house has history.  Like crazy history.  Those of us that are Richmonders will recognize many of the historical names attached to this home.  In all of my reading the names of Mayo, Clark, Finch and Valentine families lived there.  Even Thomas Jefferson has been linked to this home via the “who was the original architect” debate.  I could bore you with all of the details but basically Monticello was built around the same time and Mayo and Jefferson would have undoubtedly have been running in some of the same social circles.  Both were surveyor’s once upon a time as well.  I hear rumor that the downtown Va State library has a huge stack of info on Belnemus and one day I am going to sit down with it and read it all.  For now I will share a few tidbits of what I have read.  The original part of the home was built sometime around the 1760′s but I swear I have read at least three documents all giving different dates, all within 10 years of each other though.  It appears that Col. William Mayo sold it to James Clarke and then to the Finches and of course the Valentine’s who came in and fixed it up.  If you are in the Richmond area you can even visit the Valentine Museum and check out the original utensils used in the “winter kitchen”.  The winter kitchen is still in the basement even!

The house comes with several little buildings which would have been used for a smokehouse,  ice house (they would bring the ice over from the pond during the winter), a tobacco building and the kitchen.  I have no idea which one was which for the most part…well except the ice house and one of the buildings smells like a smokehouse so perhaps that was it.  I had never seen an ice house before and Dave (the realtor) was kind enough to let me take a peek.  As you can see from the pics it is the triangle building.  The floor is falling in but you can still peek in and see the circle shape of the bricks going deep into the ground.

As you walk up the back walk way you feel so tiny compared to the huge trees and attached to one of those trees is of course…. an old fashioned rope swing.  The kids are in love.

How does one explain the inside?  Beautiful.  11ft ceilings, trim work like they just don’t make anymore, fireplaces that you just want to grab a book and cuddle up on a couch and read in front of a nice warm fire,  more space than anyone family could dream of.  The walkways in both the front and the back have the stone mills as part of the walking path.  There used to be a mill on the pond but not sure if these stones are from that one or not?  Oh one my favorite things would be the details that have changed in the front parlor room.

Do you see where the eve of what looks like steps are in the top right hand corner of the old picture below?  That would be where the old steps are but they are covered now and there is a “new” stairwell put in around the turn of the century.  Easily missed!  Another fun one…see the little tiny frame on the wall kindof below it a bit?  That is a little window in the other room so you could peek in and see what your guests were doing!  I suppose their version of “caller id”…hahaha…cracking myself up over here!

and here is just a bunch of random images from within the house…
So now I suppose you know even more about me.  I am in love with a house.  But not just any house.  A house with a story…many stories.  A beautiful, non- cookie cutter house.   A house that is lonely and in desperate need of someone to love it and take care of it.  Whether it be me or anyone else that is what I want for this home.   Someone to bring it back to life and make it a home again.

I suppose it is odd to dream of a house and know all of these details but I tell my self we all need our dreams and many of my friend do have their dream homes…they just don’t have 200+ years of history behind them.   Hence there is just more to know;-)

So often we just let these homes disappear from our history and for Powhatan county the loss of Belnemus would be a great loss.  It really would.

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ArminSeptember 24, 2010 - 1:03 pm

What an amazing property, great post here Tisha. I enjoyed learning more its history and your love for the house.

Laura @ Our House Of Joyful NoiseSeptember 24, 2010 - 1:34 pm

I can totally relate to how you feel, Tisha. Not only do I really love old homes myself, but I can feel your passion about history and in particular, the history of this house. Like you could talk about it forever (although I sure didn;t mind reading every bit!) I grew up in an old house, that is at least 100 years old. At the time, I didn;t appreciate it’s history. All I knew was, I was always cold! There were no fireplaces….just register heaters, that my parents couldn’t always afford to run. My father still lives there. There is also a ‘hidden staircase’ that is behind the back walls of the closets from the 3rd floor down to the first. Original wooden floors, old style doorknobs, light fixtures mounted on the walls, crooked door frames, etc. I wish I appreciated such history before I moved out of the place.
Very interesting post! If I was wealthy, I would buy it for you, because you do love it so much. Someone who does love it like that, should live there. I bet the ghosts would be nice to you. lol.
BTW, I was smitten to notice my blog button on the side there, as I was scrolling down reading. :D

MichaelSeptember 24, 2010 - 3:01 pm

Old souls are haunted by old houses. Patina, moss, brick, stone, wavy glass, true divided light, yes, like fine wine these houses have to breathe with open windows, lace curtains and whispers of joy they hosted.

