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Must-See RVA! — Bellgrade Plantation

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

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February 2020
  • AKA Belvidere, Bellgrade, Alandale, Allandale, Ruth’s Chris Steak House
  • 11500 West Huguenot Road
  • Built, 1732, 1824

The centerpiece of one of Chesterfield’s most notorious murders. PG-13!

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

Belgrade, known in the late nineteenth century as “Belvidere” and renamed “Alandale” in the early part of this century, features an unusual plan and a unique medley of roof types. Situated off Robious Road southwest of Bon Air, the house occupies a large open tract surrounded by rapidly expanding residential and commercial development.

February 2020

February 2020

Originally a one- or 1 ½-story hall-parlor house, Belgrade was expanded to its present form in 1824. In that year, Edward Cox conveyed the property to Edward O. Friend, and assessed buildings rose in value from $482 to $1,939. This increase reflects a complete transformation of the original dwelling from a hall-parlor structure to a large dwelling composed of a two-story, side-passage-plan main block flanked by matching 1-story one-room-plan wings.

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

The hipped gambrel roof covering each of the two wings is unusual, and Belgrade provides the latest recorded example in Virginia of this rare roof type. Another unusual feature is the apparently original 1-story lean-to at the west end of the building. The primary purpose of this eight-foot wide unit appears to have been to house a stair (similar in form and coeval to that in the main block) permitting separate interior and exterior access to the upper chamber of the south wing.

February 2020

February 2020

The present interior trim, varying only slightly among the various rooms on both floors, dates entirely to ca. 1824. The mantel in the main block consists of a simple architrave surround capped by a molded shelf with punch-and-dentil band. The mantels in each of the wings are nearly identical, featuring a raised-panel surround capped by a molded shelf. Upstairs mantels date from the same period, and feature plain architrave surrounds with simple molded shelves.

February 2020 — showing end of original construction at center-right, and the start of new construction at far-right

February 2020 — showing end of original construction at center-right, and the start of new construction at far-right

Two coeval staircases serve the house; both are of closed-string, straight-run form with rectangular balusters, square newel with molded cap, and molded rail. The stair in the main block is of unusual configuration: it divides at a narrow landing against the rear wall, where short flights lead respectively to chambers over the main block and north wing. The stair in the lean-to, which makes a turn about three-quarters of the way up, barely allows headroom at the upper landing.

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — 1978

Originally, matching dependencies flanked the house. A one-story, two-room-plan frame kitchen with center chimney stood seventy feet to the south of the house, while an office of similar form stood at an equal distance from the north end of the dwelling. Both were in a deteriorated state in the 1920s and were demolished. The only surviving early outbuilding is a frame gable-roofed smokehouse standing a few yards southwest of the house.

February 2020 — showing original construction at center, new construction at far left

February 2020 — showing original construction at center, new construction at far left

The earliest traced owner of the property was Edward Cox, who in 1824 sold the house and 515 acres to Edward O. Friend for $5,000. Friend, the son of Joseph Friend and grandson of Edward Friend (d. 1806), lived there until his death in 1838, when the property passed to his widow, Matilda E. Burfoot Friend. She remarried and sold the farm two years later to Anthony T. Robiou, who lived there until his death in 1851.

(Old Stocks) — Richmond and Danville Railroad Company 100 share stock certificate

(Old Stocks) — Richmond and Danville Railroad Company 100 share stock certificate

Robious Crossing, where the new Richmond and Danville Railroad line intersected Huguenot Road, was named for the then-current owner of the farm. Robiou is best remembered in Chesterfield County history, however, as the man whose murder precipitated one of the most publicized court trials in nineteenth century Virginia.

(Wikipedia) — Black Heath

(Wikipedia) — Black Heath

The episode began when Robiou filed a divorce suit against his young wife (who was only fourteen at the time of her wedding) charging her with infidelity. [CCO]

Apparently, it wasn’t a “maybe-she-is” situation. Robiou caught them mid-schtupp, still cracking the plaster, and took offense.

