Must-See RVA! — Bellwood

Must-See RVA! — Bellwood

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

(VDHR) — Bellwood manor house — 1978 nomination photo
(VDHR) — Bellwood manor house — 1978 nomination photo

AKA, Auburn Chase, New Oxford, Sheffields, & Defense Supply Center Richmond Officers’ Club-Building 42
8000 Jefferson Davis Highway
Built, circa 1804
VDHR 020-0007

The former Auburn Chase plantation house is a characteristic example of the finely proportioned dwellings erected during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to serve as residences of Virginia planters.

(Find A Grave) — Mr. & Mrs. James Bellwood
(Find A Grave) — Mr. & Mrs. James Bellwood

Known originally as Sheffields and later as Auburn Chase, Bellwood was a working plantation from 1619 to 1941, except for a twelve year period following the Great Massacre of 1622. The Sheffield family was killed during the massacre, and when the area was pacified the property was acquired by the Gregory family. The Gregorys built the present dwelling house around 1790; nothing is known of the preceding houses. The existing structure is a characteristic example of the wooden, Georgian style architecture favored by most Virginia planters during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although it has been subjected to later modifications, its architectural integrity has not been significantly diluted.

(Library of Congress) — Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Bellwood — May 15, 1862
(Library of Congress) — Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Bellwood — May 15, 1862

In addition to the Great Massacre, Bellwood has been the scene of battles in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In the latter conflict it was occupted by Union troops. The owner of the property during that period was Major Drewry, who had married into the Gregory family. Drewry later traded the plantation for Westover in Charles City County. In 1887 the house and farmlands were acquired by James Bellwood, who gave the place its present name. Bellwood restored the depleted land and made the farm one of Virginia’s chief agricultural showplaces.

(California State Library) — Souvenir Views of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition — 1915
(California State Library) — Souvenir Views of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition — 1915

Bellwood products represented Virginia at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and won fourteen gold and silver medals as well as the outstanding exhibit award for excellence in competition with international exhibits. From 1900 through the 1930s Bellwood was visited by agriculturists from throughout the world, and its reputation remains even today. A remnant of the Bellwood family’s interest in nature is the elk herd, still cared for on the grounds.

(Google Maps) — Defense Supply Center Richmond Officers’ Club-Building 42, showing the original manor house portion
(Google Maps) — Defense Supply Center Richmond Officers’ Club-Building 42, showing the original manor house portion

In 1941 Bellwood was acquired by the U.S. Government and is now the Defense General Supply Center. The house is maintained as the center’s officers’ club.

The plan of the house is the basic center-passage plan with a room on each side. Although the interior is now used as an officers’ club, much of the early fabric is intact. This includes pine flooring, paneled doors, the stair, and most of the door and window frames. A handsome Adam-style mantel and paneled dado survive in one of the first-floor rooms. A long, one-story wing has been added to the rear in modern times to accommodate the club’s service areas.

(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — elks at the Bellwood preserve
(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — elks at the Bellwood preserve

The house is located just inside the main gates of the supply center. Although most of the farmland is now occupied by the complex’s many buildings, the house retains a pleasant setting. It is situated on a slight rise, surrounded by cedars, oaks, and lawn. A paved, curved drive leads to the portico. Adjacent to the house are twenty-one acres of pasture kept for the maintenance of a herd of seven American elk, descendants of two elk brought to the property by James Bellwood around 1900. (VDHR)

Bellwood was added to the Chesterfield County historic register in 1978, and the good news is that since that time, the elk are still there! The photo above comes from a July 19, 2015 article in the Times-Dispatch on the subject. Good to know that some things stay the same.

March 2017 — DSCR Operations Building
March 2017 — DSCR Operations Building

The less good news is that there is no way, no how, for the public to see Bellwood. It may be on the National Register, but it’s also on a military base. A request made to the DSCR Public Affairs Office yielded the response we don’t authorize people to come on the installation to take pictures. So this post does not have a picture of what Bellwood looks like today, beyond the Google Maps aerial photo.

It’s understandable, even laudable, that DSCR doesn’t want to compromise security by opening the floodgates; having civilians roaming all over the campus sounds like a problem waiting to happen. However, buildings listed on the registry benefit from tax credits in most cases, so you would think there would be some way they could provide limited public viewing while restricting access to other areas of the base.

March 2017 — Bellwood Flea Market, 9201 Jefferson Davis Highway
March 2017 — Bellwood Flea Market, 9201 Jefferson Davis Highway

However, you can still the effects of Bellwood Plantation on the surrounding area, reflected in a number of Bellwood-named businesses. Aside from the Flea Market above, there is a Bellwood Credit Union, and a Bellwood Campground, Bellwood Terrace Apartments, not to mention the inevitable Bellwood Road.

(Bellwood is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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