Give me creaky floors, drafty windows and firelight evenings. Beeswax candles and cast iron tubs. Honeysuckle scents and frosty mornings. Rooster crows and ice cream in the summer. Ice house, smoke house, barn and fences. What we have lost to urbanity is a touch of the face of God, dirt under fingers, closeness to creation.

What we have lost. May God bless you with this home, someone who’s soul is so in touch to this special place should be the steward of its treasures.


BeckeySeptember 24, 2010 - 7:56 pm

Nice of you to share….hoping it will find a place with someone who is as caring and as interested in preserving it as you are.

tishaSeptember 24, 2010 - 8:03 pm

Thanks Armin! :-)
Laura~ LOL! The one thing I know for sure is I would definitly need to invest in a “snuggly” since I would, no doubt, be freezing all the time…I am cold natured already. They actually added geo thermal heating to this house before they moved out! With new pumps and all!
And I love your blog ;-) Totally smitten with your site as well..LOL!

Michael~ Your words summed it up perfectly!! Such a way with words! I got all teary…so nice to know that someone else totally “gets it”. I would totally agree that I am an “old soul” with a very healthy repect for those who walked this earth long before me. I will keep on trying to figure out a way to “make it happen” one day but until then I will just pray that it lands in good hands. Hands that will love it and treasure it and make it a home again :-)

Edward (Seddie) B Douberly IIIOctober 2, 2010 - 5:36 am

Wow, I cant believe I came across this! I lived in Belnemus for 15 years. This is were I grew up from 1982 to 1997. I am 29 now. This was the most amazing place on earth as a child and still as an adult. There are many buildings that have been knocked down around the property that you have not been able to see. There are many ghost stories of this property that me, my mother and others have witnessed dating back to the early 1800′s. I could go on and on. Please contact me through email. When I get more time, I would love to fill you in on everything I know. My younger brother and I are planning on going back to document certain timelines, so if interested I might be able to bring one or two people along. My mother and I still reside in Powhatan. Her name is Shan Stodter and she is a second grade teacher at Flat Rock Elementary. Hope to talk to you all soon!

Christi TrasterOctober 3, 2010 - 11:21 am

Tisha – I excitedly read every last detail of your post, and said oooooh Tisha needs this house. This house is meant for you. It needs you. Keep dreaming, my friend. You never know what will happen. xo

tishaOctober 4, 2010 - 4:17 pm

Edward that is AWESOME!! Totally e-mailing you! :-) Would love to really nail down a good timeline on the house. I read one of the ghost story accounts in the Richmond Times article from back in the 1930′s and it was so intersting!
I can only imagine how awesome it must have been to grow up there! I am out in Powhatan all the time for the kids co-op, dance, boyscouts etc… so totally game for meeting up!

Christi~ your right I need this house…lol! But not in the price range at this point. It has major work it needs so unless I can figure out the funding (which believe me…I am working on ;-) it won’t be happening for me for at least a few years. So in the meantime I would love to see someone buy it and love it. Much opposed to the whole falling into the ground option :-(

Susan JamiesonApril 16, 2011 - 6:57 am

I love this house too. I went out with a realtor to look at it. Although it needs a ton of work and it looked like the previous owners had done only a few things, I still saw all the potential. As an interior designer I would love this house just as you would. My only concern was for the area being built up into strip malls one day. I know there is a nature preserve in the back but it is on Midlothian. You live out there. What do you think?

Loved the foyer, dining, kitchen space, upstairs Ok. Hated the 2 side rooms – were they added? The bathrooms needed a total overhaul and new ones added. I think I liked the driveway in the center. How about you?

