Brook Hill lies on both sides of the Brook Turnpike, where the road is shaded by noble cedars, and extends southwardly about a mile. This Brook Turnpike was the first improved road ever built out of Richmond, being constructed to afford communication between this section and the cities and country to the north. Down this historic turnpike Lafayette marched to meet the British at Yorktown and, victorious, he returned by this road.
A century ago there thundered over this turnpike, thrice a week, the fast mail coach from the North with letters from New York written only five or six days before, and bringing “the latest news from Europe,” which was anywhere from five to ten weeks old. And over this turnpike from 1861-’65 marched countless numbers of men in gray, and again in blue.
During the War Between the States Brook Hill became a hospital, and all rooms not actually occupied by the family were filled with sick Confederate soldiers brought in from the various camps situated on the place or in the surrounding country, preference being always given to private soldiers.
Sometimes the Confederate soldiers would remain at Brook Hill, for there were the earthworks, visible to this day, which marked the outer line of defense of the City of Richmond. And during those strenuous years all of the leaders of the Confederacy, with the exception of Stonewall Jackson, had at one time or another been guests within its walls.
Brook Hill was the ancestral home of the Williamson family, and through intermarriage with the Stewarts remains today in the same family after the lapse of more than two hundred years. It is the home of the Misses Stewart, and the gathering place of the whole family throughout all its branches.
Soon after the Indians had been driven away and Virginia was still a struggling young royal colony, came John Williamson of Kent, England, and settled at Brook Hill. Tradition tells us that he built a modest home some distance in front of where the present house stands.
And a church, historic St. John’s, came very near being also built at Brook Hill somewhat later. For Richmond was growing fast, though of course no one then dreamed that by 1800 it would be so large as to contain 5,300 people about equally divided between white and black.
In 1731 John Williamson was appointed “one of the Processioners of Lands” at a “Vestry held for Henrico Parish.” Four years later he was elected to the vestry of “Curles Church for Henrico Parish.” At the same vestry meeting it was evidently decided that a place growing as fast as Richmond needed a church of its own, for the records read: “The Vestry do agree to build a church on the most convenient place at or near Thomas Williamson’s in this Parish.” This, of course, was Brook Hill. We further read, “It is ordered that the collector do receive of every Tithable person in the Parish, five pounds of Tobacco, after the usual deduction, to be apply’d towards the New Church at Williamson’s.”
However, nothing was done for three years, and in the meantime William Byrd, founder of Richmond, had offered to give them two lots, pine timber, “and wood for burning the bricks into the bargain.” And so the minutes of the vestry meeting of October 13, 1740, read, “Whereupon the question is put whether the said church should be built on the Hill cared Indian Town [i.e. Church Hill], at Richmond, or at Thomas Williamson’s plantation on Brook Road, and is carried by a majority of voices for the former.”
The present house at Brook Hill was built prior to 1731, and was a modest affair, which has been added to more than once in the course of time. In this old home five generations of the family have in succession first seen the light of day.
In 1843 John Stewart married Mary Amanda Williamson, only daughter of Robert Carter Williamson of Brook Hill. Subsequently Mr. and Mrs. Stewart gave a part of Brook Hill to the Episcopal Church, and upon this land with the help of a brother, Daniel Kerr Stewart, they built Emmanuel Church and Emmanuel Rectory.