John S. Wormley, the girl’s father, along with John Reid, her allegedly adulterous suitor, waylaid Robiou on the road to Black Heath Pits (today’s Robious Road) and gunned him down. [CCO]

(Fineart America) — Infidelity, 18th Century art print by Granger

(Fineart America) — Infidelity, 18th Century art print by Granger

Imagine Robiou’s last moments contemplating the unfairness of it all. “My wife Emily cheats on me and I get whacked for complaining?” ‘Course the Wormley family was old and established, so it must have been a matter of honor perhaps for (rightfully) slandering the family name. At least he has a street named for him.

Both men were taken into custody shortly thereafter, and Wormley, a prosperous planter and lawyer, was found guilty at a trial held at Chesterfield Court House in October, 1851. A mistrial was later declared, however, on the grounds that the jurors had been treated to drinks beforehand by the deputy sheriff and county clerk. [CCO]

*hic… innnoshent, yer Honor…

(Executed Today) — scene of a 19th-century hanging

(Executed Today) — scene of a 19th-century hanging

Over a year later, a jury summoned from Richmond and Petersburg because of the local notoriety of the case sentenced Wormley to death. A week later, a crowd of 4,000 persons watched the 42-year-old man hanged at Chesterfield Courthouse. Reid, meanwhile, had been tried and acquitted, and before the hanging married the young widow whose husband he had been accused of murdering. [CCO]

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — Belgrade Foyer, 1978

(Chesterfield County Public Library) — Jeffrey O’Dell Research Papers Collection — Belgrade Foyer, 1978

Of course, this all ends happily. Two weeks after her father’s hanging, Mrs. Emily Reid took a tumble down the front steps and perished. Poetic justice.

There are two accounts of how she died. One account is that she fell on a sewing basket and scissors punctured her heart. The other account is that she broke her neck. Since this tragedy, there have been hundreds of stories of sightings of the ghosts of Robiou and his young bride roaming the boxwood gardens behind the home. (Ruth’s Chris)

(Library of Congress) — Map of Chesterfield County, Va. — J. E. LaPrade, 1888 — Belgrade identified as Belvidere, right at the intersection of Robious and the Richmond and Danville Railroad

(Library of Congress) — Map of Chesterfield County, Va. — J. E. LaPrade, 1888 — Belgrade identified as Belvidere, right at the intersection of Robious and the Richmond and Danville Railroad

In 1851, the year of the first trial, Randolph Ammonett purchased the property from the trustees of Robiou’s estate for $2,025. Ammonett lived at Belgrade until his death in 1889. In his will, he directed that “an iron railing about 10 feet square be erected around the graves of myself and my deceased wife, J. J. Ammonett.” This fence still stands in the back yard, although there are no inscribed stones to identify the graves of either Amonett or his wife. [CCO]

Since then the place has been called Belvidere, Alandale, Allandale, and Bellgrade, the nom-de-plume that Ruth’s Chris prefers. Jeff O’Dell calls it Belgrade, and who are we to argue with an architectural historian?

Mary Wingfield Scott would not have approved with Ruth’s Chris’s alterations, but the steak house did end up preserving the original structure, so even if it isn’t on the historic registry, the spirit of the plantation house was preserved.

(Belgrade is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [CCO] Chesterfield County, Early Architecture and Historic Sites Jeffrey M. O’Dell. 1983.

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Local Asian American Society of Central Virginia to host author and artist of new book

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

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The Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) will host a local author and artist this weekend to present their new book, Portraits of Immigrant Voices, at its 24th annual Asian America Celebration tomorrow.

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

Alfonso Pérez Acosta painted the original portraits while Joe Kutchera wrote the personal histories. The author’s proceeds will benefit Afghan and Asian refugees who have settled in Virginia in a fund set up and managed by The Asian American Society of Central Virginia, a non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization.

The event is free and open to the general public. The pair will present the book on stage at 2pm and immediately following, AASoCV will host a book signing at 2:30pm. The book will be on sale for $40 at the event.

