Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Favorite ♥ Places: The Belmont Manor House, Ashburn, Virginia

For me, one of the best parts of living in the Washington, DC area is the access one has to the many interesting historic sites of the area.  My husband and I were recently invited by friends to a wonderful private 6-course dinner prepared by the chef of the Belmont Country Club in Ashburn, Virginia.  The dinner took place in the clubhouse, which is actually the restored historic Belmont Manor House.  Curious about the Manor House’s history I did a little research and found that the former plantation has been host to a fascinating array of people during its 212 years of existence!

Strategically set with commanding views in every direction of the countryside and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the highest point – a 415 foot ridge - west of Leesburg in eastern Loudoun County, Virginia is the two-story, five-part Federal mansion, formerly known as Belmont Plantation.  The Manor House (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) was built between the years of 1799-1802 by Col. Ludwell Lee (1761-1836) whose father, Richard Henry Lee, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. 

Richard Henry Lee
The first owner of the property was Thomas Lee (1690-1750), who was given a land grant of 11,182 acres from Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax.

Thomas Lee
During the War of 1812, Ludwell Lee’s plantation served as a refuge for President Madison when the British attacked Washington, D.C.  Col. Lee had served in the Continental Army as aide-de-camp to General Lafayette during the American Revolution, so when Lafayette made his final visit to the U.S. in August 1825, Ludwell Lee lavishly entertained the French general, President John Quincy Adams and former President James Monroe at the plantation.

General Lafayette
Although a slave owner, in 1819 Ludwell Lee helped organize the Loudoun Auxiliary of the American Colonization Movement, which assisted freed slaves to travel to the African nation of Liberia as settlers and missionaries.

Following Ludwell Lee’s death in 1836, Belmont was purchased by Margaret Mercer (1791-1846), the daughter of former Maryland Gov. John Francis Mercer. After her father died in 1821, Mercer, a staunch abolitionist, began to free the slaves on the family’s plantation near Annapolis, Maryland and pay their way to Africa via the American Colonization Movement, of which she was a member.  After purchasing Belmont, Miss Mercer immediately opened a progressive Christian school for young ladies, the Belmont Academy, in the manor house, with 20 to 30 boarding students and some from the community.  She offered moral instruction and a rigorous curriculum, including agriculture, sanitation, mathematics, science, astronomy, the natural sciences, and philosophy - subjects not usually taught to young women of that era.  Mercer was blessed with a keen and inquiring mind which led her to pursue extensive studies in medicine, agriculture, public health, and theology, during a period when such pursuits were deemed unsuitable for women. Her insistence that African Americans learn to read and write broke Virginia law and created hostility towards her in the community.  (The Memoir of Margaret Mercer can be downloaded free to computer or Kindle.)
Margaret Mercer 1848 by Thomas Sully
Other notable owners of Belmont include former Kansas Governor Frederick M. Staunton and Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. McLean.  Edward was the son of the owner-publisher of the Washington Post and Evalyn Walsh McLean was the only daughter of a successful Colorado gold miner, who is best remembered as an owner of the famous Hope Diamond.  President Warren G. Harding, a friend of the McLeans, often visited Belmont; and Mrs. McLean is said to have arranged trysts for the President at Belmont.  The McLeans raised and raced thoroughbred horses at Belmont and hosted many equestrian events during their ownership throughout the roaring ‘20s.  The Great Depression affected the McLean’s wealth; and in 1931 they lost Belmont at an auction, and it is said that there was a dispersal sale on the front lawn.  (Evalyn Walsh McLean’s recently updated autobiography, Queen of Diamonds, is a great read!) 

Evalyn Walsh McLean in the Roaring '20s wearing the Hope Diamond
Evalyn Walsh McLean in the Roaring '20s wearing the Hope Diamond
Belmont was next sold to General and Mrs. Patrick J. Hurley for $75,000 - $10,000 less than the price paid by the McLeans.  General Hurley served as President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of War; and during World War II (when Hurley was called to active duty as a brigadier general and served on a special mission to Australia and as the first U.S. minister to New Zealand, 1942; was a personal representative of the President of the United States to the Soviet Union, 1942, and to the nations of the Near East and Middle East, 1943; and was a presidential emissary and then ambassador to China, 1943-1944) the Hurleys rented Belmont to the Philippine Government-in-Exile for the duration.

General and Mrs. Patrick J. Hurley

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this, I downloaded the kindle Miss Mercer book you linked to (I was charged a small fee for the download). I was just in Loudoun Country for a family trip to the DC area. We visited the Hope Diamond too. I did not know the connection. And for all the times I heard of Dolly Madison fleeing the White House, I never learned where she fled to. I enjoy your blog very much!! Thank you for writing!


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