Thursday, January 05, 2012

001: The Four Belvoirs

Artist's conception of what Belvoir Manor
looked like before the fire. Via Wikipedia.
Fort Belvoir (pronounced /beaver/ or /bevwar/), located in Fairfax County, Virginia, was once the home of William Fairfax, cousin to Lord Thomas Fairfax. The property was purchased in 1738 and Fairfax erected a beautiful brick mansion that overlooked the Potomac River in 1740. The Fairfax family lived in the house for over thirty years until George Fairfax sailed off to England, never to return. In a 1774 rental notice, the house was described as spacious and well-appointed. In 1783, the mansion and several outbuildings were destroyed by fire. The bluffs below the mansion were used as quarries for stones but the house was never redeveloped. The Fairfax's association with Belvoir Manor ended with Ferdinand Fairfax's death in 1820. William Herbert became owner of the property and quickly used the house as collateral for loans. His inability to pay back these loans led to the house being auctioned off in 1838. In 1917, the Belvoir property was ceded and consolidated with the U.S. Army eventually lending its name to the fort. Fort Belvoir was initially founded as Camp Humphreys during World War I but the name was changed in the 1930s to honor the Belvoir Manor ruins on the property and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first settler in the Belvoir, Kansas area may have been James M. Dunn who was counted in the 1855 Census. Henry Heine arrived in the area sometime between 1855 and 1856 from Germany and became frustrated with being unable to convey his anger to proslavery invaders who burned his house not once, not twice but three times. With the fourth time, Heine knew enough English and was able to confront them, "There are three of you and only one of me, but I know that I will get at least one of you." Heine was not bothered again.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Photo by author.
Henry McKinzie, from Scotland, settled a few miles southwest of Belvoir on Rock Creek. In 1856, his family established St. John's Catholic Church and set aside land for a cemetery. During pioneer times, settlers living on the south side of the creek were often unable to cross the stream because of high water which kept them from going to church or visiting the cemetery. The decision was made to move the church to a more accessible location in the Lapeer neighborhood. The small church built by the McKinzies in now part of the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church located at North 450 and East 300 Roads. The foundation of the old church can still be seen in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Belvoir was named by Lawrence D. Bailey who came to Kansas in 1857 from New Hampshire. Bailey was a strong believer in freedom for Kansas. He practiced law for a short time in Emporia and represented the southern half of the territory in the legislature. He witnessed Quantrill's raid on Lawrence in 1863 as he was lodging in the Eldridge Hotel at the time and was lucky to escape. By 1873 he owned at least six sections of land in the area and he named his estate Belvoir after the mansion in Virginia.1

The Old Belvoir School. Art by
Goldie Piper Daniels.
Because of Belvoir's proximity to Clinton and Twin Mound, a post office was not established until 1868 but in 1872 the "Jerkwater" Railroad (actually the Lawrence, Overbrook & Emporia) came through and the Belvoir post office was moved two miles north along the railroad causing Belvoir to be renamed Old Belvoir and business to stall. New Belvoir became important as a link to the outside world. The New Belvoir School was established in 1874. Interestingly, the school building was a simple two-story building with a belfry and students occupied the first floor but there were no stairs to the second floor either inside or outside. A local unit of the Modern Woodmen of America requested a meeting place and a stairway was built outside to a second story door. The two-story building was replaced by a brick building in 1922 and was used until the district was disorganized in 1951 and annexed to West Fairview District to form New Belvoir District which in turn was turned over to Wakarusa Valley District. Old Belvoir School was annexed to Clinton District in 1951 and the Belvoir Community Club used and kept up the school until the club ceased and the school and grounds were auctioned and was incorporated into a house for the Johnson family.

With the construction of Clinton Lake, New Belvoir was demolished and most of the townsite is now located underwater or located just south of Woodridge Park on the west side of the lake. The area where Old Belvoir was located is still above water near the intersection of County Roads 1023 and 458.

1. The book Soil of Our Souls notes that Bailey "named his estate Belvoir after the famous Fort Belvoir in Virginia" in 1873, however, Fort Belvoir was not established until 1917 and wasn't named Belvoir until the 1930s so more than likely Bailey named his estate either after the manor the fort was named after or Belvoir Castle in Leichestershire, England.

Information found in:
Soil of Our Souls. Martha Parker & Betty Laird. Parker-Laird Enterprises, 1976.
Rural Schools and Schoolhouses of Douglas County, Kansas. Goldie Piper Daniels. 1975.
Belvoir Manor Wikipedia article. Contributors.
Fort Belvoir website and Wikipedia article. Contributors.
Belvoir Castle Wikipedia article. Contributors.