The 24th Annual Asian American Celebration features cultural performances, food, hands-on activities, exhibition booths, and merchandise from the Asian American communities in Central Virginia. This year’s theme is “weddings and our heritage.” The Celebration will take place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center at 403 North Third Street, Richmond VA 23219 from 11am to 7pm.

Learn more here.

The introduction to the book follows below:

Stories of Gratitude, Progress, and Manifesting Dreams

By Joe Kutchera

During the fall of 2020, following the George Floyd protests along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, I saw an African American woman wearing a t-shirt with this message in bold letters.

I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

As a (white) writer, I was stunned at how one sentence could leave me speechless and make me feel such a wide range of emotions. At first, I felt infinitesimally small, humbled by the brutal African American history behind that sentence, reflecting the violence and intimidation that Black Americans experienced during slavery and Jim Crow, which kept them from America’s prosperity. And seconds later, the sentence made me feel incredibly hopeful as it communicated that great progress and change is indeed possible, measured through a multi-generational lens, taking into account the sacrifice and suffering of previous generations. The formerly wild dream of freedom and opportunity is now, we hope, finally possible for African Americans today, though we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable outcomes for all Americans.

Many Americans may know Richmond, Virginia (RVA) for its history as the capital of the Confederacy with its Civil War Museum and the now-removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals along Monument Avenue. The ugly history of slavery and the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ permeate so much of the city, but a more complex and hopeful picture of its citizens is emerging.

In decades past, a majority of RVA’s population has been Black, with Whites representing most of the remainder of its population. Yet, a more multicultural, and even international population, is growing out of RVA’s Black and White history. The 2020 Census shows that RVA’s African American population fell below 50%, while its White population increased as a result of gentrification. Blacks appear to have left Richmond City for the suburbs (Henrico and Chesterfield Counties), where the Black population increased. Yet, the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population grew by double digits in Richmond City, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, and the people who selected “some other race” and “two or more races” grew by triple digits. This reflects an increase in children of interracial couples, immigrants from Africa (distinct from African Americans), as well as ‘mestizos,’ or people of mixed races, from Latin America. However small those populations might be now, the growth rates indicate that RVA, like the rest of the country, is becoming much more diverse.

With this in mind, I am grateful to be working with the Asian American Society of Central Virginia in sponsoring the publication of this book. AASoCV represents 18 diverse Asian communities that have stood up against racism and xenophobia, as described by AASoCV’s chair, Julie Laghi, in the foreword. AASoCV provides a perfect example of how people from vastly different language groups can come together to build community and cultural bridges, thereby promoting tolerance and diversity.

AASoCV has enabled me and the team involved behind this book to take this project to the next level, furthering our mission to share immigrant stories and reflect on how they embody the American dream. Tida Tep, the daughter of Pim Bhut, featured on page 70, joins us to visually bring these stories into the printed medium.

Our project initially began in an organic way. In August 2020, around the time that I saw the “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” t-shirt, I received a call from Karla Almendarez-Ramos, who manages the City of Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (OIRE). She asked me if I would be interested in and available to write profiles of immigrants as a celebration for National Immigrants’ Day on October 28, 2020. Richmond-based Colombian artist, teacher and muralist, Alfonso Pérez Acosta, had pitched the idea to Karla after crafting his initial computer-drawn portraits.

I immediately told her yes, that I would love to work on the project. I have written about and reflected on the subject of immigrants’ journeys previously, both interviewing recent immigrants and researching my own ancestors immigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States. My wife, Lulu, migrated from Mexico, to join me in Richmond in 2013. And previously, I had migrated to Mexico and the Czech Republic for work, during different chapters of my life. As a result, I also understand the immense challenges that immigrants face when moving to a new country.

