Known as “The Castle on the James”, Saint Frances de Sales Catholic School opened in 1899 and 115 years later, straddles a precarious limbo between demolition and restoration. These photos by Joel Handwerk of Lithium Photo aren’t the only such images of the approximately 50 buildings at the 75-acre site but they are among the most breathtaking thanks to Handwerk’s keen eye for the beauty and sadness commonly evoked by such abandonments.
Credit the establishment of Saint Frances de Sales Catholic School to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community founded in 1891 by St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), who was canonized a saint on October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Born into the fabulously wealthy Drexel family, Katherine made it her life’s mission to aid and assist downtrodden Native Americans and Afro-Americans.
Taking the name Mother Katherine, Drexel would spend the better part of six decades (and about $20 million of her inherited and invested fortune) building schools and churches, of which Saint Frances de Sales Catholic School in Powhatan, VA is a prime example.
After Mother Katharine passed away on March 3, 1955 at the age of 96, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament could no longer depend on the Drexel fortune to fund their many facilities. Though the order continues to work with African-Americans and Native Americans in 21 states and Haiti, the abandonment and deterioration of massive complexes like Saint Frances de Sales Catholic School and its environs reflect the Sisters’ paucity of resources.