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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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