Saturday, July 22, 2017  

North End Plantation
Circa 1826  

Near to where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay there stands a stately tract of waterfront land known as North End Plantation. High on the southern shore and west of Broad Creek, it commands a magnificent unobstructed view of the river essentially unchanged since it was a thriving Plantation dating back to the 1700s when it was believed to be land granted by the King of England. Now North End Plantation is the tranquil setting for the splendid home of Dr. and Mrs. David R. “Jerry” Suyes, Jr., which in years gone past was a thriving Plantation owned by Anne Maria Wake.

Family bible records indicate Anne Maria Wake, born 1815, was orphaned at a very early age and inherited the Old North Farm from Ambrose Wake and Anna H. Boss Wake. Her uncle, Captain Jack Boss, came to live with her as a guardian and managed the farm until she married Virginia State Militia Brigadier General Richard James Muse of Marygold in Essex County on February 20, 1831. A descendant of Anne Maria Wake, Mr. Douglas Maynard, wrote a letter in January of 1959 stating “I know the house was destroyed by fire and before Mr. Holding bought and restored the house on its original foundation, someone else owned it and had another house but did not use the original foundation.”

Ms. Wake was reputed to have been one of the richest people in Middlesex County at the time. There were many slaves working the crops and, it is believed, harvesating oysters from her vast holdings of oyster beds. Basically an Adam Colonial style frame house built in the 1830s, the present house was restored and renovated into a brick home of impressive dimensions in the late 1980s. It now sits on 82 acres (at one time it may have been 125 acres or more) on the shoreline of the Rappahannock River, a short distance from North End Wharf. In bygone days, one could sit on the shore at North End Plantation and hear the steamboat whistles and watch the old steamers docking at nearby North End Wharf.

Steamboats from up and down the Chesapeake brought all manner of goods and passengers. Youngsters and the not so young would make their way to the landing just to see what was happening and to enjoy the coming and going of the very colorful steamboats. The landing served as a very active steamboat landing and community social center until the hurricane of August 23, 1933. It was rebuilt, but never regained its role as the place folks came to greet steamers like the Pinakatank, Potomac, Virginia, Lancaster, Calvert and Middlesex. Captain Edmond Harrow of Deltaville recalls, as a boy in 1935, watching Franklin Delano Roosevelt arrive by limousine at North End Wharf to board the Presidential yacht Sequoia for a fishing trip on the Chesapeake. Ninety-eight year old Harrow fondly remembers enjoying the show and the band music in the James Adams floating theatre docked at North End Wharf. He recalls the thrill of finding a prize in the box of Cracker Jacks his parents bought for him at the start of the show. Lifelong Deltaville resident Jack Hurd remembers wild ponies roaming the Plantation.

Jim Grinnels was the man in charge of North End Wharf. He was once described in the Newport News Times-Herald in 1955 thusly: “…a short, rotund little man who lived on a hill by the landing. It was his task to secure lines of the steamer when she came in. To be in place for this, Grinnels stationed himself in a garage-type building on the pier. Often Grinnels caught a few winks ere the steam boat tooted her coming. Meanwhile chorales exploited the romantic setting and sang to the moonlight on the river. The snoring agent sent forth to the nigh a nasal serenade all his own. When the steamer blew, Grinnels would bolt from his bed, hobble out on the pier and mutter something about things weren’t like this in the old days when a man could sleep without being interrupted by a song. Yet, for all of Mr. Grinnels’ vast and accomplished vocabulary, no one ever heard him complain of insomnia, much less hatred for his job.”

Prior to 1876 North End Plantation was owned by the Berry family then by Mark Towill. Between 1876 and 1878 the farm was owned by South Grinnell. By 1894 it belonged to John G. and Florence Grinnels. During that time the house is known to have had a full basement containing a large kitchen, a hall and a dining room. At one time there was a dumb waiter from the basement to the first floor. Dr. Suyes believes it may have been built when the dining room was moved upstairs. The first floor and the second floors were two rooms and a hall. After the turn of the century the house was extensively repaired by placing a retaining wall in the basement, replastering and replacing needed woodwork. Porches supported by two-story brick columns were added on the north and south sides reminiscent of the antebellum home called Tara in the movie Gone with the Wind.

