National Trust For Historic Preservation Names Belmead-on-the-James in Powhatan County, Va., to Its 2011 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places®
Posted June 14, 2011 | Contact email@example.com or 202-588-6141
Washington, D.C. (June 15, 2011) – Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Belmead-on-the-James in Powhatan County, Va., to its 2011 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This annual list highlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural, and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Members of the public can show their support for saving the endangered places by texting “PLACES” to 25383 to donate $10, which will go towards saving historic places through National Trust outreach programs.
Situated atop a hill overlooking hundreds of acres of rolling pastures, wooded knolls and the winding James River, sits one of the least well-known, but critically important landmarks of African American heritage. Designed in 1845 by renowned American architect Alexander Jackson Davis, this Gothic Revival manor house is an architectural masterpiece and the heart of a 2,000-acre rural landscape. Built by enslaved people for plantation owners, Belmead took on new life when purchased in the 1890s by Katharine Drexel and her sister, who hailed from one of America’s wealthiest families. Katharine would later become one of only two American-born saints in the Roman Catholic Church.
Once a place of enslavement, Belmead became a self-sufficient center for the education of young African American and Native American students when the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, established by Katharine Drexel, transformed the former plantation into two private schools. The boys’ school, St. Emma Agricultural and Industrial Institute, was headquartered in the former mansion, while an 1895 Gothic-towered building became the home of St. Francis de Sales High School for girls. Over the course of seven decades, Belmead-on-the-James has touched many thousands of lives, including 15,000 of America’s most disenfranchised students. Both schools have produced an impressive list of distinguished alumni whose ranks include members of the elite Tuskegee Airmen and Civil Rights leaders.
After financial setbacks, the schools were shut down in the 1970s. Most of the school buildings were demolished shortly thereafter, and the few historic structures that remain standing today are underutilized and deteriorating. On a campus that once contained more than 40 buildings, only three major historic structures survive: Belmead mansion; an 1841 stone granary; and the 1895 St. Francis de Sales High School. In March, 2010, St. Francis’ four-story bell tower collapsed, shearing off part of the brick façade and leaving the interior open to the elements. The nearby manor house requires emergency roof work to halt ongoing structural damage, and both monumental buildings are threatened with serious deterioration. Without significant and immediate rehabilitation, their days are numbered.
“Just forty miles from the capital of the Confederacy, a one-time plantation was reborn as a school for African American and Native American students, a place that helped inspire young people to dream about a life beyond the segregated South,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “There are so many wonderful ways in which Belmead-on-the-James could be – and should be – adaptively reused to continue to meet the mission of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.”
Katharine Drexel established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to help oppressed African American and Native American people, financing more than 60 missions and schools. In 2004, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament created a nonprofit organization, FrancisEmma, Inc., to act as steward of Belmead-on-the-James. FrancisEmma, Inc., which is led by African American graduates of the two former schools, is working with the Sisters and preservationists to find compatible new uses for the historic site. Their hope is to repurpose the property once again for a use that aligns with the Sisters’ mission to serve oppressed and needy people.
Members of the public are invited to learn more about what they can do to support this and hundreds of other endangered sites, experience first-hand accounts of these places, and share stories and photos of their own at www.PreservationNation.org/Places. Local preservation groups across the nation submitted nominations for this year's list; the nomination for Belmead-on-the-James was submitted by Preservation Virginia.
The 2011 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):
Bear Butte, Meade County, S.D. – Bear Butte, the 4,426-foot mountain called Mato Paha by the Lakota in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is sacred ground for as many as 17 Native American tribes. A place of prayer, meditation, and peace, this National Historic Landmark is threatened by proposed wind and oil energy development that will negatively impact the sacred site and further degrade the cultural landscape.
Belmead-on-the-James, Powhatan County, Va. – A little-known landmark of African American heritage, the 2,000-acre site along Virginia’s James River was transformed by Saint Katherine Drexel from a slave-holding plantation into a pair of innovative schools for African American and Native American students. Closed in the 1970s, the historic buildings set in rolling hills and wooded glades of the riverfront campus, including a striking Gothic Revival manor house designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, are deteriorating and need emergency repairs.
China Alley, Hanford, Calif. – In 1877, Chinese immigrants settled in this San Joaquin Valley town and found strength and community far from home in China Alley, a vibrant rural Chinatown. Today, most of its historic buildings are suffering from deterioration and disuse and are vulnerable to insensitive alteration as there is no local historic preservation staff or commission to enforce preservation protections.
Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Ala. – A place of spectacular beauty and stirring history, Dauphin Island is home to Historic Fort Gaines, a nationally significant fortress that played a pivotal role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Today, Fort Gaines' shoreline is eroding as much as nine feet per year, and continued erosion threatens this significant historic treasure.
Greater Chaco Landscape, N.M. – Located across a broad swath of northwestern New Mexico are hundreds of Native American archaeological and cultural sites that help unlock the mysteries of the prehistoric Chacoan people. These sacred sites, and the fragile prehistoric roads that connect them, are in jeopardy due to increased oil and gas exploration and extraction.
Isaac Manchester Farm, Avella, Pa. – For more than two centuries, this 400-acre farm—with a stately brick Georgian manor house and historic outbuildings—has been home to eight generations of one family. A remarkable time capsule of colonial farm life, Manchester Farm is threatened by longwall coal mining.
John Coltrane House, Dix Hills, N.Y. – One of America’s most widely acclaimed jazz artists, John Coltrane lived with his young family in a ranch house in Long Island, N.Y., until his untimely death in 1967. Today, the home where Coltrane wrote his iconic masterpiece, “A Love Supreme,” deteriorates due to lack of funds. Although a local group has taken ownership of the property and hopes to restore and interpret the site as an education center, the effort sorely needs broader attention and support.
National Soldiers Home Historic District, Milwaukee, Wis. – With its bucolic setting and diverse collection of historic buildings, Milwaukee’s Soldiers Home offered welcome refuge for generations of American veterans. Today, the campus is threatened by a pattern of deferred maintenance, which has left historic buildings unused and on the verge of collapse.
Pillsbury A Mill, Minneapolis, Minn. – A masterpiece of industrial architecture and the largest and most advanced facility in the world at the time of its completion in 1881, the Pillsbury “A” Mill Complex stands vacant and is in danger of piecemeal development, which could strip this National Historic Landmark of its tremendous potential for re-use and rehabilitation.
Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago, Ill. – A concrete and glass cloverleaf-shaped icon, Prentice Women’s Hospital has added drama and interest to the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades. Despite its cutting edge, progressive architecture, Prentice Hospital faces imminent demolition.
Sites Imperiled by State Actions, U.S. – In state legislatures across the country, cuts to preservation funding and incentives imperil hundreds of thousands of historic places. If key sources of funding and incentives are lost across the United States, thousands of irreplaceable sites and national treasures may suffer untold consequences.
To download high resolution images of this year’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in advance of June 15, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. On or after June 15, visit http://www.preservationnation.org/about-us/press-center/ to register and download high resolution images and video.
America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified more than 200 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history. The list has been so successful in galvanizing preservation efforts across the country and rallying resources to save endangered places that, in just two decades, only a handful of sites have been lost. A one-time donation of $10.00 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance when you text to donate.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.