Surprises around even corner… part four of four parts

Aug. 3rd 2012

Belle Grove 1937

As we were heading back on Sunday after our wonderful two days away, I was thinking about Monday. Here I had taken Monday off so we could have a long weekend and I was going to end up at home with nothing to do. I have to tell you I am not one to sit still for long.

After we arrived home, we settled down for the evening. Brett jumped on the computer to check emails and I sat down to watch some television. Suddenly Brett called out to me with a very excited voice that we had received an email. Of course we get emails all the time and I like to think that all of them are special in one way or another. But this email was to be something I would have never dreamed of.

The email was from a gentleman named West Hooker-Poletti. As Brett read the email, I too got excited. West was the grandson of John Palmer and Mary Hooker, last owners of our Belle Grove Plantation! He had visited his grandparents there many times and was wondering if we could talk. He lives in Santa Monica, California and had grown up in Italy. The best part was that he was in Virginia for a visit and was wondering if we would like to meet and talk! He left us his cell phone number and asked us to call.

Belle Grove Riverside

Well it was a little after 10pm and Brett was concern that it might be too late to call. Of course I was jumping off the couch telling him to just call and apologize for calling so late. I told him just tell him we were just getting back from being out of town and we wanted to see if we could catch him.

Brett called him and I was so excited to hear him answer the call. Brett spoke to him and I tried so hard to figure out what was being said. I finally got that he wanted to meet on Tuesday before they return to Dulles to fly back to California. Of course we couldn’t do that because we had to return to work. Then it was “can you meet on Monday?” Of course we could!! Then it was “where would you like us to meet?” As I listen to them talk about places in and around Belle Grove, I was whispering to Brett to tell him we would meet him anywhere! Brett then started talking about a boat trip them wanted to take on Monday. Then it was maybe around Kilmarnock. I was whispering to tell them we could meet them at Belle Grove. Before I knew it, Brett was off the phone. Brett told me that they were sure yet of their plans and that they would call in the morning. Argh!!

Belle Grove – View from the Bluff

So through the rest of the evening, I was asking Brett to tell me again what he had said. What time was he going to call? Where are them now? What boat trip had they planned? Were we going to get to meet them? Poor Brett! I must have asked him a hundred times the same questions! I was just so excited to know that I might be able to meet one of the family members from Belle Grove! After all my research and only having the tombstones to “talk” to, this was such a great moment! I just knew that going to sleep that night was going to be hard.

The next morning, we were expecting their call around 9am. Being my day off, I had wanted to sleep late, but with the thought of them calling and asking us to drive up to meet them, I was up around 8am. Nine rolled around and no call. Nine thirty and still no call. Argh!! Finally Brett decided to get up and dress for the day. I walked back to the bedroom and laid down and talked to Brett as he dressed. I had just said to Brett that if they didn’t call by the time he finished dressing, I wanted him to call them to find out what our plans were going to be for the day. Half of me wanted to know if we were going to meet them, the other half wanted to know if I could plan other things. I just didn’t want to blow my day off sitting at home.

Before I could get the words out of my mouth, the phone rang. I was so excited that I couldn’t talk. I handed the phone to Brett who answered it. I could hear Brett answering questions, “No problem. Yes we can recommend a place to see boats and marines in the area. Urbana is nice and not too far. Kilmarnock and White Stone are on that side of the Rappahannock River. A place close to us? Yorktown is nice. Gloucester is too.” The whole time I am again whispering tell him we will go anywhere! The call ended with us setting to meet them around Kilmarnock or White Stone. We were to get dress and start to head that way. Once we got close we were to call. YES!

Belle Grove – Riverside yard

I rushed to get dress as Brett finished. I made sure that I took a note pad because I had a hundred questions and my file on the Hooker Family. During my research, I had not found much on this family. They had purchased the house around 1930 and lived there until John Hooker died in 1974 and Mary in 1981. As far as I knew that was the last time someone lived at Belle Grove. I knew that they had two sons. One was DeWest Hooker who died in 1999 and was buried at Emmanuel. I knew that John had been a real estate broker in Chicago and Mary was from either Tennessee or Alabama. I knew that the Hookers were very much into gardening and had made Belle Grove a beautiful show place for the Spring Garden Tours. Other than that, I knew nothing.

So off we went. As we drove over the bridge into White Stone, Brett asked me to call. I picked up my phone and there was no signal! Argh! Just as we pulled into White Stone and I got a signal. I called and Karin, West’s wife answered. We had only spoken for a minute and my cell went out again. NO! So Brett pulled over to get gas and give me his business cell, which had a signal. I got back in touch with them and they had just passed through Kilmarnock. So they weren’t too far. They were on their way to Deltaville. As we had passed over the bridge, which they would have had to cross, we had run into some bridge construction. So I informed them that it might be better to stop in White Stone for lunch because of the traffic. So they allowed us to pick a place to meet.