Now the ghost stories: please share!

TishaApril 17, 2011 - 6:56 pm

Susan I think it is safe on the building out that way. With gas prices the way they are especially. Anything that goes up that far out would more than likely be a big “fail”. With I think with gas prices the way they are nothing will be being built out that far for a long long time….it would tank. The preserve behind it no one will be building up unless the government gives it up which I don’t see happening out that way ;-)
What you probably missed would be the barn in the very back of the property and fenced in back acreage! The barn actually has many of the old homes parts and pieces!! When we went to look at it the home last with our Realtor the houses Realtor insisted on being there too along with ours (which was really a downer for us because he seemed….well uninterested and like we were a pain and had little knowledge of the home but tried to pretend he knew things he didn’t.) I pointed out that the records state there is a barn and the fenced in acreage. He was clueless and said “Oh that old thing…ya I guess you can go and look but it isn’t much.” For me though it was huge! Because of those original piecey parts in that open shed. We want a farm and the land would be perfect for it and having that fenced in acreage is a huge asset he obviously found unimportant. I think they have since gone with a new Realtor and put the price back up 50k? Just noticed on the other day.

The split master room upstairs is actually pretty cool once you know more of the details. Originally it would have only been the two upstairs room with two separate stairway’s leading to it. When you are in the sitting room downstairs you can look up and see the remains of the plastered over stairwells. In my opinion the floors all need resanded and refinished. In front of the fire places you will notice different styles of wood flooring. This means at some point a log rolled out of the fire and tried very hard to catch the house on fire….eeck! But very cool story to tell :-) I don’t think I would want to change that out just for the simple history of it. That said though insulation is terribly need in the basement under said floor. There are huge gaps that you can see down to the basement.

The basement is very cool but has a water problem in the section with the water heater. If you look at the wall behind it the whole wall is covered with mold. I am terribly allergic to mold and could tell instantly and found it with the flash light and my sniffer that instantly wanted to sneeze and carry on. BUT it is on a brick area and really would not be a big deal to clean off and keep mold free. I think they are always going to have issues with water in that section of the basement, they have even added a a water system to try and keep it under control. The home used to be known to have lots of ivy/rose/boxwoods all around it but you will notice gravel now. They have clearly tried to address the foundation and water issues. I would really want someone who does foundations for a living to come out and double check all is well.
The back porch was starting to pull away last time we went out that way as well but it is soooo beautiful I really don’t think it needs anything more than some love.

And I agree…We girls would need an updated bathroom…and I would need an updated kitchen ;-) All things that could be done though and I think the guts are in good shape.
So far I have heard from one gal who grew up there and she said “No ghosts” and then I have one post from a fella who lived there that said there are ghosts and he and his mother both saw them but I could never get him to e-mail back with any details but he did post on basically saying “Belnemus is haunted you should check it out!”
For us though after we went that last time with the Realtor it became clear we just don’t have the type of additional money it would take to get that beautiful home to where we would want it :-( If I ever fall into enough money though I would be there in a heartbeat! I think it would take an additional 100k at least to get it close to my “vision”. I actually think an interior designer would be PERFECT!! OMG! The things you could do with that home! :-)

ShannonApril 26, 2011 - 11:02 am

Thank you so much for this post!! I, too, have been pining for Belnemus. I just absolutely love the property. Its beauty combined with its history makes it the perfect spot. I CANNOT believe it hasn’t been snagged up already.

Garth E. StevensMay 1, 2011 - 2:56 am

A lovely post, and one that I can sympathize with. I lived in Belnemus myself with my four sisters and parents for nearly nine years, from kindergarten to middle school, starting in ’97. Unfortunately, my family of seven had to move, we just couldn’t afford the combination of constant repairs and my father’s long commute, and ever since I’ve wanted to return and live there again. We were the owners before the ones that you mentioned, and regretted our decision to sell almost immediately when they cut down two 220-year-old hedge rows. While I’m not sure that I’ll be able to life in that wonderful house again, (there isn’t a whole lot of money in the priesthood,) I’m glad to know that others appreciate it’s beauty and value as much as I do.

