State Historical Marker to Be Dedicated for Belmead in Powhatan

Published June 18, 2024

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
June 18, 2024

Contact:
Ivy Tan
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
ivy.tan@dhr.virginia.gov
804-482-6445

State Historical Marker to Be Dedicated for Belmead in Powhatan

—The former plantation home was turned into two schools that provided education for thousands of African American and Native American students from the late 19th to 20th centuries—

—Text of marker reproduced below—

PLEASE NOTE: DHR creates markers not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, erected markers are not memorials.

RICHMOND – A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will be unveiled this weekend for Belmead, a 19th-century Gothic Revival plantation that was transformed into two private schools for African American and Native American youth by Katharine Drexel and her sister, two Philadelphia-born philanthropists. Katharine was later canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, becoming one of only two American-born saints.

The dedication for the marker will be held Saturday, June 22, starting at 11:30 a.m., at the marker’s location at the intersection of Route 60 (Anderson Highway) and Bell Road, across from the Hi and Buy Store, in Powhatan County (23139). This event is free and open to the public. Free on-site parking will be available at the event.

The dedication will take place in conjunction with an all-classes reunion of St. Emma Industrial and Agricultural Institute (later known as St. Emma Military Academy) and St. Francis de Sales High School, the two academies established by Saint Drexel at Belmead. Robert Walker, chairman of the Rock Castle Group, an organization of alumni from St. Emma and St. Francis, will offer introductory remarks. Marius Jones, a St. Emma alumnus, will introduce local historian and photographer John Plashal, who will provide remarks on the history and legacy of Belmead and the schools. Larissa Smith, State Review Board Member and Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Longwood University, will attend the dedication on behalf of DHR.

Designed in 1845 by New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis and built by enslaved African Americans, Belmead was originally the home of planter Philip St. George Cocke, who served as president of the Virginia Agricultural Society and board member of Virginia Military Institute. Edward de Vaux Morrell, a Pennsylvania congressman, and his wife Louise Drexel bought Belmead in 1893. During the 1890s, Louise and her sister Katharine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and the second American-born individual to be canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, headed efforts to establish St. Emma Industrial and Agricultural Institute for African American boys and St. Francis de Sales High School for Black and Native American girls. For many decades, St. Emma was the nation’s only military school for African American young men. St. Emma and St. Francis educated thousands of students from across the country and abroad before closing in the 1970s. In 2011, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Belmead on its list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers, approved the manufacture and installation of the marker for Belmead in September 2022. The Rock Castle Group initiated the marker and organized the dedication ceremony. DHR covered the manufacturing costs of the marker using funds allocated by the General Assembly for the diversification of Virginia’s historical marker program.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1. It is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

Full Text of Marker:

Belmead

Belmead, the home of planter Philip St. George Cocke four miles north, was designed by Alexander J. Davis in 1845 and built with enslaved African Americans’ labor. Louise Drexel Morrell and her sister, Katharine Drexel—founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and a saint of the Catholic Church—were instrumental in establishing two schools there in the 1890s. St. Emma Industrial and Agricultural Institute (later St. Emma Military Academy), for many decades the nation’s only military school for African American young men, and St. Francis de Sales High School for Black and Native American young women educated thousands of students from across the U.S. and abroad before closing in the 1970s.

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