DHR to Administer Historic Preservation Easement Over Drexel-Morrell Center Property

Published February 23, 2023

Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
February 22, 2023

Ivy Tan
Marketing & Communications Manager

—The easement will protect property associated with individuals hired by Saint Katharine Drexel to build a Catholic boarding school for African American girls in Powhatan County—

RICHMOND – Belmead on the James, Inc. (BOJI), dba The Drexel-Morrell Center, has donated to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources a perpetual preservation and open-space easement over the Drexel-Morrell Center property located in rural northeast Powhatan County. Recorded on February 15, 2023, the easement protects the property’s historic core, which consists of the ca. 1898 Rosemont house and a frame stable, and 56.4-plus acres of open-space land. The easement, to be administered by the Department of Historic Resources (DHR), will shield the property in perpetuity from potential subdivision and commercial development.

The Drexel-Morrell Center operates from the Rosemont house and serves the community as an archival repository, a museum, and a gathering place for storytelling, ancestry research, and educational activities including lectures and workshops. The center focuses on telling the history of the African Americans who lived, worked, built, and facilitated the growth of the nearby Belmead Plantation, located northwest of the intersection of State Routes 663 and 600. The center also highlights the vision and commitment of Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), a Philadelphia philanthropist and religious sister who founded the Catholic Order of the Blessed Sacrament, to educate Black students during the Jim Crow period in United States history. In 2000, Drexel became the second American-born individual to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

BOJI, which acquired the Drexel-Morrell Center with grant funding from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation Open-Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund, intends to use the property for environmental education and activities emphasizing eco-social justice. The easement will help foster BOJI’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.

“Something wonderful is growing in Powhatan. The Drexel-Morrell Center has just become a place set aside ‘forever’ as a protected gathering space of story and land. A permanent natural and historic conservation easement has been established to preserve both history and green space ‘unto the Seventh Generation,’” the center’s executive director, Sister Maureen T. Carroll, said in a statement. “All people and all life are interconnected. This new place of eco-social justice will hold stories of the past as we encourage new wisdom stories to enrich the Earth ‘unto the Seventh Generation.’”

William S. Taylor wedding in 1898 in Richmond Planet.
The wedding announcement for William S. Taylor and Etta Bells in the Richmond Planet in 1898. Image: Newspapers.com.

Built around 1898, Rosemont was the home of Charles Lewis (C.L.) Dodd, a man hired by Drexel in 1895 to design the St. Francis de Sales Institute, a residential Catholic school in Powhatan County for African American girls. Dodd lived in Rosemont with his family during the time that he worked on the school. While he is largely credited for the house’s construction, William Sturdivent Taylor, a skilled Black artisan of Powhatan who collaborated with Dodd, completed much of the work on Rosemont. Drexel also hired Taylor as one of the first employees contracted to build St. Francis de Sales Institute. An announcement published on March 19, 1898, in the Richmond Planet reveals Taylor married Etta Bells in a ceremony officiated by the Rev. T. P. Harris at the Mt. Zion Church in Powhatan.

Rosemont has been listed on the Virginia Landmarks and National Historic Registers since 2008 for its distinct architectural style. The two-and-a-half-story frame house is a unique example of the Queen Anne–Eastlake architectural design and embodies a turn-of-the-20th-century eclectic approach to form with its Gothic Revival detailing, varying window types, stained glass, wainscoting, and a plethora of small-corner fireplaces. The Drexel-Morrell property also includes a frame stable with a slate-covered jerkinhead roof that sits downhill to the rear of Rosemont, as well as a small cemetery with six marked graves located southwest of the house. The cemetery is associated with the Meacham family, who owned the property from 1901 to 1940.

The Drexel-Morrell property's historic setting is largely unchanged, and the surrounding area has experienced very little residential or commercial development. The property is bisected by one perennial stream, known as Lick Creek, and two intermittent streams. A mixture of woods, fallow field, and scrubland permeates the property. The Virginia Department of Forestry has given the property’s approximately 46-plus acres of forested land a high conservation value, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation rates more than 87 percent of the property’s total acreage as a high conservation priority in its Watershed Model. The easement will protect the forested landscape, associated watersheds (including the Chesapeake Bay watershed), and water quality, and its provisions requiring sustainable agricultural practices will enhance conservation of the agricultural values associated with the property.

“DHR is very excited to be partnering with the Drexel-Morrell Center on its stewardship of this significant and multi-faceted historic property,” DHR Director Julie Langan said. “As a result of the Center's vision and commitment, this important landmark will be preserved in perpetuity and will serve to educate the public for many years to come.”



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