The Hardest Blog I Have Ever Written

June 29, 2015

Belle Grove

This has to be one of the hardest blogs I have ever written.

For the last week, I have sat here and stared at a blank screen, racking my brain for the right words. And for the last week, I have had the worst case of writers block. It’s not that I don’t know what to say. It has more to do with how I want to express my feelings on this subject.
My feelings for Belle Grove Plantation goes back to July 12, 2011, the day we first saw Belle Grove Plantation. From the moment I drove into the plantation, my soul cried out that I belonged here. I knew it as the day was long that my purpose was to come here and open Belle Grove Plantation to the world.

After being on the plantation for two years, not a day goes by that I am not overwhelmed and in awe of the beauty of this place. One of the most moving moments came last year as I was moving the sprinklers yet again, in an attempt to save our grass from the heat of the summer. As I placed the sprinkler on the bottom terrace, I looked up at the mansion.

I lost my breath.

Tears began to stream down my face.

How could I be here?

What had I done to desire such an honor to present Belle Grove to the world?

I quietly said, “Thank you God. Thank you for allowing me to be here.”

Every spot, every nook and cranny has special meaning to me. Whether it is a special antique piece that was given to us or a tree that I admire and hope someday to be buried under. From the drive down the tree lined entrance lane to the fields of soy bean, corn and wheat that I view from the upstairs balcony. From the sun peaking over the tree tops in the morning to the sunsets that you could never describe the beauty of.
The history and the people that walked here has been laid into my lap to protect and preserve. And I hope to be a good steward of what I have been given.

Each day, I walk this plantation, knowing that there is yet so much left to do. But I am just one person. No amount of love and desire will help me accomplish the things that need to be done alone.

This is why I am coming to you now.

Over the past three years, I have watched in vain as the Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse have deteriorated faster and faster. Every time a brick wall falls in or an exterior wall buckles and pops, my heart cries out for it to stop. Every storm with high winds or snow fall we get, I close my eyes and pray that the Smokehouse will make it one more time. As I walk around the Ice House and see the brick work being destroyed by animals burrowing in or flying out the one window pushing the fragile brick work away from the wall, I close my eyes as tears fall down.
My only solution is to restore these buildings before we lose them forever.

Back in 2013, we were inspected by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. They come out once every few years to ensure that there hasn’t been any changes to the historic mansion, which is a Virginia Landmark. After viewing the mansion and giving us an approval that all was original, I walked the representative to the outbuildings.

She was awe struck.

She told me that the Summer Kitchen with its half kitchen and half slave lodging was “priceless”. She said to me, “You don’t understand. These don’t exist anymore!” Most have been lost to fires, neglected or weather beaten until they fell in. To find one that dates to this time period is almost impossible. She also pointed out the rose head nail studded door on the Smokehouse. I have to laugh when I think of what she said to me. “Michelle, don’t you ever sell this door! These nails were made here in the 1700s!”She told me with all the authority she could muster. I assured her that I would never do such a thing. It would be like selling my right arm. It’s all attached to this place.

With all this precious history standing before me, I have to do something.

Time stands still for no man. Or woman on a mission.

We are currently in progress on our 501C Non Profit so we can work on getting grants for this kind of restoration. But 501C Non Profits take time. And time is something we have precious little of with these buildings.

We have been working on a two special projects to raise the needed money for these buildings.
The Amazing Race Logo

We have our Amazing Race 2015 on July 18th. This event will see teams of 2, 3 or 4 traveling to King George, Caroline and Westmoreland County to complete “Location Challenges” for points. The team with the most points at the end of the day will win 1st, 2nd and 3rd place as well as “Best Dressed” team. We will have a special Finish Line Celebration and Award Ceremony after the day is over with food, fun and music.
We are still looking for teams to join us in the fun!

There is no cost to enter. Just sign up by Sunday, July 12th. Complete your form by going to:

https://bellegrove.wufoo.com/forms/xifle3n1n453ww/

Come be crazy and wacky for the day with us!

gofundme-logo

We have started a special GoFundMe Campaign called “Save Our History at Belle Grove”. Our goal is to raise $45,000 to restore and preserve these priceless treasures.

We are asking you to please visit our campaign at:

http://www.gofundme.com/xw687w

Watch our video. Make a donation. Then share this campaign with as many people as you can.

This really needs to be a team effort. So we are coming to you that have supported us throughout the years. You know how hard we have worked. What hardships we have faced and overcome. Now we need your help to overcome this wall.

Please help us before it is too late for these buildings.

Be a part of the history of Belle Grove Plantation.

