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[photo] Belle Air
Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Belle Air is a unique surviving example of a wooden house with postmedieval-type exposed interior framing, probably the oldest plantation dwelling along Virginia's Route 5 Scenic Byway. Daniel Clark purchased the Belle Air tract in 1662. The original five-bay portion of Belle Air possesses architectural details characteristic of 17th-century construction with a floor plan and façade fenestration characteristic of 18th-century design. This evidence reflects the transition from 17th-century building methods to 18th-century ones, and it is uncertain if Daniel Clark or his son is responsible for the house's construction.

[photo] Interior detailing of Belle Air
Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources

The house is unpretentious in size and is situated in a historically appropriate setting of cultivated fields and acres of woodlands. Belle Air possesses exceptionally fine detailing, particularly its 17th-century hand-carved Jacobean style staircase. The post medieval-type exposed interior framing is the only example found in a frame building in Virginia. The hand-hewn timbers serve as both structural framing and decorative woodwork.  Summer beams, which run through the center of the ceilings into the chimneys, serve as the principal supporting members for the floor joists above. In a period when ornamental carving was rare, these summer beams' ornamental carving is noteworthy.

Clark family ownership of Belle Air continued through the 18th century. The property was purchased by Hamlin Willcox, prosperous Charles City County planter, in 1800 and he added the three-bay western portion of the house. The house remained in the Willcox family, which also owned nearby North Bend at the time of the Civil War, until 1945.  However, Belle Air was not occupied from the 1920s until the 1950s, when the house was spared from ruin by the present owner, Mrs. Walter O. Major.

Belle Air is located on the north side of Virginia Rte. 5 half a mile east of Charles City. It is open daily for tours by appointment. There is an admission fee. Please call 804-829-2431 or visit the webpage for further information.

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