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In the 1760s Baylor Walker, the fifth generation of Walkers at Locust Grove, built a large frame house on the high river bluff less than half mile from the original house called Ryefield and made it the family residence. Indian attacks were no longer a threat and his neighbors were building their homes directly on the river, which was the transportation “highway” in those days. He changed the name of the Walker land from “Ryefield” to “Locust Grove”. Baylor had married Frances Hill, daughter of Humphrey Hill of Hillsborough. No doubt she may have wanted easy access to the river to visit her home-place, as it was only a 2-mile row down river. It was said to have been a square two-story residence and two rooms deep. A large hallway captured the river breezes and had two rooms on each side, similar to Hillsborough. In early 1773 Baylor died at the age of 37, leaving his wife with five young children, ages 6-13. The house burned within several years, most likely before 1775.

With the uncertainties of the pre-American Revolution times, Frances Hill Walker rebuilt the house quickly using materials from some of the earlier buildings still standing up on the “fort” hill and 90,000 bricks made using the kiln on the property. Her family may have assisted, as her father Humphrey Hill was still living.

The house was located approximately 10-20 feet further away from the riverbank than the first, but close to the original foundation. This was the basic house that stands today. It is a brick home whose walls are 24 inches at the ground level and 18 inches on the first floor. Some of the flooring on the first floor may have come from another building, as it does not look like it was custom made for the house. It is one room deep, allowing river breezes to flow through.

It was originally part two-story, and part story and a half to reduce the colonial tax paid. On the first floor off a wide hall, a 20x20 foot parlor with a 4’ off-set chimney was to located to the left and the chamber (the master bedroom) with a fireplace was to the right. On the second floor was another large hall with a bedroom in the half story over the chamber below and two other bedrooms off the other side of the hall. Two of the bedrooms had fireplaces. In the attic there was another bedroom with a fireplace. The basement had three rooms; a dining room with a fireplace and a brick floor, a room with a fireplace in which the food cooked in the detached kitchen was brought and prepared for the table, and a room under the river-entrance that acted as a conservatory and a root-cellar. The latter two rooms had packed dirt floors. An unusual feature of the house was the Traveler’s stair which entered from the outside on the river lawn adjacent to the chamber, climbing to the bedroom above, and most likely was added so that those in the chamber could hear who came and went in the night.

When the house was renovated in the 1950s to install electricity and plumbing, the gutted house revealed facets of the first floor different from today. Entering through the covered entrance and double doors on the land-side of the house into the wide hall, the stairs would have been on your right (opposite of today) and the door to the parlor would have been in the middle of the wall rather than on the far left front wall as it is today. The door from the hall to the river lawn was not directly opposite the other outside hall door. The chimney in the chamber (current dining room) was on the wall adjacent to the hall (opposite of today).

Humphrey and Frances Temple Walker, Baylor Walker’s son and daughter-in-law, lived at Locust Grove after Frances Hill Walker’s death with till their deaths in 1820 and 1824 respectively. Robert Walker, Humphrey’s unmarried son then took over the care of Locust Grove.

In 1850 after his brother Robert’s death, John Walker, another of Humphrey Walker’s sons, acquired and operated Locust Grove as a second farm of 533 acres, from Chatham Hill, his primary residence, about 6 miles further up the county. John’s spinster sister Susan lived at Locust Grove until her death in 1851 and his nephew William Walker, Temple Walker’s first son from his first marriage, stayed there until his death in 1885. At times other family members lived there during this period.

John made improvements. He cleared more land for planting and renewed the orchard with new varieties of apples and plums. Pear trees were obtained from his brother Temple at Mt. Elba, a stock that came from the original orchard at Locust Grove. He repaired fences and created earthen berms for animal enclosures. The wharf-landing road was improved and a new wharf built. The barn, the people’s (slave) quarters, and the kitchens received new underpinning and twelve feet was added to the granary. Fireplace backs were repaired. An overseer’s house, sixteen feet square, was added. A potato hold in the large house cellar was also bricked up. This last may have been under the river-side entrance of the Locust Grove residence.

