Monday, February 8, 2010

The History Of Belle Hill

Belle Hill now consists of 30 acres in rural Caroline County Virginia and is directly across the road from the boundary of Fort A. P. Hill, a military training center on a sprawling 76,000 acres. The view from the main house at Belle Hill is breathtaking. On a clear day you can see across 6 counties and even see the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The original house consisted of 4 rooms, two up and two down. It was built sometime in 1815, but there are no official records of its exact origin. Many of the county records prior to 1842 were destroyed by fire. Researching other documented events and diaries of the people that lived around here at the time as well as speaking to some of the people or their descendants that actually lived in the house here tells us much of the early history of Belle Hill.

Originally the property of Belle Hill was part of Prospect Hill, a large plantation that borders the Santee plantation. To this day Belle Hill still shares a property line with Santee. In the early 1800’s a man named Samuel Gordon Jr., son of the owner of Kenmore in Fredericksburg bought Prospect Hill from Lawrence Battaile.

Samuel Gordon married the heiress to the neighboring Santee plantation. They made their home there and Samuel sold Prospect Hill to his brother Basil Gordon. Basil then sold the property now known as Belle Hill, to James E. Dickinson on February 8th, 1853. There were apparently two very beautiful young women or “Belles” that lived on the hill at that time, and that is how the property acquired its name. One was Roberta Cary, cousin of James Dickinson’s wife; the other was the governess of the Dickinson children, Lulie Hoomes

Roberta (Bertie) Carey married Richard Corbin, son of James Parke Corbin of Moss Neck, another adjoining plantation, and James Parke Corbin married Lulie Hoomes, who was at the time of the marriage about the age of Corbin’s grown children from his first marriage. Upon the death of his first wife in 1855 Moss Neck passed on to Corbin’s married children and in 1859 James Parke Corbin bought Belle Hill from the Dickinson family.

During the winter of 1862-63 General Stonewall Jackson’s troops wintered at Moss Neck and the division of Jackson’s troops under the command of Lt General Ambrose P. Hill, (for whom A.P. Hill was named) camped in the woods of Belle Hill, Prospect Hill and Santee. The trenches and gun pits dug by those troops 148 years ago are still visible to this day.

James Parke Corbin had a daughter by the name of Kate (from his first marriage) who fell in love and married “Sandie Pendleton” in December of 1863. Pendleton, an officer in Stonewall Jackson’s army was appointed by Jackson as his assistant adjutant general. In the book “Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton”, by W. G. Bean there is an account describing the events on December 12th 1862, the night before the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The rumor of the impending battle had reached Moss Neck and the book tells of Kate and Bertie Corbin mounting their horses and riding to Belle Hill, the home of Kate’s father. More stories of the masses of troops spread across the plantations on horseback and on foot, artillery and wagons moving rapidly as Jackson’s corps headed off to join Lee’s army in Fredericksburg. And on the morning of December 13th, descriptions of the roar of artillery being like “one continuous peal of thunder”. Looking around the very same grounds today, it’s difficult to imagine the frenzy that took place here, and the trodden mess it surely left behind in a place that is now so tranquil and picturesque.

James Parke Corbin died in November of 1868. Sometime after his death, the exact date unknown, the property of Belle Hill came into the possession of a man named Henry Wissner. Whether anyone else owned the property between the time of Corbin death and the time it was acquired by Wissner is not known. Or at least I have yet to discover any information about it. Nor can I find any information about Wissner’s time here. The only mention of a Henry Wissner I found was a listing in the 1885 business directory of Fredericksburg, which mentions “Henry Wissner, Shoes” (If anyone has further information on this please let me know)

Henry Wissner & wife sold Belle Hill in 1904 to Arthur Reeves who came to Virginia from South Dakota. They had a daughter Vera who was 5 years old at the time. The sale was recorded in Deed book # 71 page 40. At that time Belle Hill encompassed 192 ½ acres, and was sold for two payments, $1850.00 and $500.00.