In 1926 the Plantation was purchased by John F. and Elizabeth Crittenden. In 1944 Samuel Holding Jr. and his wife Elizabeth purchased it and began extensive alternations. Wings were added on the east and west side, the kitchen and the dining room were moved up from the basement to the first floor and open porches were enclosed. By 1950 North End Plantation belonged to John and Hilda McGurk who ran a decorating business in the house. In 1972, under the ownership of John and Lois Benton, major landscaping work was done. The next owner was Mr. Dennis Pryor.

The current owners, Dr. and Mrs. David R. Suyes purchased the home in 1999. Dr. Suyes said, “We had a place on Gwynn’s Island for about 37 years. I was reading a newspaper and noted some interesting property on Gwynn’s Island for sale. I called the realtor who showed us the property. We weren’t interested in it but the realtor told us she had an interesting property in Middlesex County. As we came up the lane to North End Plantation it looked very familiar because I realized I had seen brochures for the place months before. As soon as we came into the house I looked at Marie’s eyes and I knew I was in trouble. We looked at it on Monday then came back to see it Wednesday and bought it Wednesday evening.” The Suyes are very interested in history and are both collectors. Sweethearts since high school, he became a dentist and she became a pharmacist. Dr. Suyes married Marie Mehfoud in 1966. Both are from the Richmond area. They have six children and fifteen grandchildren. At the time we visited their home they were preparing to host a Thanksgiving dinner for thirty five family members who were arriving to stay for the holiday. There are ten beautifully decorated rooms in the home.

The house had not been lived in for a few years prior to the Suyes buying it. Modernization was needed on the plumbing, heating, air conditioning and other systems. There were leaks in the basement that needed repairs. The Suyes did a lot of landscaping work and in the process uncovered some old walls that had been hidden by the overgrowth. A brick was found with a marking dated 1826. An old building that once served as a kitchen was refurbished and turned into a modern dental office. Dr. Suyes has a dental office in Sandstone Va. as well.

A short distance from the house there is an old barn the Suyes restored using materials they gathered from similar old barns.

It has been the scene of several fundraising events including a Virginia State Garden tour, a Monte Carlo night to benefit the Rotary Club and fundraisers to benefit the YMCA, the Conservation Easement Foundation and Rappahannock Community College.

The Suyes have travelled the world and brought back momentos of their various trips. In the massive solarium there is a full sized working cannon, a replica of the actual cannons used on the USS Constitution. There is a large chest they bought in India. A statue of a baby African elephant hides by a plant on the other side of the solarium just across from the beautiful wood bar. Displayed in a glass case, there is a beautiful model of the sailing vessel USS Constitution. A colorful hand carved wooden head with betel nut juice stained human teeth from New Guinea adorns another wall. Bag pipes adorn the wall of the library. Bright color flowers, oil paintings, curios, statues, carvings, and a host of clocks, decorated boxes, nautical prints and interesting artifacts are displayed throughout the house. Standing guard outside the solarium doors and facing the Rappahannock River there is a full sized replica of a Terracotta solider from the Chinese Emperor Qin’s tomb where an army of clay solders were unearthed. At one end of the private beach, near the dock, there is a boathouse refurbished as a beach house complete with bar, bathrooms and comfortable furniture.

From the beautiful front gate, up the long drive lined with vintage street lights, the grounds and home are meticulously maintained and historically correct. The Plantation is actually a working farm managed by Mr. Jason Benton who raises several different crops each year. Dr. Suyes keeps several bee hives to aid the work of farming. The decorations of their home reflect the numerous and varied interests of the Suyes and their zest for living. They have an infectious enthusiasm for enjoying friends and family in their beautiful historic home on North End Plantation. Dr. and Mrs. Suyes have preserved the charm of southern living and a fascinating part of southern history in Middlesex County.

By Bob Cerullo