At John’s death in 1867 his son Melville inherited Locust Grove. Melville farmed Locust Grove, had a fishery that provided income when the fish were running, collected rent from the Walkerton mill, and sold timber at times. In 1869 Melville Walker married Virginia Henley of Hillsborough. “Miss Jennie”, as Virginia was called, was mistress of Locust Grove for almost 60 years. As her niece Elizabeth Henley Hutchinson put it, “At the age of 23 they began their life at Locust Grove when things were as near zero as could ever be from the aftermath of the Civil War. Melville was easy going and had a happy disposition, Jennie was more abrupt and critical, and she loved to tease. However, no one could have been more generous and kind hearted than she was or more loyal to her family and friends.”

Jennie wanted the latest things and she began to make major changes to the house. Large porches were built on both sides of the house. A bedroom was built over the porch on the land-side. The front and back doors in the hall were aligned directly across from each other to better capture the river breezes. The stairs in the hall were moved to the opposite wall and an alcove for a vase or bust was built into the wall on the stair landing. The parlor door was placed to the left of the stair near the land-side door. The old outside double doors in the hall were replaced with machine-made doors and the fireplace mantels on the first floor with machine made ones. A two-story clapboard wing was built on the up-river side of the house and the kitchen was moved inside. The room above the kitchen was most likely a nursery since it was next to the main bedroom. The chamber became the dining room as it was next to the kitchen and the fireplace in it was moved to the opposite wall where it is today.

Jennie bought furniture in Baltimore on her honeymoon, some of which is still in the house. It is said that she had a wonderful flower and boxwood garden on the downriver side of the house. She most likely was also the one who encircled the house lawn with a wide white board fence.

You might wonder how Melville and Jennie paid for all of this at a time when the country was recovering from a major war. It is possible that the materials came from Locust Grove and funds came from investments made by John Walker prior to the war, such as railroad stock, which kept paying dividends throughout the war. After Melville’s death in 1904 Jenny lived with her daughters in Richmond, but visited Locust Grove whenever she could. The property was owned by her children; John Henley Walker, Sr., Margaret Walker, and Alice Walker Lovett. None of them lived there, but took good care of it and used it for many family events.

In 1949, after serving in WWII and then moving to the Richmond area, John Henley Walker, Sr.’s son, John Henley Walker, Jr. (Henley) moved his wife, Letitia Walker (Letty), and three young girls to Locust Grove. He was an architect and renovated the house. The family lived in the house while it was gutted, electricity and plumbing added, the walls re-plastered, the trim replaced, the floors renewed and all the inside and outside painted. Since bathrooms were new to the house, places had to be made for them. The old Travelers Stairs was eliminated and the openings at the bottom and right above it were used for a “powder room” at the bottom and a small bath above it. The smallest bedroom, partially under the attic stairs was converted to a large bathroom. There were no clothes closets as the earlier Walkers used wardrobes to hang clothes. The top room of the old Travelers Stair was made into a clothes closet adjacent to one of the bedrooms. Closets were also built into two of the bedrooms.

In the mid-1950s Henley’s aunts Margaret Walker and Alice Walker Lovett, fondly known as Miss Bessie and Miss Alice, came to live at Locust Grove. A story and a half air-conditioned brick wing was constructed with an apartment for them on the ground floor. The apartment has a bedroom, bath, living room, kitchenette, parlor and porch. Two bedrooms and a bath are on the second floor, and a large recreation room is located in the basement. At this time the river porch was rebuilt as a two story screened porch.

Henley and Letty always had a project going, especially in the summer. If visitors came while Henley was working on a project, they could find themselves building a new pier with fish house and boathouse, laying a round brick patio, building a hay barn, demolishing the old barns, building a large equipment barn, and moving the smokehouse away from the house.

There are several millstones about the lawn that came from the Walkerton Mill at some point. The one in the center of the yard is a French segmented stone bound with an iron hoop. It was used to grind fine flour. The one in the center of the brick patio was never used as it had a flaw when it was made. The rocks around the flowerbeds are all ballast rock brought on ocean going trading ships and dumped in the river when the ship holes were filled for the return trip. So much ballast was being dumped in the rivers that it was obstructing some waterways and in 1691 the Virginia General Assembly decreed that the ballast be unloaded only on land, abov e the high water mark , or risk a ten pound sterling fine for every offense.