Gates with a Story

Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that Belmont’s studio and lower pasture gates originated from the grand 1834 house “Smithsonia,” located at the corner of Charles and Amelia streets in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia.  According to a 2010 Virginia Living magazine article about Smithsonia,

The home was built in 1834 on what is the original site of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg. The church was founded in 1808, when there were only two Presbyterians in town; by 1832, the congregation had outgrown its original home on the Amelia Street site, where Smithsonia now stands, and moved to a new sanctuary at the corner of George and Princess Anne streets, the site of the present Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian Church, at its second location, also has a double gate and fencing identical to Belmont’s that most certainly came from Smithsonia.

I hoped a historic photograph of Smithsonia with its original iron work would put the issue to rest.  Following up on several leads, I located two images of the grand structure with her original gates and fence intact.  Indeed, they are an exact match to the iron work at both Belmont and the Presbyterian Church.

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Smithsonia pre 1916, courtesy of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc.

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Smithsonia, early 1900s, courtesy of the Fredericksburg Area Museum

Perhaps Smithsonia’s original iron work was removed in 1916 when William E. Lang purchased the building and converted it into a private residence.

Local legend has it that Gari and Corinne Melchers purchased their gates and fence portions from a local scrap yard. The Presbyterian Church most likely ended up with its fencing and gates owing to its ties to the site.

If the above time frame is correct, the wrought iron gates and fencing sections were likely purchased by the Melchers before the studio was built in 1924.  Furthermore, the gate fits perfectly into the studio doorway, and the stone border begins its graceful arch exactly at the top of the iron gate.

Mystery solved!

~ Michelle Crow-Dolby, Education and Communications Manager, Gari Melchers Home & Studio


  1. SUzi VAlentine says

    This is a fascinating study. Congratulations to Michelle for her discovery. I am sure it represents many hours of searching through photos and letters. Thanks you for an interesting read.

    Suzi Valentine

  2. Interesting discovery Michelle! Really enjoyed reading about Smithsonia and the Melcher’s purchase of the Studio iron gate. Fascinating! Thanks Kim D.


  1. […] The cast iron fence and gate were purchased from Smithsonia in downtown Fredericksburg. Read the story about the fence and gate here: […]

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