Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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The stately Arlington home that gave its name to Bellevue Forest is, oddly, not in that subdivision off Military Road along the Potomac.

Instead, the storied 150-plus-year-old white house with a view of the D.C. skyline stands at 3311 N. Glebe Road, a block north of the country club.

I recently was treated to a tour by William Dempsey, the retired attorney and railway industry negotiator who, with wife Mary, has owned the historic home for 50 years. Veterans of renovating an 18th-century home in Alexandria in the early 1960s, they bought Bellevue to make room for their children with full knowledge of its import.

The five-bedroom former farmhouse with its 12-foot ceilings, three original mantels, large vertical windows with real shutters, boasts in its attic a unique spiral chimney featured in Eleanor Lee Templeman’s 1959 book “Arlington Heritage.” Romantically, she tells the tale of Union Army Lt. Alfred Grunwell, stationed at Minor Hill after the Civil War, who on his way to Chain Bridge got lost. He flirted — at first gruffly — with a belle named Jane Vanderwerken on the veranda at the Falls Grove farmhouse (a block further north on Glebe, torn down in 1966).

After the war, they married and built the home using timbers from Fort Ethan Allen (now the grounds of the Madison Center). Templeman details their contact among the web of interlaced 19th century families — Lockwood, Saegmuller, Rixey — in that neck of old Arlington’s woods.

But another source of Bellevue’s story recently emerged. Unbeknownst to owner Dempsey, the local history affecting his house was recently compiled by his neighbor, Tom Murray. He lives a block away in a handsome 1904 home built by the same Grunwell family. Murray painstakingly went through century-old Evening Stars, deeds and 1920s real estate ads to describe the families living along the electric rail line via the Rock Spring Station in this section of “Alexandria County.”

His nifty chronology traces how Civil War officer Grunwell, who became head of Arlington’s board of supervisors, fathered children who built Murray’s future home and who would develop Bellevue Forest beginning in 1938.

Bellevue went out of the Grunwell family in 1946, sold to Basil DeLashmutt, who later sold it to William Hunter. In the mid-‘60s, Army Col. J.A. Hoag, an associate of Eleanor Roosevelt, bought the property but couldn’t move in due to his wife’s health. That’s when Dempsey, through an enterprising realtor, got wind of the home’s availability. “I told Col. Hoag I couldn’t afford his price,” Dempsey told me. Hoag then came down to $90,000 and took out a mortgage for him, because “his wife saw that my wife and I loved old homes as did they, and they could entrust it to my wife with confidence that it would be treasured as they would have treasured it.”

The Dempseys, starting “back when Glebe was a two-lane road,” performed renovations, finishing the basement, adding a porch and two large patios, plus landscaping and a fence. Their colonial flavor décor features antiques, framed engravings, a floral-patterned Bluthner piano.

Descendants of the Grunwells, Dempsey told me, have shown up on their doorstep to reminisce about the home where they grew up or spent their honeymoon. One even gave him a recording of an ancestor reading from the diary of Alfred, that lovesick Civil War officer.

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I witnessed a rare vision of Arlington’s tallest prominent sports heroes.

On Jan. 19, outside the basketball game at Washington-Lee High School, staff and alums celebrated the induction of six into the Athletic Hall of Fame. There stood three former W-L hoopsters who went on to fame in college and/or the pros.

Standing for photographers at ‘6’6 was earlier inductee Ed Hummer (Class of ’63), his 6’9 new honoree brother John Hummer (’66) and the tallest at 6’11, Walter Palmer (‘86). Palmer’s 6’9 brother Crawford (’88), couldn’t be there.

The crowd, as a student choir sang the alma mater, also honored Henry Kerfoot Jr. (’52) for golf, Ronald Deskins (’64), for football-baseball, Robyn Johnson (’64) for swimming, and Dave Morgan (’70) for wrestling.