Discovery at the Plantation

23/12/12 12:42 PM


Yesterday we headed back to the plantation to deliver some gifts to the caretaker and his family and to meet my sister from Stafford at the Manor house. It was her first time seeing the plantation. As we pulled into the plantation, all I could think was, “Oh wow, we have so much to do before March 16th!” But we are getting organized and calling in the “troops” to get ready for the mad dash to the finish line.

It was a really beautiful day yesterday. It was a little cold for me taste, but the sun was out and shining. After we delivered the gifts to the caretaker and his family, we walked back over the Manor house. To our amazement we caught sight of five eagles!

James and Dolley's Osprey Babies 2012

James and Dolley’s Osprey Babies 2012

Now we have osprey that come every year and nest on one of the chimneys, but they leave us from September to April for the winter. We know that we have eagles in the area too. Milbank Plantation, just next door to us has a couple that nest there. Even when the osprey (we call them “James” and “Dolley”) returned this last year, they fought eagles for the nest. The osprey won. What we didn’t know was that the eagles don’t leave for the winter. I think this is awesome. So on any given day throughout the year, we could be blessed with these majestic birds flying overhead.

At first they were just flying up high, kind of cruising the wind currents. But we saw them swoop down over the farm fields. They were coming in for a low pass over. It was almost like watch World War II fighter pilots coming down and “buzzing” the ground. I can’t say we saw them land or pick up anything. They were just a little too far for us to see. But I am sure something must have caught their eye. Sadly I didn’t get any pictures either. My small digital camera just wouldn’t pick them up. The shot ends up too small making them look like dots. If I blow it up, the shot is too grainy. So I think I will have to invest in a really good camera soon so we don’t miss any more pictures.

After my sister and nephew came and toured the plantation, we headed back over the river to Port Royal to grab lunch. As we headed over the James Madison Bridge that connects Port Royal to Port Conway, we caught sight of two eagles. Before we knew it they came together, locking talons and started spiraling down toward the bridge! It was amazing! Just before hitting the bridge, they pulled a part and flew away. Of course because it was so sudden and was such an amazing sight, we didn’t get pictures again. (Sorry) But I did find out that it was more than likely two males fighting. I found a YouTube clip of two eagles doing the same thing. This clip is a National Geographic clip and it shows Sea Eagles, but at least you can see what we saw. Our eagles are Chesapeake Bay Eagles.

National Geographic Clip

Chesapeake Bay Eagle

Chesapeake Bay Eagle

After lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in Port Royal, Riverhaven, we headed back to the plantation. We wanted to look at some of the grounds we are going to be converting to parking spaces for guests. While we were looking at this area, we decided to head back into the wooded area between the Manor house and the highway/bridge. This area once was the town of Port Conway. It has been establish in 1787 when Captain Francis Conway III, Cousin of James Madison and Nephew of Nellie Conway Madison, set aside a 13 acre area and divided it into half acre lots. When Carolinus Turner owned the plantation in 1839, he started to purchase back these lots. By the late 1920s, the town was in decline and the County decided to place the first bridge between Port Conway and Port Royal to replace the ferry system. This bridge and highway would take the remaining lots and completely remove all remaining buildings or homes. We haven’t figured out yet just where the main street of Port Conway was, so we are interested in getting into this wooded area to do some research. To our knowledge we don’t think anyone has ever done any research or digging in this wooded area, except for the sand and gravel pit the state transportation department created when they built the second bridge. That pit is now a small pond.

We headed down a trail in hopes that we might be able to find at least the pond. We had heard about it from the caretaker and from one of the past owner’s grandson. I have to tell you I was a little nervous going back there. First, I am deathly afraid of snakes. But being cold out, I figured most were hidden away from the weather. Second, we have a lot of hunters in the area and I didn’t want to be mistaken as a deer or something. But we did okay, no snakes and no hunters.


The first thing we came up on was the clearing that runs from the highway to the Manor’s side yard. This is to allow for the electric wires. The ground in the clearing was high with weeds from this summer, so we had to move carefully so we didn’t step on something.


The next surprise we found was what appeared to be a trash dump. It was piled up and had several items that we could see were somewhat modern.







But as we looked closer, we started seeing bricks. Lots of bricks. Some individual, some connected by mortar. Look at this pile; I had to wonder if we had come across a house that was left and had fallen in from age and weather. Looking at the bricks, it doesn’t appear to be old bricks like in the basement of the Manor house or Summer Kitchen. But in my mind it could be a house that was there just before the bridge was built in the late 1920s. I think it will be a great idea to do some digging to see what we might discover.




One other thought in my mind was the fact that we found out that during the last years of the Conways, Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore, Grandmother of James Madison returned to Belle Grove and lived in a separate house from the main house that her son, Francis Conway II lived in. Could this reveal that location? I see some real digging coming our way soon!



We walked around some more, finding small piles in one area, but no pond. After I returned home and was able to see the Google map of the area, I realized that we were way off from where the pond is. So next time, we may need to take a copy of the Google map so we can find our way.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 20 Comments »

20 Comments on “Discovery at the Plantation”

  1. John Says:

    Fascinating! It will be interesting to see what you’ll find.

  2. Thank you! I am really curious to find out myself.

  3. Wishing you a lovely Christmas and continued success in the New Year! I’m looking forward to following your progress through your posts. Cheers!

  4. Thank you! We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Belle Grove Plantation!

  5. David Says:

    Very cool to have such magnificent birds around. Those bricks sound like a “mystery” to be solved.

  6. Yes they are just a wonderful sight to see. Yet another mystery to solve at the plantation!

  7. terry1954 Says:

    i am so curious about the bricks………….awesome photos!!!

  8. Thank you! You and me both!

  9. combs2jc Says:

    I remember when I was a kid there were always eagles in the Ocala National Forrest. I could just watch them for hours.

    About the find of bricks and stuff. Make sure you doccument everything you find, take notes and lots of photographs in case what you find is historically significant. You never can tell and if you later decide to call in archeologists everything you document and photograph will help them out.

  10. I am with you about the eagles. I could watch them for hours too! I have already thought about documenting everything. We have been in touch with Montpelier and I might check with them to get their opinion on how we should dig. Thank you!

  11. combs2jc Says:

    great ideas they have already done this. You might check TJ’s place too they have been doing alot of excavating around the old slave quarters and at the octogon house that Mr Jefferson designed and built.

  12. I will do that. Thank you!

  13. What a fun adventure you guys are having! Can’t wait to see what you uncover! P.S. Nice nails… reminded me that I forgot to get mine done today 🙂 ugh!

  14. It is such an adventure! We can’t wait to see what more is back there. I just hope we don’t find any snakes! Thank you! I have one thing I do for myself and its getting my nails done. I’m not sure what I am going to do once I get to the plantation full time. I have to find a new tech! :0

  15. What an interesting mystery! Merry Christmas!

  16. We think so too! I think we will be doing some digging here soon! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  17. jmmcdowell Says:

    A tenant’s house is another possibility. 🙂

  18. We thought of that, but that area would not have been used for a tenant house. At least we don’t think so. But we will have to see.

  19. Mama Bear Says:

    Hey, we have family in Stafford. I’m jealous that you saw 5 eagles. I love them.
    I bet there are tons of wonderful old relics on that property!

  20. Well if you come to see your family you could stop by the plantation and see if we have any flying around! Then you could see them too! We think that we may have a few hundred thousand of them 😉 There has never to our knowledge been a dig on the property.