National Immigrants’ Day has been celebrated since 1986, but mostly in places like New York City. We wanted to bring this celebration to Richmond, Virginia to highlight the diversity of its community and the variety of languages spoken (in addition to English). With the support of a grant from Virginia Humanities, we unveiled the portraits on October 28th, National Immigrants Day, on RVAStrong.org/portraits and published updates regularly through Thanksgiving, to honor our subject’s themes of gratitude. The exhibit’s social media campaign ran through December 18th, which the United Nations has named International Migrants Day as a testament to humanity’s “will to overcome adversity and live a better life.”

Many of the people we featured came as migrants initially, moving to the U.S. temporarily for work or educational opportunities. While others came as refugees, fleeing war and violence. And still others came here simply because they fell in love with an American! Yet, they all became immigrants when they decided to settle down permanently in the United States.

Each portrait features the subject’s name, country of origin, and language, written in both English and their respective language. To create the color behind each portrait, Alfonso blended all the colors from each subject’s flag of their home country to formulate that single, albeit blended color. For example, the red and white in the Swiss flag become pink behind Dominik Meier’s portrait (on page 62). I wrote personal histories to accompany each portrait to shed light on the challenges of migration and displacement, as well as explore the commonalities of learning to speak English and integrating into American culture. Their stories showcase the incredible creativity and ingenuity of these immigrants in overcoming numerous obstacles in their journey, some of whom have gone on to start companies and obtain graduate degrees.

In speaking with everyone we featured in this book, they have taught me how Richmond is a far more diverse and dynamic city than I ever realized. They truly appreciate America’s freedom, democracy, and the way that their neighbors have accepted them. As a result, I see Richmond and the United States through their eyes. In listening to their stories, I get the sense that they, too, have accomplished their dreams, and in some cases, even their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

“Virginia is for lovers. … But we need to keep that slogan alive,” says Mahmud Chowdhury, originally from Bangladesh (#19 in the series), referring to the state motto of Virginia. “Let’s continue to love each other, be our brother’s keeper and have each other’s back,” says Hannah Adesina, from Nigeria (#17 in the series). Immigrants are here “to demonstrate the best of ourselves, manifest our hopes and dreams,” says Brenda Aroche, from Guatemala (#13 in the series). And Ping Chu from China (#12 in the series) encourages us all in saying, “We need to build up a united country. This is the United States, right?”

The United States has an individualistic culture with an “I” oriented English language. Even though that is the case, the immigrants featured in this book have taught me that when we work together and support one another, WE can become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

When Chinese New Year celebrations took place on February 1, 2022, the same day that Black History Month began, I learned that 2022 was the year of the tiger. I realized that 2022 couldn’t be a more perfect year for us to launch this book with a symbol of bravery, courage, and strength on our side.

Joe Kutchera is the author of four books and the founder of Latino Link Advisors where he develops digital marketing and content strategies, with an emphasis in reaching the U.S. Hispanic market.

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The Dairy Bar in Scott’s Addition closes after 76 years; Tang & Biscuit to take over with new concept

After over 76 years in business, The Dairy Bar has closed its doors in Scott’s Addition, but new life is planned for the space.

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Photo: The Dairy Bar

After over 76 years in business, The Dairy Bar has closed its doors in Scott’s Addition, but new life is planned for the space. The restaurant, which opened in 1946 as The Curles Neck Place (when owned by Curles Neck Dairy) and was renamed The Dairy Bar in the 1980s, was a mainstay in the constantly-changing neighborhood. It ultimately succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, according to a post by owner Corey Martin, who purchased the business from longtime owners Bill and Tricia Webb in 2020:

To our valued patrons:

It is with heavy heart that the Dairy Bar has shut down. It has been somewhat of a Richmond Landmark since 1946. COVID placed a heavy hit on the Dairy Bar and once reopening was allowed the decline in sales along with increase in wages as well as food costs proved to be all but impossible to show a profit for a business with such tight margins. Once we were made aware that the former Landlord had sold the property we were pleased to find that the new buyers were literally business people from Scotts Addition neighborhood [sic]. They worked with us to allow an amicable and smooth transition. We so appreciate having the opportunity of meeting so many wonderful and colorful people both the patrons as well as our dedicated employees

The new owner Martin was speaking of is Stanley Shield Partnership, which bought the building and adjacent properties totaling 1.5 acres earlier this year for $7 million, according to Richmond BizSense. While there are currently no known plans to redevelop the property, the firm has developed nearby mixed-use projects including The Scout on Myers Street.

