Step By Step- Adelicia’s Cupola Stair Restoration Begins
A generous gift, recently received, will allow Belmont Mansion to begin a phase of restoration many people truly believed they would not see in their lifetime.
Over the last two years much thought and effort have gone into bringing the upper gallery to a more acceptable historic appearance. First the floor was marbleized in an attempt to replicate Adelicia’s historic pattern, next the columns and pilasters were painted white. Lastly reproductions portraits were hung in the space as indicated by a contemporary account.
One remaining unrestored element suddenly became an elephant in the room, the cupola stair. Though structurally stabilized in the 1990’s, this amazing free flying staircase retained all of its college era finishes, dark varnish, multiple paint drips and all. As the upper gallery began to divulge secrets long hidden from view, the cupola stairs remained stagnant and unrestored.
With the completion of the floor in 2014 sample areas of the stairs were investigated in an attempt to recover original finishes. A unique combination came to light. It appears the newel posts, balusters, and handrails were all treated alike. A reddish mahogany stain had been applied to these elements in 1860, before being coated with a natural varnish. All treads and risers were originally grained to simulate oak, similar to other elements in the house.
Immediately, two of the four newel posts were stripped, removing over a century of blackened varnish revealing a finely grained mahogany. This result convinced us that at some point, the restoration of historic finishes on the stairs would become a priority. Our concern, as always was funding the project.
Being as unique a structure as it is, Belmont Mansion attracts people worldwide. In April of this year we were contacted by a Kansas couple who had visited Belmont last year in the midst of our Central Parlor restoration. They were interested in contributing to the restoration of Belmont and inquired about what opportunities might be available to them.
A discussion ensued regarding restoration of historic finishes on both staircases, not just the cupola stairs. Once bids were secured, our new “Restoration Angels” agreed to fund the application of Acklen period finishes on both staircases. Without them the cupola stairs would have languished as it was for another generation. We are thankful, appreciative, grateful, indebted, beholden, and obliged to our donors for making this seemingly impossible project, possible.
To date over sixty of Adelicia’s walnut balusters have been stripped and stained. All four newel posts have now received the same treatment, as has the cherry handrail. The 1860’s appearance of Belmont’s cupola stairs is slowly re-merging to the delight of our visitors, who now spend much longer in the upper gallery examining the staircase than listening to their tour.