The stone used to build the studio, summer house, and stone garage, as well as those that make our paths and garden walls, have recently been identified as being rich with dinosaur footprints. Dr. Robert Weems, research geologist for the United States Geological Survey (retired) found the deposits while visiting Belmont with his wife and guests. I was thrilled to learn about this discovery as it adds another layer of significance to our already history-rich site.
The dinosaur footprints and how they came to Belmont is an interesting story in and of itself. Gari Melchers purchased stones from several sources. However, much of the sandstone came from a mansion called Mannsfield located about two miles south of Fredericksburg on Tidewater Trail.
A Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) documents archaeological and historic research undertaken in 1936. Mannsfield was built in 1776 by Mann Page as a gift to his wife Mary Tayloe of Mount Airy in Richmond County, Virginia. According to tradition, he promised her this as an inducement to accept his marriage proposal. It would be, he said, a home even better than the one where she reared.
An army correspondent of the “New York Times” describes the house and its fate in an article written, May 9, 1863:
“The owner of this estate, H. I. Bernard, is a wealthy Secessionist, middle-aged, bachelor. Not long after General Franklin’s force had crossed, he was detected endeavoring to steal into our lines, and believing that he had been conveying information to the enemy, General Franklin ordered him into durance vile, where he has remained ever since. His lordly Mansion, built after the English style of architecture, was furnished with everything that wealth could furnish. Damask curtains, Brussels carpets, marble center tables, elegant mirrors and chandeliers adorned the various apartments. There were rare paintings from the Italian masters suspended on the walls; and numerous libraries ware found in various parts of the buildings. This home and all these adornments are now gone; and their owner is a prisoner in our hands.”
The house burned during the civil war, and the stone ruins were sold to various people in the early twentieth century.
National Park Service historian John Hennessy prepared an excellent blog post about the subject in 2010. You can read this at: https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/digging-mannsfield/
Research from 1963 concluded that some of the stone decorative elements at Belmont came from this site. The report, images, and drawings are all available at the Library of Congress web site. Click on this link to see information gathered by HABS.
The HABS article mentions that that it was ”reported by local amateur historians that this stone was quarried from a now deserted quarry close by on the Rappahannock,” but at the time this notion was dismissed. Robert Weems, our speaker for the Sunday March 13 program and John Bachman, amateur paleontologist, discovered an outcropping of sandstone rich in dinosaur footprints just downstream from the Mannsfield location in 2010. This area showed evidence of quarrying, lending credence to what the amateur historians mentioned in the 1936 report. I had a chance to visit the Mannsfield site recently and discovered quarried sandstone identical to that found in our buildings, leading me to believe that both the decorative elements and the building stone came from the mansion.
Be sure to examine our beautiful stone work during your next visit to Belmont – who knows what you might discover?