How to Read Belmont’s Sundial

Belmont SundialDuring my periodic Director’s Tours and when I’m helping out with regular tours, visitors often ask me what that thing is mounted on the outside wall of the sun porch.  Most correctly guess that it is some sort of sundial, but no-one has been able to describe how it works.  So after a little research here is the answer.

When Gari and Corinne Melchers added a sun porch on the south end of Belmont’s main house in 1916, they included second floor bathrooms that connected to the two original bedrooms on that level.  They incorporated small windows in each bathroom to allow a view of the gardens, but could not place a window on the wall between the bathrooms where the plumbing pipes were installed.  To soften a visually awkward solid blank wall, the Melcherses installed a vertical sundial similar to types they may have seen in Europe.

However, for unknown reasons, it appears the couple did not add hour numbers or lines to indicate the time of day that was marked by the shadow of the dial. Perhaps they assumed that most people in their day had experience with sundials and knew how to read them, or the markings were painted over sometime in the past (someday we’ll do an investigation of the paint layers).

The images below will hopefully help solve the question of how to read Belmont’s sundial.

Mystery solved!


Here is an example of a vertical sundial showing the hour numbers and the way the shadow would move during the day to mark the time.

vertical sundial

Another example of a vertical sundial. This one is located in downtown Frederickburg, Va at the Visitor Center.

Belmont Sundial 2

This is Belmont’s sundial indicating the time as about 11 am.



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