Value Statements of FrancisEmma

FrancisEmma, Inc. acknowledges the power and beauty inherent in the story of the 2,265 acres of land entrusted to its care. We understand our role as special advocates for the sustainable environmental health of the landís destiny as well as of our own. In view of this reality, we are called to:
  • Acknowledge the rights of all life forms in mutually supportive sacred communities.
  • Create an atmosphere that reverences natural, cultural, and historical heritages.
  • Partner with those who share the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament mission and vision.
  • Provide opportunity for youth and adults to experience the wonder of the Divine in the natural world.
  • Balance the financial needs of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacramentís mission while maintaining the sustainability of the land.

Remembering the Story of a Holy Space

The written narratives of St Francis de Sales and St. Emma run as deep as the currents of the James River and flow as energetically as the rushing waters of Deep Creek.

St. Francis de Sales at Mt.Pleasant and St. Emma at Belmead have a rich human history that includes Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans. They are places of past and present human activity. The mansion at Belmead is on the historic register, and St. Francis de Sales is in the process of obtaining this status. Both buildings are significant for groups of persons who have been connected through time to the land and the heritage that connects both sites.
The St Francis/St. Emma site, built in the 1890's, had two high schools, one for girls and one for boys. These two educational institutions influenced the lives of many African American woman and men.

The schools, located on adjacent plantations once owned by Philip St. George Cocke, a wealthy Virginia planter, crowned the top of a rolling hill overlooking the James River. The campuses were divided by Deep Creek and a dam which later provided electrical power to the entire campus. A bridge connected the two campuses.

St. Katharine Drexel, the foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, bought Mount Pleasant, to the east of Belmead. Hiring local workmen and using materials located right on the site, Katharine Drexel built St. Francis de Sales as a high school for young black women. The school opened in 1899. The early studentsí educational backgrounds were quite diverse, and special classes were developed to prepare each student for high school. From the beginning, academic subject matter was emphasized, although the girls also learned home-making, sewing, and business skills. A nursing curriculum was offered as well. One of the greatest needs of American blacks at the time was for qualified teachers and a normal school curriculum to prepare the young women to become certified teachers.

By 1925, the comprehensive academic high school was accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Music and literary skills were developed. Music students often played and sang at various functions in Richmond, even broadcasting over the radio. The St. Francis de Sales girls and the St. Emma cadets shared social activities. In later years, they shared classes and teachers.

Colonel Edward and Louise Drexel Morrell purchased Belmead in 1893. They created St. Emma Military Academy, a school for young black men, which opened in 1895. Every student had to take the basic academic curriculum. Then they had a choice of learning the latest agricultural methods or a marketable skill. Early offerings included animal husbandry, dairy management, crop rotation, tailoring,
shoemaking, carriage construction (later auto mechanics), carpentry, welding, etc. As a military school, the young men learned the discipline of army regulations and could earn promotions to new levels of officer training. Military drills, to which the girls of St. Francis de Sales were invited and in later years took part, were a major part of every special occasion.

The comprehensive plan of FrancisEmma, Inc. calls for the adaptive reuse of both sites consistent with the values of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and with an eye toward outreach for ministry and service in the surrounding communities.

For more information:

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
The catholic order founded by St. Katharine and owners of the Belmead property for over 115 years.

Belmead Stables and Riding Club
Belmead Riding Club maintains stables and trails on the Belmead property.

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