Archive for the 'General History' Category

A Little Adventure – Part One

Oct. 1st 2014

Monday morning as Brett gathered his things to head back to Chesapeake and work, I woke to realize that I didn’t have anything on the books for the next two days. No appointments, no guests, nothing. Then the thought of our coming October hit me. Wow, we are going to be really busy! So one thought lead to another and I decided it was time to grab these two days and relax. Summer has been really busy and a day here and there just really didn’t give me time to relax my brain. So two days would fit perfect.

As I dressed, one thought kept racing through my head … where should I go? Of course I love taken off with no place in mind. I like to call them my “little adventures”. General I have a point to travel towards and make up the rest as I go. But for some reason, I couldn’t come up with the point to drive towards. It wasn’t until just as I finished dressing that the place come into focus.


Okay, I know that isn’t somewhere most people would jump at the chance to go. I mean when you think about all the places I have traveled to over the last three years, this isn’t normal for me. But we have been doing a lot of talking about the Civil War lately. We have been working with someone to put together a great Civil War Weekend here at Belle Grove in April, 2015. With the 150th anniversary of the death of John Wilkes Booth coming year and Garrett’s farm’s location just four miles away, we want to make this a huge event. Plus Brett and I have been talking about our 30th Wedding Anniversary in October, 2015. I want to renew our vows here at Belle Grove. One because I want to get married here and second because I want to do it special. I want to have our ceremony as a Civil War Reenactment. But that is another story.

So I called Brett and told him that I was going to take two days off. That I was going to head to Antietam and that I was packing an overnight bag. Now Brett has learned not to question why. I love him for that. And we both have learned that when an idea like this comes, generally there is a reason for us to go. We end up meeting someone or finding something or seeing something that leads to our next step in this awesome journey. So he told me to have a good time and be careful. I told him that I loved him and wish he was with me.

I closed up Belle Grove and grabbed my bag and headed out for the day. Just three steps out the door, I stopped. Not because I changed my mind, but as I had been heading out the door, I realized that I would be heading northwest and there would be a chance I could come close to the Inn at Little Washington. For you that don’t know, I love Chef Patrick O’Connell and the Inn at Little Washington. I haven’t stayed there… yet. But I have both of his cookbooks and love his story of how it came to be. I have used his recipes, changing them to make them more my own, and followed his example in how to get started right. I always say I would like Belle Grove to be like the Inn at Little Washington, but in our own way. So I unlocked the doors and grabbed my two cookbooks. You never know I might get a chance to meet him and I wanted to be ready.

As I closed the car door, I posted our announcement that I was off and the game of “Where in the World is Michelle” was beginning. I love playing this game. It is so much fun to see others guessing the locations and getting into the journey as much as I do. While I am generally alone of these trips, it almost seems that everyone is with me. And because of this thought, I look at things a little differently as I go. I always think about taking more photos because I want you to experience it with me.

I made my way down the highway and turned off towards Leesburg on Route 15. As I got to the top of the ramp, there staring at me was the sign “James Madison Highway”. Of course I had to laugh because we live just off Route 301 (James Madison Highway) and knew this was to be the first clue. So I tried to take a quick shot of the sign, being careful not to show anything that might give away the location. I then sent it out with the clue, “I left route 301 James Madison Highway and drove 2 hours only to get back on James Madison Highway! Imagine that!”

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As I made my way down this two lane road, my first memorable sight was a castle. Yes, a castle. It came up on me pretty quick and it took me a few seconds to process the sight. Of course, what you always expect to see on a two lane road in the middle of Virginia. I was going to let it go, but then something in my head told me to go back. I thought, “They just have to see this!”

I got back to the castle and pulled over to take a shot of the front. It was really cool! It looks to be a brick structure with the corners made of stone towers. The front looks to have a bridge and moat. The front entry of the drive, just as you come in, there is a gruesome gargoyle entreating you to turn back while you can. As I made my way back to the driver side of my car, I saw a young man walk out towards the mailbox. Yes, even castles have mailboxes in Virginia. So I pulled up and asked if he knew the story of the castle. He told me no. He had just moved in to help care for the castle and grounds. I asked if anyone lived in it. He said yes, but he didn’t know them or their story. So I thanked him and continued on my way.

The next thing that caught my eye was a sign that said, “Mansion Tours” and then the main sign that said, “Oatlands, Historic Home and Gardens”. As I passed I quickly started running through my schedule and how much time I had until I got to Antietam. Then it hit me…. Schedule? What schedule? So I turned around and headed back.