If we reach this goal and after the buildings are completed, we will have a special invitation only Grand Opening for those who have supported us in this cause. We will also enter all the names into a special book that will become part of the history of how these buildings were saved.

What after they are restored?

The Summer Kitchen will become a small museum. The kitchen side will house all the artifacts and history of Belle Grove Plantation. The slave lodging will become a living memorial for the enslaved people of Belle Grove Plantation. It will not only tell the story of the slaves, but will have a bronze plaque with all the names of slaves we have been able to discover through wills, inventories and death records. We have long lost the slave cemetery. But through this effort, we hope to give them their names back to be remembered forever.

The Smokehouse and Ice House will stand as a teaching tool for this generation and generations to come. It is our hope to bring in historic performers and teachers to teach the general public as well as school aged children about live on the plantation.
Let us not forget the past, but remember it so we are not doomed to repeat it.

What a great gift we can give back to our children and their children. To have the original buildings tell their story.

Won’t you please help us?

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | No Comments »

A Wedding to Remember

June 27, 2015

The last four weeks have been just a blur for us here at Belle Grove Plantation. In that four weeks we have had five weddings. All of them have been beautiful and some more memorable then others. Our last wedding has to be the one we will remember for years to come.
In the weeks before, we had had the threats of rain, but those threats seem to just vanish into thin air as the wedding ceremonies took place. We even had one where we were watching on radar as a strong thunderstorm move over the wedding ceremony. But it never released the rain or lighting. We felt that we were living a charmed life.

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Hockensmith Portraits

Our last ceremony … the charm wore off.

Tammy, Brett and I were watching the weather through most of the day. We knew we had a threat of thunderstorms and rain. We just didn’t know when and how it was going to be. We had advised the bridal party so we had back up plans just in case.
The ceremony started and so did our nerves. Through most of the ceremony, Tammy, Brett and I were on the radar online watching a fast moving thunderstorm coming at us. Never have we wanted a ceremony to be short and sweet as we did this one. In the back of our minds, we could see everyone running for cover before the groom kissed his bride.

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But we made it!

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The storm held off for the ceremony. We rushed the family into the house and got the photographers started on their family pictures. We warned them that time was of the essence. Then it was a mad rush to move chairs and get things batten down before the storm moved in. We grabbed the valets and had them help put up the sides on the reception tent to protect the beautiful tables and the guests.

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Hockensmith Portraits

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Hockensmith Portraits

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Hockensmith Portraits

Before they could complete the sides, the rain moved in. We cut short the outdoor cocktail time under our historic Linden tree and asked the guests to move over to the reception tent.

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After getting everyone seated and the catering stuff was just getting ready to serve, we checked the radar again. The storm had built to a point that was very concerning for us. So we asked Tammy to speak to the mother of the bride to see if we might want to consider moving into the house. The mother of the bride felt it would be okay to stay and rightfully so with all the work they put into the table settings. But just after Tammy return to tell us what the mother of the bride said the weather decided to turn even uglier.

Now, I need to tell you that I spent three years living in “Tornado Ally” in Texarkana. After a time, you can get a “feeling” about the weather. That day, I had one of those feelings.

Just as Tammy walked back across the tent to help people settle in, it happened. An alert came across my cell phone … tornado warning. Brett was inside watching the online radar so I made my way over to Tammy and told her about the alert and that I was making the decision to move everyone in.
Quietly we went from table to table asking people to gather their things and head into the house. When asked why, I simply told them that the weather wasn’t looking good. Thankfully, our basement door was just off the tent exit. So we moved everyone down into the basement. There were about 90 guests and vendors.

By the time we got everyone in, the sky opened up and bucket after bucket came down. Brett told me shortly after that the tornado had touched down somewhere between us and Colonial Beach, which is about 25 miles away. While we tried to calm everyone, the catering staff worked on bring in the food and cake.

Not 15 minutes after we had everyone in, one of the catering staff came in and informed me that the videographers had caught a second tornado. This time the center of circulation was forming right over Belle Grove’s mansion! Most of the guests were still in the basement, but we had several that had come up onto the main floor. So we asked those to move away from the windows and into the grand hall for their protection.

I slipped down into the basement to let everyone know about the second tornado, but assured them that it would soon pass. Tammy had made arrangement with the catering staff to move a bartender down into the basement, so everyone could get their beverages. I let them know the food was being set up in the formal dining room and that we would soon have everyone up stairs and eating within 30 minutes. I ended my little speech with, “Enjoy hanging out with our ghosts.” Later I would have several people come up to me and tell me that they thought it was funny that I made a joke about the ghosts in the basement. They didn’t know I was being serious.

