News | May 13, 2020

Bellwood Manor House set for $3.28M renovation

By Vince Little

The historic Bellwood Manor House at Defense Supply Center Richmond is getting a face-lift.

Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $3.28 million contract to Facility Support Services for renovation of Building 42, its official depot designation. The house – built between 1790 and 1804 and listed as a state and Chesterfield County landmark – was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, according to the Defense Logistics Agency.

Restoration work is expected to begin later this month and the project should be completed in a year.

“This renovation is necessary and important primarily because we have an obligation to maintain historic structures that are on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Mike Eck, DLA Installation Operations project manager. “It is also needed to make repairs and prevent further deterioration of the structure. ... Our partnership with USACE is critical to the success of the project, which has been in the works since 2012.

“It’s been headed by two project managers at DSCR in succession and two from the Corps of Engineers. The collaboration has been excellent throughout the process.”

Eck said the Bellwood house, originally known as New Oxford and later Auburn Chase, evolved from an early 19th-century antebellum plantation into a modern 20th-century farm and dairy operation. The two-story, five-bay house is considered an excellent vernacular interpretation of Early Classical Revival style in Piedmont Virginia.

Capt. Katherine Huffmyer spent nearly two years as project manager in Norfolk District’s Military Construction Division. She recently left for a new assignment in Utah.

“This contract is critical for the district, because it’s the only historic landmark remaining at Defense Supply Center Richmond,” she said. “The Corps of Engineers will play a critical part in ensuring this project maintains the historical significance of the Bellwood Manor House. It’s a project that has undergone many changes over the years, but it was extremely important to get it awarded. We had a wonderful team that put in a lot of hard work to get it to the finish line.

“It’s such an interesting story how this club and manor has evolved.”

During the Civil War, the property was home to Maj. Augustus Drewry, a Confederate officer who constructed Fort Darling, or Drewry’s Bluff, a fortification east of the house responsible for preventing Union troops from traveling up the James River to Richmond, the Confederacy’s capital. It was the site of two battles – and the Bellwood house served as Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters in 1864 during campaigns in Petersburg and Richmond.

The manor hosted an important meeting when Beauregard, Gen. Braxton Bragg and Confederate President Jefferson Davis met there to strategize on Richmond’s defense.

The property was purchased in 1887 by James Bellwood, a Canadian farmer, who sought refuge in Virginia's more temperate climate. Under his watch and through pioneering agricultural practices, Bellwood and his sons transformed the plantation into a modern farming showplace and renowned farm and dairy operation.

“He turned the property into a nationally recognized, modern, progressive farm that utilized innovative farming techniques to create one of the most productive farms in Virginia prior to World War II,” Eck said.

A remnant of the Bellwood family’s interest in nature is the elk herd, still cared for on installation grounds.

Because of its proximity to the James River and established railroad lines and roads, the estate was purchased by the federal government in 1941 for use as a military supply depot, under Army Quartermaster Corps command. It’s now known as Defense Supply Center Richmond.

Today, Bellwood Manor is used for command meetings, functions and informal training sessions. The house is also site of the Officers’ Club.

“DLA and Defense Supply Center Richmond identified it as a priority project due to its use for significant ceremonies and command gatherings,” Huffmyer said. “They also want to ensure its preservation as a historical building.”

She said the contractor is responsible for ensuring the renovation work is done in accordance with plans and drawings approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, which include some structural work, as well as interior and exterior refurbishment.

“The Bellwood project has seen many hurdles in getting to the point of construction award,” she added. “But fortunately, it will finally begin the process toward restoration and preservation of its historical significance.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the US Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District website.