Powhatan site listed as one of America's most endangered

POWHATAN, VA (WWBT) –A little known historic treasure sits right here in Central Virginia and now it's in trouble. Belmead-on-the-James had one of the only schools for black men in our area after the Civil War. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has now placed it on this year's list of America's most endangered historic places.

Being named to that group is not necessarily a designation Belmead-on-the-James wants, but since the national trust created the list it has become a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources.

Nestled among Powhatan's rolling hills sits an historic gem. The Belmead Mansion, once a thriving school for African American boys after the Civil War, now sits in disrepair. It is a skeleton of its former glory.

Dr. Patricia Gunn attended the sister school. She now chairs the board responsible for their upkeep.

"It's very sad because our youth was spent at these two schools and we remember the buildings that were here, the education that we received and the lifetime friendships that were formed," she explained.

Saint Emma Military Academy closed about 40 years ago. Now, the paint is peeled, the original windows are held together with tape and even the bell shows its squeaky age.

Repairing the roof damage is the priority as the sisters have had to use their fair share of buckets over the years and want to prevent further destruction.

Winfred Taylor grew up on the grounds. His father taught here. Taylor is optimistic the national trust's endangered designation will prompt donations.

"I just hope that some help will come," he said. "We can get some grants to restore the place and take it back to what it used to be."

Gunn said given the history the building has seen, Central Virginia can't afford not to save it.

"I love this place," she exclaimed. "And everyone who comes here does and we have to preserve this for your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren."

Since 1998 more than 200 historic treasures have been listed. Only a handful of them have been lost to disrepair. For more information on how to donate call 598-8938.

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