We picked a nice little restaurant called White Stone Wine and Cheese. We waited outside watching for them to arrive. It seemed that every car that passed, I  stared down wanting to see if it was them. I held my breath. Then there they were! I was so excited!

West got out and walked over to us and introduced himself and his wife Karin. They also had their beautiful little girl, Helen who was just twenty months old. She was adorable with sweet curls in her hair.

West Hooker-Poletti, Karin Fumagalli and Helen Hooker-Poletti

We walked in and sat down at a quiet table. I must have been so eager because I could hardly stop from asking questions before drinks or the meal was ordered. As we talked, I started piecing together more and things started to make more sense to me. Here is the story I have for the Hookers:

John Palmer Hooker was born in New York and is the 9th generation from Rev. Thomas Hooker, son or grandson of Rev. Richard Hooker, Archbishop of Canterbury to Henry VIII. At the time of his purchase of Belle Grove, he was a real estate broker in Chicago.

Mary Beecher Ensley was born in Memphis, Tennessee and is from the line of John Beecher of Kent, England. Her family was a old Southern Family. Her family owned a plantation in Tennessee. She married Lendrum DeWest Murrelle in 1915 and they had two children, Lendrum DeWest Murrelle Jr in 1918 and Enoch Ensley Murrelle in 1919. Lendrum DeWest Murrelle Sr. passed away in 1919 of diabetes before Enoch was born. Mary married John Hooker in 1926. After they married John Hooker adopted DeWest and Enoch.

John and Mary Hooker would have their first child, Mary in 1927. They would also have two more children. John Hooker, their son was born on January 27, 1929 and would die November 20, 1929. He is the first of the Hookers to be buried at Emmanuel. Their third child, gender and dates unknown was not buried at Emmanuel. It is my thought that this child was born sometime after John, but must have been buried in Illinois.

The Hookers purchased Belle Grove sometime between 1928 and 1929 as a summer house. John Hooker remained in Illinois while Mary came to Belle Grove to redecorate and restore the house. I was told by someone from King George that Mary was quite the fashion plate and would shop in New York and Chicago to find just the right pieces for Belle Grove. John would purchase the property directly across from Belle Grove on the other side of the river to preserve the view. This property is no longer part of Belle Grove, but there is now a historic easement that preserves it for all time.

Mary Hooker Huth, their daughter would pass away in 1972 at the age of 45 and would become the second to be buried at Emmanuel. Mary Hooker Huth was married to Edward Everett Huth and had two children, Alan and Jane. Edward was president of Aurex Corporate which manufactured a product called Neovox. This product was an artificial larynx that you would press against your throat and it would make the sounds like your normal larynx. This corporation is no longer in business.

John Hooker would pass away on July 5, 1974. In my research it states that he died in Illinois. He was buried next to his daughter at Emmanuel. Mary Hooker would live another seven years and pass in 1981. Dewest Hooker would pass in 1999 and Enoch passed in 2011.

According to West, his father would live at Belle Grove in the caretaker’s cottage until 1987 when the house was sold to the current owners. West talked about his grandmother and how beautiful her home was. He said that she was a stickler for keeping things just so. He laughed when he said this and told us how he would go behind her and move the items just a little.

He also talked about how much she loved her gardens. I know from past photographs that she had tons of boxwoods on the property. Today there aren’t as many, but we do still have some from their time at Belle Grove. He talked about how she would call them out into the yard for afternoon lemonade. I think we are going to have to start that tradition too along with the mint juleps. Maybe during the summer months, we will have a Sunday Lemonade at 5pm on the Riverside lawn as a way to remember Mary Hooker.

The Hooker’s Bedroom
Belle Grove Plantation

Belle Grove
Hooker’s Home – Front Hallway

Belle Grove
Hooker’s Home – Front Hallway and Livingroom

Belle Grove
Hooker’s Home – Dining Room

I did inform West that we had decided to name the rooms after the families that had lived at Belle Grove. But we had decided early on that we would do something special for the Hookers. Since Mary was a big gardener, we had decided to put in a formal English garden. We are going to name it the John and Mary Memorial Garden after his family.

As we parted, West had promised when he returned home to check for pictures that he could send us about Belle Grove and his family. He would also contact another family member who was the historian of the family for me.  Finally, I am filling in the history of this time period! I can’t wait for the next turn!!

Belle Grove

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 31 Comments »