(Postcard of Belle Grove circa 1913)
By Preston B. Moses (courtesy Pattie Moses Lilley)
Two miles south of Chatham and about [a] half mile off [the] main highway stands Belle Grove. To get the material for this writing I visited this old home last Sunday. As I turned up the private drive leading from the big road to the house, I saw the red brick house standing out bright and plain on the crest of the hill. Lines of blue smoke curling up from a chimney told me someone was at home.
I stopped my old jitney out in the grove and went up a wide box-bordered walk, leading to the front door of the house. On either side of the walk are the trees, oaks, lindens, elms, maples, white walnuts, arborvitaes, white pines, cedars, birches, and magnolia, leaning and bowing gently in a soft breeze as if making curtsies and welcoming me as in days of olden hospitality.
Belle Grove is a solid, square, brick house with four great rooms above and below, a hallway between, an attic under its roof and four rooms in basement. The kitchen is a three room brick structure to [the] rear of the main house, ‘the street’ or slaves’ quarters to the rear and left of kitchen are still standing, and nearby the family grave yard.
This stately mansion was built some time between 1798 and 1801 by Col. William Tunstall, who was clerk of Pittsylvania County. It was at Bell Grove that Whitmell Pue [Pugh] Tunstall, son of Col. William Tunstall, was born and grew up to be a brilliant and gifted son of Pittsylvania. He was a lawyer, served in [the] house of delegates and state senate, and through the determination of his efforts the first railroad was brought into Pittsylvania county. Today, his portrait hangs on the wall of the court house. We have a Whitmell in Tunstall district named for him.
Belle Grove with its thousand acre plantation passed into the hands of Jane Jones Saunders, the daughter of Col. Peter Saunders. She left it to a relative by name of Payne, and John B. Crews bought the place from him. Since his death the property has passed into the hands of his heirs. The original thousand acre plantation was divided and sold, but the Crews kept the beautiful Belle Grove and three hundred acres. Misses Annie Laurie and Mary Virginia Crews are the only members of the family now residing at the place.
Going into the house, I was struck with the quaint, old-fashion atmosphere made realistic by the wealth of old mahog[a]ny furniture and other antiques. The rooms are large, the ceiling vaulted, and the wainscoting reaching high up the wall. I was told the plastering was the original put up with the house, and so was some of the paint work on the interior. The mantels, door frames and cornices are beautifully hand-carved. The massive doors with huge locks swing on the old heavy H wrought iron hinges. The floors are broad planks of hard white pine nailed down with wrought iron nails. All the heavy beams and frame work being hand hewn. Each room has a deep fire place, and one or two tall, narrow windows. Each window has its blinds and shutters. All the walls are about a foot thick. There is not a closet in the house.
The Crews added a small kitchen on the left side of the house and widen[ed] the porch, but the essential solidity and simplicity of the original house have been kept unharmed. However, the snow drop, sweet shrub, lilac, syringo, japonica, wistaria, and magnolia still stand to moan the passing of the beautiful garden.
Part of the large grove of trees in front of [the] house have been cleared away, but Belle Grove still raises its proud head among the old trees and commands a wonderful view of White Oak Mountains rising above the rolling hills.
As I went out to my car there was a lull in the breeze, little lines of blue smoke from the chimney curled up almost straight into the heavens and faded away; the trees seemed to stop their whispering and gesturing and stood perfectly quiet. My mind wondered what tales of happiness and sadness those old trees could tell about in those days of hoop-skirts, mint-julips, distinguished sons of another age, and southern hospitality — if only they could speak.
I drove away, leaving Belle Grove in its proud old age standing and waiting for doomsday.
– article from Preston Moses, “Prying ’Round Pitt: Old Homes,” a column published circa 1933 in a local newspaper. This was the first of a series on “Old Homes of Pittsylvania County.” Photograph from the J.W. Whitehead collection, Pittsylvania Historical Society.