Kristy CosleyJune 9, 2011 - 10:58 am

Our firm represented the purchaser of this amazing home who is, as you say, in love with this home, but also the land around it. One of our folks here turned up your blog while doing some research on the home for our website. How excited we are to read it! We have forwarded your blog entry to the purchaser, and I feel certain you’ll be hearing from someone. I’ve loved reading through your blog and the comments! This type of property doesn’t come along every day, and it’s always a double blessing when someone purchases with intent to painstakingly repair and restore. Thanks for sharing your passion…

TishaJune 9, 2011 - 12:38 pm

Kristy that is great news!! So it found a new owner to love it?!!! :-) You just made my day! Be sure to tell them I will gladly come out from time to time and take some pictures to document and share their story if they would like! Be sure to let them know that the State Library downtown has some great stuff on it as well in the reading room that you can’t take the books out. I think they can make photocopies of the info though!
Such a special house and property :-)

CaitlinSeptember 29, 2011 - 2:36 am

What a blessing to see someone else concerned about the future of Belnemus. Edward Douberly is my cousin, and I have sooooo many fond memories of the place. I don’t know if he ever contacted you with his stories. I don’t know much in the way of its history, but I spent so much of my childhood there and loved every bit of it. I was so grieved when my aunt had to sell – everyone in my family loved that place with a passion. I loved wandering the house, stroking the wood walls and memorizing every floorboard creak. I live so far away now, and haven’t seen the place in years. Do you think there’s ever a chance that you’ll be able to buy the house?

TishaSeptember 29, 2011 - 12:06 pm

Caitlin that is awesome to hear! I have heard rumor that Belnemus has found a brand new owner who loves it :-) Totally made me happy! I am hoping they are as in love with it as the rest of us. Such a treasure :-)

AliNovember 22, 2011 - 2:57 pm

I was just googling the house and came across your blog. My Uncle was the one who recently had this house for sale. My sisters and I stayed there for a few nights in 2004, I remember being so afraid of it. I look back now and realize how beautiful it really was, and want to learn more about the history of it. Thanks for sharing what you know!

Harry & Kim FuhrmanJuly 11, 2013 - 11:47 am

Hi my name is harry. the house has a wonderful new owner and is doing major renovations but keeping it historically correct. we have been out a few times its looking great. we are going out this weekend to meet with the owner. and show her our wedding album my wife and I were married on the front porch of the house and our reception was held in he house. 5-20-90 the young man seddie who replied was there. we are friends of his parents. and him as well. We were blessed with that opportunity. and good friends. and we will always love BELNEMUS. PS YES it does have a few of the old occupants still there in spirit. we can tell you that from personal experience. Thank you for keeping up with this wonderful place. We love old places like this too.

TishaJuly 12, 2013 - 1:07 pm

What an amazing place to get married!!! I am sooooo happy to see it get the love it deserves again :-) It would have been a total shame for it to not find someone to love it and care for it! Tell them I said “Great job! Keep up the great work!” So many of us love this place…it is clearly special!

HeatherAugust 5, 2013 - 12:15 pm

I also grew up in Belnemus. We lived there from 1973 – 1981, when we moved into town to be closer to schools, etc. I can tell you it was a magical place to grow up. I can remember exploring the old carriage house (is it still there?), the basement with the original wood-burning oven, the barn with its hay loft, and so many other places. There is even a secret stairwell that used to be the servants stairwell that you can see by peering through a window in the living room. The servants would use the window to see if the guests needed anything. Belnemus is indeed rich in history – although I never saw any ghosts! ;)

Audra WattsNovember 23, 2014 - 5:01 pm

I read this, and I am reading my exact words, thoughts and feelings!! My friend lives in Powhatan and I make her take me there every time I go down. I am drawn to this house, by some force I cannot explain. I’ve dreamt of this house, and living in it. Ive sat on the rope swing, and on the front steps feeling a surreal peace of being “home.” Maybe in some past life we were there together. Haha Belnemus will always be my dream home that somewhere deep within holds a part of me.

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