Little Vera grew up to marry a man named Charles Myers, and became the grandmother of Ray Meyers who currently lives in Pennsylvania. Mr. Meyers came by Belle Hill several years ago and dropped of a folder containing some photographs, one of Vera and her brother Melvin, one of Arthur and his wife, and some of the house as it was then, about 1910.

Mr and Mrs Arthur Reeves

Vera and Melvin Reeves

Also included was a copy of a letter Arthur had written to his mother with beautifully detailed drawings of the house and property. He drew maps, one of which shows the location of the Confederate fort.

The letter written by Arthur to his mother is difficult to read, I’ll transcribe what I can make out, what I can’t, I’ll note with xxxxx.
                                                                                                      Belle Hill
                                                                                                     Feb 24th xxxx
Dearest Mother,
I send a rough sketch of the house this morning xxxxxx. I commenced the writing in the sketch first so I will go on answering your questions. Mr. Gordon over at Santee xxxxxxxxx about ½ mile from Belle Hill. Mr. Gordon is over 70 yrs old & wishes father to come over this year and stay with him. There are three daughters and three sons all living with him. Mrs. Gordon has been dead some time. Miss Susan Gordon is I think the youngest & she is about 24 or 25 yrs old. Miss Kate is the eldest over 30 yrs. The grass xxxxxx is extremely poor, in the fields none. Why grass will not grow as it does in xxxx is owing to the hot summers. Very good crops may be made by growing one of which will die out during the hot weather of August & xxxxxx winter. If I have xxxxx I will try to give sketch of the surrounding country when favorable weather sets in. I can xxxx a bird pretty well now, so I will try if I can send the xxxx by post.
The other night George our little boot boy asked me if I had Robinson Crusoe, as he would like to see it. I lent him John ‘s. He sat on a chair near me & seemed deeply interested in it. Commencing to read at the beginning he is now reading it on an evenings. After reading the above you will think better of these poor blacks. The blacks differ very much in their nature. Some looking no better than animals, others with good looking intelligent faces. I think it was a great mistake when they were set free so suddenly, they don’t know how to behave themselves. Many are the crimes committed throughout this country by the colored man. This letter is written in haste so forgive the slips.
From your affectionate son
“Good words are behind”

The oldest photograph (known) of the house shows it as it was originally with only the four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. Looking to the left you can see in the background what was probably what we call the Guest House, but at that time would have been the kitchen on the lower level with the slave quarters upstairs. Its not known for sure what year this photograph was taken, but it was copied from an old tin photo.

The next photo shows the house with the addition of what we call the dinning room. In the sketch drawn by Arthur Reeves it is referred to as “the wing right off the porch”. This photo was taken around 1910.

This sketch drawn by Arthur shows three “outhouses” to the right of the main house with the slave quarters/kitchen no longer located on the left. How in the world they did it back then I don’t know, but the building was evidently moved twice that I’ve been told from its original position. The first time to it’s location in the drawing. My guess would be that the other two “outhouses” in the drawing were exactly that, most likely one for the homeowners, the other for the slaves, or workers. The Guest House today sits far behind the main house.

Sketch by Arthur Reeves

Map by Arthur Reeves

Speaking to Ray Meyers, grandson of little Vera he relayed stories told to him by his grandmother. She said that though they never had slaves, they did have a helper here who had once been a slave. There is a tree out behind the main house that still has an iron ring on one of the sturdy branches, which has now been grown over by bark, that was once used to tie up and beat the slaves, which once lived (or belonged) to Belle Hill. Vera also told of having no electricity in the house at that time, and how her father Arthur farmed and kept sheep and cattle.

The Reeves owned Belle Hill until 1917 and Arthur ultimately sold the property to “Wetting Trustee Bowie” recorded in deed book 81 page 90. What exactly the ”Wetting Trustee Bowie” is not known, but I will update this should I find out. The next known event in the life of Belle Hill is that Howard family sometime between 1929 and 1931 purchased it. By this time the library had been added to the left side of the house.

