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Posted January 12, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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New board member at Belle Grove traces roots to mansion's first owner
By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer
MIDDLETOWN -- When Kenny Hulse began volunteering at Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown more than four years ago, he could not have guessed that his time there would help him gain a greater foundation of his own family history. The Winchester resident recently learned he is an indirect descendent of original Belle Grove resident and owner Maj. Isaac Hite.
"I wasn't aware of [the connection] until I became involved at Belle Grove," says Hulse. Since learning more about his family connection to Belle Grove, Hulse was selected to become a member of the board of directors of Belle Grove Inc. He began his three-year term on Jan. 1.
"It's very exciting for me. ... Really it's an honor for me to sit on the board, to be selected," he says.
Hulse, who moved to the area only a few years ago, began volunteering at the historic plantation because his employer, Executive Protection Systems LLC in Winchester, encouraged him to give back to the community.
The business provides emergency preparedness solutions, equipment and training. Always having had an interest in history, Hulse chose to spend some of his free time at Belle Grove. He also volunteers with the Winchester City Police VIP Program.
"I thought the historical aspects of Belle Grove are very intriguing," he says.
Hulse's paternal great, great, grandfather, Nathaniel Miller Talmage, had been a lieutenant in Company K of the 5th New York Cavalry during the Civil War.
"That to me was the bigger draw -- I didn't know about the [Hite] family, so that was the big draw," he says.
One of the motives driving Hulse's devotion to local history is preserving his family's past.
He wanted to help preserve the battlefield on which his grandfather fought at the Battle of Cedar Creek, he wanted to protect the history of the plantation. His ancestor also fought at Gettysburg, Bull Run, the Wilderness, Petersburg and Winchester.
During the war, Talmage even stayed at the old Winchester hospital on Boscawen Street.
"We have my great [great] grandfather's diary from the Civil War," he says, smiling at the memory.
Over the last year, he says, he has also researched Frederick County's involvement in the era. It was fascinating for him to go back and trace the steps the soldiers took, he says.
"A lot of people, they forget," he says, adding that history, especially the Civil War era, has long been important in his family. He says he believes that history needs to be told and retold to keep the stories alive.
"It's something that means a lot to me. I think as I grow older, it means more," he says.
He began to realize the family connection with the Hites when he was at Belle Grove for a Hite family reunion.
His sister has been building a family genealogy, and Hulse already knew about the Bowman-Chrisman family connection on his mother's side. The Bowmans descended from the Hite family, he says, and he still has Chrisman cousins. Both sides of the family are from Page County.
"That's still a very active side of the family," he says. After reading about the Chrismans in historical books at Belle Grove, Hulse did his own digging to eventually learn that Hite is related to him through some cousins.
After that, he was more interested in becoming a member of the board, he says.
He and Elizabeth McClung, executive director of Belle Grove Plantation, had talked about Hulse being a board member, but he was not yet interested.
"Kenny has been a volunteer for many years in the Service League," McClung says, explaining that the Service League and the Docent Guild at Belle Grove have 60 active members between the two programs.
"I always say managing Belle Grove is a team sport," she says. Volunteers for Belle Grove help with events, finances, and building and grounds. The board regularly recruits volunteers, "people who have already given their hearts to Belle Grove," to be members, she says.
After learning about his connection to Hite, Hulse reconsidered an appointment with the board.
"We revisited it, and the opportunity was there and the timing was right," Hulse says.
This month he joins four other newly elected board members: Abby French of Edinburg; Jill Holtzman Vogel of Warrenton; Doug Bartley of White Post; and Eric Aulabaugh of Frederick County. With the recently added volunteers, the board will have 22 members, McClung says.
Hulse will continue to volunteer for Belle Grove as a board member on the building and grounds committee at Belle Grove.
"Kenny brings valuable expertise to advise us," McClung says. For the building and grounds committee, he will concentrate on the disaster preparedness program.
He also plans to complement his appointment with learning more about the plantation's history. Every time he visits the historic home he learns more than he already knew.
"There's such a wealth of knowledge," he says. "It's always kind of cool when I can go up there and take something away that I didn't know before.
"What I can hope to do is try to preserve [the history]," he says of his appointment to the board of directors.
Hulse will also join other descendants of the Hite family at Belle Grove, according to McClung, who adds that she is delighted to have Hite descendants volunteering at the plantation and for the board.
"[Being a Hite descendant] doesn't change my perception or my will to assist. I'm a history fanatic," Hulse says. "If I have the chance to affect change, I'm gonna."
Those interested in volunteering at Belle Grove Plantation may call 869-2028.
* Contact Josette Keelor at email@example.com
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