One of the most striking architectural features of the historic house Belmont is the semicircular arrangement of stone steps on the east elevation known as the Horseshoe Staircase. This distinctive feature, scene of many a wedding party photograph, also helps tell the stories of Belmont’s past, and the people who lived and worked here. As an historic resource that in 2011 was one of the inaugural Top Ten Endangered Artifacts in Virginia, the staircase underwent extensive restoration in 2021-2022 by skilled craftsmen.
The staircase dates to ca. 1850, when Belmont’s owner, Joseph B. Ficklen, expanded the house. While the wrought iron railing was likely fabricated in Philadelphia or another Pennsylvania community, construction of the stone steps almost certainly involved the Ficklens’ enslaved workforce.
In 1929-30 the staircase was featured in a seminal photographic exhibition at the Library of Congress on southern architecture, Pictorial Survey-Old Fredericksburg, Virginia-Old Falmouth and Nearby Places, by renowned photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952). Johnston’s pictures are the earliest known images of the entire staircase.
Belmont’s Horseshoe Staircase was included in the inaugural list of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts in 2011. A $100,000 restoration project undertaken from 2020 to 2022 was funded by nearly 30 individual and organizational donors. Stokes of England Blacksmithing Company of Keswick, Virginia completed restoration of the iron railing in March 2021.
Dominion Traditional Building Group of Marshall, Virginia undertook disassembly, repair, and reinstallation of the stone staircase from August 2021 to May 2022.
Interpretation of this distinctive artifact not only illustrates the prosperity of Belmont’s White owners; it also recognizes the enslaved Black people who are integral to understanding the site’s history. This storyline complements ongoing efforts of Gari Melchers Home and Studio to address the roles played by Black men and women at Belmont—the enslaved and free persons here during the Ficklen family’s ownership (1826-1916), and persons of color employed by Gari and Corinne Melchers from 1916 to 1955.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the following donors who made restoration of the Horseshoe Staircase possible:
Hon. and Mrs. J. Martin Bass
Waldo and Joanne Beck
James S. Bradley
Billings and John Cay
Michael and Mary Louise Holmes
Julie and Robert Lang
Julia Ann Lucas
Mary Wynn and Charles McDaniel
Carol Johnson Sitzman
Thomas and Ann R. Smith
Ben and Kitty Wafle
Mabel L. Sullivan Revocable Trust (David Garrison)
Stewart Jones Charitable Trust
Winston-Salem Foundation (Carol B. Stafford)