Neighboring shuffleboard bar Tang & Biscuit, which opened in 2018, announced today it will be taking over the space and plans to create a breakfast and lunch spot with a “funky diner feel” called Biscuits & Gravy.

No word yet on when renovations will take place or when the space will open.

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Dive In For Shark Science This Summer

Learn about Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Baby shark! Mommy shark doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Mommy shark! Daddy shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Daddy shark!

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Sharks are one of the oldest and most successful predators ever to have lived, but their millions of years of existence still haven’t given humans enough time to overcome fears about the misunderstood animal. In a new touring exhibition on display at the Science Museum of Virginia beginning May 28, guests will learn that sharks have more to fear about humans than we do about the fascinating aquatic creatures.

In “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey,” guests will trace millions of years of evolution, come face-to-face with the great white shark, learn the true impact of the shark fin trade and gain a new level of respect for sharks of all shapes and sizes. The exhibition features shark models cast from real animals, a collection of real teeth and jaws, and extremely rare fossils — some up to 370 million years old.

“Often, what we don’t understand, we fear,” said Virginia C. Ellett Director of Education Timshel Purdum. “The fact that sharks are mysterious combined with decades of media hype has made us scared to dive into their underwater world. In this exhibition, guests will see that sharks are majestic, diverse, powerful and supremely adapted for their environment. Most importantly, they will see that humans are the real threat through practices driving dozens of species to the brink of extinction.”

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

Created in Australia by Grande Experiences and an international team of experts in sharks, marine biology and oceanographic cinematography, “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is the only comprehensive shark experience to tour the world. An immersive walk-through gallery utilizes cinema-quality SENSORY4™ technology and features 45 minutes of incredible high-definition underwater footage of sharks in their natural habitats.

“Learning about jaw-dropping shark adaptations and incredible behaviors will go a long way toward helping guests face their fear,” said Purdum. “We’re celebrating all things shark this summer, and I’m confident our enthusiasm for these amazing animals will not only entertain, but also change perspectives.”

Whether they are filled with fear or fascination, the innovative out-of-water shark experience will have guests hooked from start to finish.

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

To complement the exhibition, the Science Museum is offering ocean-themed demos and educational activities throughout the building and hosting Science After Dark events and Lunch Break Science presentations. In addition, the Science Museum is showing the giant screen film “Great White Shark” in The Dome this summer and is hosting “JARS: Sharks on Loan,” a touring exhibition featuring dozens of shark specimens in jars from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary.

During regular Science Museum operating hours (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), admission to “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is available through a combination ticket that includes access to the exhibition as well regular Science Museum exhibits. Admission is $21 for adults; $18.50 for youth (ages 6 – 12) and seniors (ages 60 and older); and $15 for preschool-aged children (ages 3 – 5). Discounts are available for teachers, military personnel and EBT cardholders. Science Museum members receive free admission to the exhibition. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets at smv.org.

Not only is the Science Museum reopening seven days a week when “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” debuts, but to give guests even more chances to see the exhibition while it’s in Richmond, the Science Museum is also offering extended hours June 3 through September 2. On Fridays, the Science Museum will remain open until 8 p.m. “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” will be the only experience open after 5 p.m., and admission is only $10 during those evenings.

Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is on display at the Science Museum through September 5. It was created and produced by Grande Experiences and is generously sponsored locally by Markel and GEICO Philanthropic Foundation. Shark-related summer programming in “The Forge” is sponsored by Brandermill Animal Hospital. Educator-led cart activities this summer are sponsored by The London Company.

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

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