Cary Howard who still lives in the area was a fountain of information about the history of Belle Hill. With old photographs and newspaper clippings it was her that sparked my interest in researching the history here. This photo of her parents was taken probably late 1970’s.

Mr and Mrs Howard

According to Cary she and her sister loved living and growing up here at Belle Hill. Her father passed away in 1981 and her mother sold Belle Hill in 1982. This is a photograph of the house taken by her sister before they left in 1982.

The house and property were purchased by the owners of Mt Zion who, according to Cary wanted the property for the open land, or “Flats” as the Howards called them. At the time the property was still 192 acres. Mt Zion divided the property and sold the house and 30 acres to the O’Neill family. (Exact year not known).

The O’Neill’s made many changes to the house. They enclosed the screen porch on the front left of the house, and added another addition, an atrium that leads to a master bedroom off the back of the house. They also took out the wall between the two downstairs rooms in the original part of the house making one large sitting room. Mrs. O’Neill had the house on the garden tour of Fredericksburg in April of 1986, and this photo of the house was taken from an old copy of the Free Lance Star newspaper, provided by Cary Howard.

The O’Neill’s sold the property later that year to Patrick Neustatter. The first addition he made to the property was a swimming pool in 1987 out from the back of the house. And then in 1991 he added a new kitchen to the house with three picture windows that mirrors the arches on the screen porch that was re-built by the O’Neills, and this is how the house looks today.

--> -->Belle Hill even at a mere fraction of its original size is a never ending and ever changing project. We have made a homemade map of the property similar to the one Mr. Reeves made 100 years ago to show the all trails we have cut through the woods, and each trail has painted marks on the trees that correspond with the colors on the map. We have been known to loose a kid or two in the woods, so this is a helpful tool to keep wondering guests from getting lost.

 Here are a few more conventional views

In winter Belle Hill becomes a winter wonderland with a great sledding hill and with enough snow the Christmas trees are transformed Snow Sentinels out in the field.

It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun. And the best part of a long day of weeding, mowing, gardening and endless yard work is to sit back on the kitchen porch with a nice cold beer and watch the amazing sunsets. 


  1. It was great meeting you the other weekend! Once again, the blog is excellent. Keep up the great work :)

    Kristen ("Kate Corbin")

  2. Paula and Patrick, thank you for allowing Lara and Karl to have their wedding in you wonderful home. I loved seeing the house and the lovely grounds. I surely can't complain when mowing Lara's 1/2 acre property! After all, the back is all woods.

    And I also want to thank you for posting information on your lovely historical home.

  3. In the 1800s the Row family, my ancestors, lived near Belle Hill. In a letter dated September 23, 1870 Mary Row wrote: "A young Englishman has bought a farm near here (Belle Hill) where Mr. Corbin lived. He is said to be very wealthy & has the finest furniture & the grandest things ever seen about here." Could this be Henry Wissner?

  4. The reference to the winter quarters of Hill's Division is very interesting. 150 years ago today the soldiers were celebrating Christmas on that land. I am following the movements of the 7th Tennessee Infantry of Archer's Brigade, Hill's Division, after 150 years because my great-great-grandfather was there. (There is a facebook blog) Are the earthworks still visible? are there any remnants of chimneys from camp? Do you know if Belle Hill was part of Camp Gregg? How did you learn that Hill's Division was there?
    Lamont Wade
    thelamontster at aol dot com

  5. Paula, I was watching Antiques Roadshow this past Monday. The episode was filmed in Myrtle Beach. One gentleman brought a pair of fancy spurs that had belonged to his great-great-grandfather who lived in Virginia (or maybe it was 3 greats), James Parke Corbin. Yep - the same one that owned your home with his second wife, the former governess. Thought you might like to know.