As the storm moved through, I would walk around checking on everyone. After coming up from the basement, someone pointed out that the valets were on the front side porch. I ran to the door and told them that they needed to come in. Then we would hear that because the wind and storm was so strong, we had leaks going from under the library door, in the basement by the outside door and in the formal dining room down the chimney wall.

The last bit of news came from a guest that left just as we moved everyone down into the basement. They were our neighbors so they know us well. I received a voice mail from him informing us that we had a tree down in the entry lane. Off went Brett and the valets to see how bad it was and if they could move it. Thankfully they were able to move it off the driveway. We also found out that one of the awnings from the tent had been taken and mangled.

After about an hour, the storm passed and the guests got their dinner. Not in the beautiful reception tent that the bridal party had prepared. But the guests as well as the bridal party seem to roll with the punches. Tammy worked extra hard to make sure the bridal party had the chance to do all the things they had planned from the toast and speeches to the cake cutting. The bride even threw her bouquet from the grand hall staircase.

The guests departed with many compliments on the wedding and the staff that had worked so hard to ensure a wonderful event. The bridal party relaxed and quietly slipped off to bed.

The next morning at breakfast, the discussion was mainly around the tornadoes and how well everyone had performed. We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people than the ones that were with us that night.

Caroline Street Catering not only set up dinner, twice, but rolled with all the last second chances with no push back. D&J Talent Management’s valets went over and above in all that they did. Not only did they make sure that our guest made it to their cars safely, but were the spare hands we could not have lived without through this evening.

While Cakes in Art and The Floral Palette were not here during the fun, their work still can’t go without mention. The flowers on the tables as well as the alter were so beautiful and well done. It was ashame that we didn’t get to enjoy them more. Thankfully the cake made it in with just a few minor marks. It would be terrible if the cake had not made it in. It was so beautiful and tasted delicious!

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When I spoke to the breakfast table, I told the bride and groom, “You know, anyone can have a wedding at Belle Grove Plantation. But you gave your guests an experience. One that they will long remember and talk about for years.”

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | No Comments »

Thank you Tammy

June 11, 2014

Tammy Anderson

We have been so busy lately with all the weddings going on at Belle Grove Plantation. We completed our first two wedding weekend on May 30th and 31st. By the end of June, we will have completed five weddings in four weeks.

Whew ….

Being so busy, things have gone undone and at times forgotten. One of those things is something we don’t want to forget. As of the first of June, our Wedding and Event Specialist, Tammy Anderson has been with us for one year.

Happy Anniversary Tammy!

A chance meeting at a networking social with the Virginia Wedding and Events Network brought Tammy and I together. God knew exactly what He was doing when He had us cross paths that evening. From the moment I met her, I knew we should have her working with us. By the end of the evening, she was scheduled to come to the plantation and one week later, the deal was done.

Since Tammy has come on board, she has taken us to new heights with our weddings. One thing I can tell you, when it comes to “selling” Belle Grove Plantation and its history, I do a great job. But ask me to “sell” a wedding, I couldn’t do it to save my life. But Tammy is a born natural at it. She has tripled our weddings in less than one year. She and I have worked to put some of the best packages together to help our brides find just the right fit.

Leading up to the wedding day, Tammy is at our bridal party’s disposal through calls, texts and visits. She works very hard to make sure that each wedding has what is needed as well as pointing out other options. She keeps in touch with all the vendors that services our events and follows up to make sure the vendors know what is expected of them.

The day of the wedding, she not only runs the event making sure that each person is in place when they need to be. She also tackles the issues and challenges as the arise, keeping the stress of the moment from the bridal party so they are able to enjoy their moment. She checks with each vendor and even checks with us to make sure that everyone is doing well and have no concerns.

I have had the honor in having her help my daughter and her now son-in-law with their wedding. They planned most of their wedding and used Tammy to help them with options. I got to really see Tammy in action from the other side the day of the wedding. I know without her, this day would have been so stressful. But from the moment I stopped being the innkeeper/business owner and became the mother of the bride, I truly understand what she does to help us make it a day we will never forget.

I can also tell you that we aren’t the only ones that feel so blessed to have her. If you read our reviews on Wedding Wire, you will see all our bridal parties have felt the same way about her. They hold her just as dear as we do. She truly touches everyone that works with her.

So before the time escapes me as we head into another weekend wedding, Brett and I would like to publicly thank Tammy for all the hard work that we see and for those things she does we don’t see. We have been truly blessed to have her with us. Thank you for looking out for us and for supporting us as we build our business. Thank you for taking each one of our bridal parties to heart, supporting them and helping them create the day of their dreams.

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We love you Tammy!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Thank you Tammy
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Pictures provided by Chamberlin Photography, Rebekah Beasley Photographs & DG Photography