Belmead (St. Emma's Military Academy)

Historical Significance

Formerly a plantation owned by Philip St. George Cocke, son of General John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo, Belmead was purchased in 1893 by Colonel and Mrs. Edward de Vaux Morrell of Philadelphia to establish a school for African-American youth. Colonel Morrell's approach to education was similar to that of Booker T. Washington in its emphasis on practical skills. The curriculum at St. Emma's included canning, farming, equipment repair, engineering, accounting and management. As an in-state agricultural school, St. Emma was second only to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

The St. Emma's Industrial and Agricultural Institute opened in 1895 and admitted only African-American boys from the South. The first graduate, John Paul Scott, received his diploma in 1899. During its seventy-seven year history the school was re-established as the St. Emma Military School and graduated 10,000 men. In 1899, the St. Francis de Sales High School opened for African-American girls.

The school's prominence waned after desegregation and the academy closed in 1972. Most of the buildings were demolished in 1974. The Belmead mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. In 2004, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order of Catholic women who own the Belmead property, formed the 501c(3) nonprofit corporation FrancisEmma, Inc. to preserve the land and develop educational programs.

Physical Description

Built on the site of a former plantation on the James River in Powhatan County, the Belmead mansion was designed in 1845 by New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis. The school buildings have been demolished, with the exception of the original Belmead mansion, currently in use as a Catholic high school.

Geographical and Contact Information

5001 Cartersville Rd
Powhatan, Virginia