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|Belmont, a splendid northern Virginia estate started by the Lee family in 1799, is significant for its architecturally outstanding residence and notable people who lived there (scroll down to learn more about both). Belmont is in the National Register of Historic Places (80004198), which is maintained by the National Park Service.|
Historically, the estate symbolizes the late eighteenth century resettlement of many of Virginia's prominent Tidewater families in the more fertile northern and western areas of the state. Toll Brothers, Inc. bought the house and grounds from IBM in 1995 and developed a gated golf community, Belmont Country Club, using the mansion as a clubhouse.
Remnants of Belmont Chapel, constructed about 1840 by noted Belmont resident Margarent Mercer, are still on the St. David's Episcopal Church property, which plans to rebuild the historic structure.
History of Belmont
Belmont's elegant house was erected 1799-1802 by Ludwell Lee (1760-1836), son of Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although practically unkown to most architectural scholars, the house is one of the most refined expressions of Federal-style plantation architecture in the Middle Atlantic region. Laid out in the popular five-part plan, it is akin to such notable houses as Woodlawn, Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C., and the mansions of Annapolis.
Ludwell Lee was born on his father's plantation, Chantilly, in Westmoreland County. He acquired the Belmont property through his first wife (and first cousin), Flora Lee, who inherited the land through their common grandfather Thomas Lee of Stratford. Thomas Lee had patented the Belmont tract in 1728. Ludwell served as aide-de-camp to General Lafayette during the campaign of 1781. Like most of his kinsman, he went into public service and became a member of the Virginia General Assembly.
The plantation served as a refuge for President Madison when the British sacked Washington, D.C. during the war of 1812, and when General Lafayette made his triumphal tour of America in 1825, he was lavishily entertained by his old friend Ludwell Lee at Belmont.
In 1836, Margaret Mercer, distinguished daughter of a former Maryland governor, purchased the Belmont Plantation from the Ludwell Lee estate with the intention of establishing a progressive Christian school for women. Although today it is not widely known, Miss Mercer was among the most extraordinary women of her age. More about Margaret Mercer.
Other Famous Owners
Other notable owners of Belmont include former Kansas governor Frederick M. Staunton and Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. McLean. Mr. McLean was the son of the owner-publisher of the Washington Post and Mrs. McLean (Evelyn Walsh) is best remembered as an owner of the famous Hope Diamond. The house was purchased in 1931 by President Hoover's Sectretary of War Patrick J. Hurley and his wife, who rented it to the Phillipine government in exile during World War II. In 1969 IBM Corporation bought Belmont and used it as a management retreat until selling to Toll Brothers in 1995.
Description of Belmont
The main house at Belmont is an architecturally sophisticated five-part Federal mansion with notably handsome proportions and detailing. The house is in a good state of preservation, and except for modifications made during a 1907 remodeling and modernization, the building remains essentially unchanged from its original appearance.
|The dominant feature of the house is its center section, a five-bay, two-story structure some fifty-seven feet in length. The center section was originally built with a T plan, the rear wing measuring forty-four feet by twenty-five feet but was modified during the 1907 remodeling. Covering the center section is a gable roof with modillion cornices and interior end chimneys.|
The center bay is treated as a relatively wide pedimented pavilion. Openings in the pavilion consist of a lunette in the pediment; a fine Palladian window on the second floor, with stone lintels and intersecting tracery; and a double doorway on the first floor flanked by sidelights and covered by an exceptionally large fanlight.
Sheltering the main entrance is a refined tetrastyle portico with fluted Doric columns, modillion cornice, and a frieze ornamented with alternating geometric patterns. The rest of the facade openings have six-over-six sash and are topped by stone lintels with keystones. All of the principal walls of the house are laid in Flemish bond with narrow tooled joints.
|The interior of the front portion of the center section remains essentially unchanged, with a first floor consisting of a wide center hall with large reception rooms on either side. At the end of the hall is a wide elliptical arch supported on Doric piers which frame the stair. The stair ascends against the hall's south wall, perpendicular to the center hall. Doorways leading from the hall to the reception rooms are elegantly treated, each topped by a dentiled cornice and deep frieze containing a delicate beaded festoon. The hall, like the rooms to either side, is ornamented with a pedestal-type, paneled wainscot.|
The outstanding feature of the reception rooms is the elaborate mantel in each. Legend has it that the mantels were given by Lafayette when he visited Belmont in 1825. The East mantel contains a central panel with the profile of a Classical male in relief, framed by garlands of foliage. The West mantel's central panel is ornamented with a swag of flowers overlaid by an urn, and on either side of the panel are delicate festoons of flowers.
Belmont's stair has a molded handrail and thin, square balusters, three to a step. At the end of each step is a scrolled bracket. Upstairs, the center hall has been made into a large, somewhat elegant bathroom. The principal bedrooms on either side have simple but well-proportioned Federal woodwork.
Of the early outbuildings, only a stone smokehouse survives. To the west of the house is a walled cemetery containing the grave of Ludwell Lee.
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