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 Realtor.com 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.