Thanks to the careful research and expert skills of Grounds Maintenance Manager Dave Ludeker and Maintenance Assistant Daniel Carter, I am able to report on the final stages in the restoration of the barnyard complex at Belmont. The picturesque barnyard and adjacent buildings are nearly as ready for operation as they were when first built; only the animals are wanted!
One building opening onto the barnyard is the old nineteenth-century horse stable, converted in the 1970s into an office for the garden manager (directly behind the large tree in the above image). In 2010, it and the neighboring chicken house (a smoke house in earlier times) were given facelifts, including new roofs, repair of foundations and fresh coats of paint.
Inspired by the improvements to the chicken house, the Ludeker-Carter team made it a new objective to restore the entire appearance of the Melchers-era barnyard complex. In 2019 they set about rebuilding a run-in shed that served as a shelter for Gari and Corinne Melchers’ farm animals (you can just make out a cow in the shed in the photograph below). The original run-in shed, razed in the 1970s, was reconstructed, board for board, in the exact location as the original. The shed’s hay manger is scheduled to be rebuilt this summer.
A much larger coop once stood behind the run-in shed outside of the barnyard (see above-shallow gabled roof visible just beyond the run-in shed). It was large enough for the couple’s turkeys and appears to have had a side shed for tools. Turkeys were the prized bird raised at Belmont, and their beauty was much admired by the two owner-artists, although that didn’t stop them from serving the birds at their holiday meals. It is not known when the coop was torn down, but there are no plans at this time to rebuild outside of the barnyard.
Energized by the success of the shed rebuild, staff committed to moving forward with further restorations. The centerpiece of Gari and Corinne Melchers’ modest farm was their dairy operation. Directly adjoining the run-in shed is the 1921 cow barn, built to accommodate the couple’s small herd of Guernsey cows. It, too, was given a fresh coat of paint with several repairs completed in 2015 , but the interior continued to languish and was used as storage by the grounds crew.
Over the last year Ludeker and Carter turned to restoring the cow barn interior, systematically stripping it of layers and layers of whitewash and rebuilding the stalls and milking stanchions based on surviving evidence. In that era, whitewash was cheaper than paint and was applied to animal pens, gates, fences and barn interiors to keep disease in check. The cow barn now has a fresh coat of whitewash (hydrated lime, salt and water). Additionally, the curbing on the barn floor was repaired as were some of the windows. The maternity pen with two troughs is original to the barn design, fabricated by Louden Machinery Company.
A grappling fork also survives, used in the time-consuming process of lifting loose hay via a horse-powered pulley system into the hayloft for storage. A sweep-out hatch on the second floor facilitates clearing the loft floor of debris. The foundation of a small round silo survives at one corner of the barn for the storage of feed grain. The adjacent concrete frame probably housed silage or perhaps was a manure pit.
Belmont’s small herd of livestock grazed several acres of pasture and followed a woodland path down to the riverbank and back. Gari Melchers captured the bucolic scene of his cows and groundsman Mason Dillon in the painting Belmont, executed in 1931 and which his wife remarked was painted “in the spirit of an old print.”
Lady Corinne, Daisy, and Cherry Blossom were some of the animals acquired or calved here at Belmont in the 1920s. Dairy cows were typically milked twice a day for a total of approximately four to six gallons of raw milk. Clotted cream and ice cream were favorite treats of Gari and Corinne Melchers and their guests. Belmont’s cows also provided enough fresh milk to be sold at market, and some was allotted to needy families through the Stafford County Health Association. Mrs. Melchers also manned a milk shake booth at the local agricultural fair, made with Belmont’s best!
As reported in an earlier post, there are no resources available to repopulate the barnyard with the fowl, cows, and farm horses of the Melcherses’ day, but the recent acquisition of a replica Guernsey heifer is about as close as we’re going to get!
On the other hand, the charmed setting of the walled barnyard and run-in shed is available for small family picnics, country-style weddings and birthday/petting zoo parties!