When Gari and Corinne Melchers purchased Belmont in 1916 they acquired a stately house and 22 acres with gardens, hayfields, pasture land and woodlots. Over time, they bought land along the Rappahannock River, an old canal which had fed water power to the mills that once operated in Falmouth, and neighboring lots to create buffer zones on the northeast side of their property. When Corinne Melchers donated the property to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1942 she wanted the estate to serve as a memorial to her husband, an art center, and as place where people could come and enjoy the natural areas.
Today the estate contains 28 acres of land situated on a ridge overlooking the falls of the Rappahannock River. The river was a major transportation route for area Native Americans, and the falls were a crossroads where the Algonquian speakers of the eastern coastal plains and the Siouan speakers from the western Piedmont met. The high ridge served as a place to keep a look-out while making tools such as arrows and spearheads, many of which have been found on the grounds. The Rappahannock also brought European settlers to the area; they used the water to power mills and ship their goods to Europe from the bustling harbor in Falmouth.
During the Melchers era, the fields surrounding the estate were either hayed or used as pasture for the cows on the farm. In addition to the dairy, the farm supported chickens and turkeys, and before the purchase of the tractor in 1942, horses, which were used to pull a hay rake and other agricultural machinery. Letters and diaries refer to the “pastoral” feeling of Belmont, and it is apparent that Corinne and Gari Melchers enjoyed a close relationship with nature. Belmont, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has undertaken a wildlife habitat restoration of part of the former pastureland. In the spring of 2000 the fields were planted in warm season native grasses mixed with wildflowers to provide food and nesting places for butterflies and birds. A simple path, where the grass is kept short, circumnavigates the fields to allow visitors a close-up experience. Both fields are easily viewed from the main garden for visitors who prefer to stay on pavement.
Several trail heads lead from the garden or fields to the falls of the Rappahannock River or into the woods, following a small stream that runs through mature woodlands. Interpretive markers feature descriptions and photographs detailing historic resources along the trail. The trail is approximately 1 ½ miles long and passes remnants of an old ice pond, the canal that powered mills in Falmouth, a cemetery and a spring.
At the Rappahannock River visitors can fish or observe the shad running in the spring. Bald eagles, herons and many other species of birds are observed on a regular basis. Volunteers from the local chapter of Master Naturalists conduct woodland tours the last Sunday of each month at 2 p.m.
The trails are open 9 am – 5 pm.
A similar program, Letterboxing, a fun pastime combining navigational skill and rubber stamp artistry, with levels that suit all ages and experience levels are also found on the estate. The clues to the Belmont Letterbox can be found here.
View or download the Belmont Trail Map.
Pet Policy: The grounds and trails are perfect for walking your pets, but please keep them securely leashed at all times. Pets (except service dogs) are not allowed in any building. All pets must be leashed on estate grounds for their own safety as well as the comfort of our other guests. Please be courteous of others and pick up after your pet.