Virginia Landmarks Register Spotlight: Rosemont of Powhatan County
This unique state landmark boasts ties to a late-19th-century Catholic school for African American and Native American girls founded by Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), the second U.S.-born individual to be made a saint.
By Lena McDonald
Rosemont was built around 1898 by C.L. Dodd Jr. The house is an excellent, but unusual, example of the Queen Anne style in Powhatan County. Its multiple-gable roof, pediments with tympanums, paneled chimney, oriel window, two windows with small squares of stained glass, and large front porch are characteristic elements of the Queen Anne design. Dodd employed an unusual floor plan with no central hall; instead, four large rooms are on the first and second floors. The lack of a hall and the placing of small corner fireplaces in each room may reflect Dodd’s northern background. An especially notable feature is the main staircase, which has tapering chamfered posts, a heavy molded handrail and delicate turned balusters. These attributes are associated with the Eastlake style, which was not commonly used in Virginia but was quite popular in the northeast during the late 19th century.
Dodd designed the house to serve as his own residence while he oversaw the ambitious construction project of the nearby St. Francis de Sales High School, a residential Catholic school for African American and Native American girls. The two buildings display similar details, such as stained-glass windows, ornately carved double front doors, and interior wainscoting. While the school was under construction, Dodd and his wife, Rosezilla, made their home at the house. The name “Rosemont” came into use in 1901, when the Meacham family purchased it.
The Drexel-Morrell Center operates from Rosemont and serves as an archival repository, a museum, and a gathering place for storytelling, ancestry research, and environmental educational activities emphasizing eco-social justice. The center focuses on telling the history of the African Americans who lived, worked, built, and facilitated the growth of Belmead, a pre-Civil War plantation acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Edward de Vaux Morrell of Philadelphia. At the urging of Mrs. Morrell’s sister, Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), in 1895 the couple founded here St. Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural School for African American male students. Renamed St. Emma Military Academy in 1945, the school continued until closing in 1972. In 1899, St. Francis de Sales High School opened to provide young women with academic opportunities that were rarely available elsewhere; the girls’ school closed in 1970. Drexel, a Philadelphia philanthropist and religious sister who founded the Catholic Order of the Blessed Sacrament, was dedicated to educating Black and Native American students during the Jim Crow segregation period in United States history. In 2000, Drexel became the second American-born individual to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Today, Belmead on the James, Inc. (BOJI), dba The Drexel-Morrell Center, owns Rosemont and has returned the property to active use. The organization also has donated to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources a perpetual preservation and open-space easement over their property, which in addition to the main house, includes a historic stable and 56.4 acres of open-space land. The preservation easement will help foster the Center’s plans to create a trail system centered on the property’s natural resources and the development of amenities such as outdoor classrooms, exhibit spaces, and demonstration gardens for agricultural learning programs. Additionally, the easement, to be administered by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR), will shield the property in perpetuity from potential subdivision and redevelopment.