October 25, 2021

Gari Melchers Home and Studio Announces Belmont Horseshoe Staircase Restoration

Restoration of an iconic exterior staircase at Belmont, the historic house at Gari Melchers Home and Studio, began this week with removal of an architecturally-significant iron railing for conservation treatment.

The Horseshoe Staircase at Belmont was included in the inaugural list of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts designated by the Virginia Association of Museums in 2011. It dates to ca. 1845, when Belmont’s owner Joseph B. Ficklen expanded the house and its gardens. The railing is stylistically similar to examples characteristic of Philadelphia, an ironworking center where Joseph Ficklen had business ties. Construction of the stone steps, which consist of a mix of granite, brick, marble, and Aquia sandstone, likely involved the Ficklens’ enslaved workforce.

The staircase’s railing is a superb example of wrought iron craftsmanship combined with emerging cast iron technology of mid-19th century America. As an architectural feature of historical significance with no equal in the greater Fredericksburg region, and perhaps even in the whole of Virginia, this artifact not only helps tell the story of Belmont’s white owners’ prosperity, but also stories of the enslaved black people who are integral to understanding the site’s history.

Significant rust corrosion has defaced much of the wrought iron, and the brass knobs have deteriorated badly. Numerous paint layers have obscured the details of applied cast iron rosettes and improper repairs in the past now threaten the artifact’s integrity.

Stokes of England, a blacksmith with extensive experience in historic restorations, removed the iron railing from the Belmont staircase on Wednesday, January 6. Restoration at the blacksmith’s Keswick, Virginia facility will take approximately four months. A stonemason is being selected to address structural and aesthetic issues with the stairs.

Completion of the restoration project is anticipated in April or May of this year. The roughly $60,000 cost is covered entirely by private donations.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio is a 28-acre estate and former residence of the artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne. The property, which is operated by the University of Mary Washington, is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Located at 224 Washington St. in Falmouth, Virginia. For more information visit www.garimelchers.org.