Two new gates were installed at Belmont in late November, 2016. Different in style and age, both are replicas of gates that were part of the landscape that Gari and Corinne Melchers created.
The gate that separated the barn yard from the pasture was not just a simple farm gate, but a gate of a distinctive and elegant design. We know from our records that both Gari and Corinne were actively engaged in the planning of the gardens and grounds, and a sketch he made for a gate and fence on the back of an envelope in 1919 is one of many examples of their involvement with creating their country home and farm. The gate may have been designed by an artist, but the building technique was decidedly vernacular. It was likely built on site by one of the farm hands, put together with simple joints, wire nails and bolts. Both the design and building techniques were copied for this reproduction, allowing our visitors to distinguish the various levels of workmanship displayed on the estate. The green paint, based on paint analyzes, showcases the beautiful design. This project was executed by Habalis Construction Inc. of Fredericksburg, with support from the Duff McDuff Green, Jr. Fund of The Community Foundation and the Fredericksburg Savings Charitable Foundation.
The second gate installed is quite different from the pasture gate. Gari and Corinne Melchers mounted two beautiful old gates in the stone walls that enclose the gardens. They are of unknown provenance, but almost identical in design. The pegged mortise and tenon joinery combined with the delicately carved acorn topped spindles indicates outstanding workmanship of an earlier era.
Oaks were important in the Ficklen landscape and several large white oaks (Quecrus Alba) survive from the pre-Civil War period at Belmont. Andrew Jackson Downing in his book A treatise on the theory and practice of Landscape Gardening, adapted to North America, (1859) called the white oak America’s National Tree, and believed that as it more nearly approached the English Oak in appearance, it was highly sought after for refined landscapes. The acorn has been perceived from Druid times as a sacred seed that symbolizes potential, longevity, humble beginnings, patience, faith, power, and endurance. The oak is even today seen as a symbol of longevity, strength and durability. It is possible then, that the gates are remnants of the gardens Joseph B. Ficklen created in the 1850’s when he added to his house, built the porches, stairs and laid out his lawn and Long Walk. He would have had some kind of gates to mark the entrances to his gardens, and our acorn gates would have fit the bill. Gari and Corinne Melchers could have re-purposed them, finding a new home for the gates in the stone walls they built.
The carvings and the mortise and tenon construction have been carefully replicated by Gaston and Wyatt of Charlottesville. The Garden Club of Virginia funded this reproduction project.
The newly restored gates were an important element of the farm complex built in the early 1920s. The cow barn, smoke house, stable, and three gates with fences have all been restored. The remaining elements of the compound that still need restoration are the run-in shed, and the gate and fence that run between the visitor center and the stable office.
The 1919 envelope sketch mentioned above is of a gate, posts and fence. The design was changed slightly during the execution; the arched top was dropped, and tulip shaped finials were added to the stiles.
In addition to finding funds to restore this gate and the run-in shed, we also hope to repair the remaining acorn gate and our main gates with the lion-topped posts. The buildings and grounds are always in a state of restoration; our work to preserve Belmont for the pleasure of future visitors is never ending.