The lane was beautiful. So clean and clear. Our entry lane tends to be a little crowded and a makes for trouble in mowing. But here they had room between these mature trees to get two mowers around. Since I have been cutting the grass this year (Brett does it too), I was very envious of the space. Behind the trees stands a wonderful fence line and fields just beyond. It is what you would expect as you come down a historic home property. I think we need a fence line too now.
As I headed into the parking area, I caught site of a green building. My first thought was, “Is this Oatlands”. Somehow I was expecting a little more for a “mansion”. I got this same feeling when I went last year to see Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. Someone had sold me on the idea of changing my travel that time to go see it. As I walked down the lane leading to Gunston Hall, my thoughts were, “I paid this much to see a little Cape Cod style Colonial? Really?” Of course I was very much mistaken about Gunston Hall, as I would be about Oatlands.

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As I walked up to the green building, I realized my mistake. This wasn’t the mansion. It is the Carriage House! “Okay, now where is the mansion”, came next. Entering the Carriage House I followed the signs to the gift store to buy my ticket to see the mansion. There I was warmly greeted by two ladies. They welcomed me and asked if I was there for a tour. I told them yes and also informed them that I was also from a historic home. (You can take me from the plantation, but you can’t stop me from marketing!)

Most of my conversation was with Tansy. When I told them I was from Belle Grove Plantation, their first thoughts went to Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown/Cedar Creek. I let them know that it was a common mistake since both had James Madison connections. I shared pictures and of course one of the first questions was about our ghosts. It’s Halloween and it’s on everyone’s mind right now. We talked about our events in October and discussed their event for their ghost walk too.

I had about one hour to kill before the tour so Tansy told me about the 4 acre Formal English Garden and that I might enjoy a turnabout the garden until my tour. It had started sprinkling a little and she offered me an umbrella that I could use and return later. That is when the second clue came to me, “As I was driving and I came across a historic home that was open for tours. Of course I had to stop. This historic home boasts a 4 acre English garden.”

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So off I went with my umbrella and camera ready to see the mansion. As I walked down the path, I could see a yellow home in the short distance. This must be the mansion. It was from the side so I still didn’t know what was in store for me. As I walked down the path, a tree caught my eye. It looked old and twisted and I loved it! I love odd trees and old trees. So I grabbed a shot of it and saw there was a sign on it. It turned out to be an Osage Orange Tree! I had never seen one. We had Osage Oranges in our window decorations last Christmas, but someone had brought them to me. And this tree was really showing its age. Just beautiful.

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The first small building I came across was the Bachelor’s Quarters. The building wasn’t open to view, but was built in 1820. Brett and I had seen several Bachelor’s Quarters or what they called Garconniere in New Orleans when we toured the historic plantations there for our research for Belle Grove. I had not seen too many of them here in Virginia.

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The second building I came across was the Greenhouse. This Greenhouse was built in 1810 and is the oldest Greenhouse in Virginia. I didn’t take the time to go in because I wanted to see the Formal Gardens.

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Then I turned around and there she was. Oatlands Mansion. Needless to say I was very happy I turned around! It was breath-taking! Now I love Belle Grove and its grand mansion, but really, this mansion was something else! The columns on the portico alone were worth staring at for an hour!

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They have a Boot Scrape like we do!

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I made my way over to the garden and saw several gardeners working in and among the plants. They were also watering the lawn with sprinklers that had to be moved to different locations. I thought, “Well I am glad to see we aren’t the only ones with this chore!”

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The gardens were as breath-taking as the mansion. Here is some information on the garden according to their website:

“The East-West Axis of the garden begins when exiting the east door of the mansion.

Two centuries ago, George Carter designed and built Oatlands House and Garden. In the style of Tidewater Virginia and its English antecedents, Carter placed his formally organized garden near his house. The structure of the garden is comprised of terraces carved into the hillside to provide level areas for abundant plantings of fruit and vegetables along with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Even now, Carter’s steps and landings provide access to these same terraces. Cut from locally quarried stone, these steep steps are major axial walkways.

Carter constructed and planted his garden with self-sufficiency and beauty intertwined. As one meanders through the garden, sweeping views of the surrounding hills and woods may still be seen even though the garden perimeter is enclosed by the Garden Dependencies together with the Garden Wall. Built with brick fired on the plantation and indigenous stone, the structures define the outer perimeter of the garden and shelter the garden plants.

Nearly a century after George Carter began the construction of Oatlands, Mr. and Mrs.William Corcoran Eustis of Washington, D. C. purchased the property as their country home in 1903. In spite of the garden’s neglected state, Edith Eustis saw the garden ruin as a quiet, still, mysterious place harboring “old secrets” that inspired her to fill Carter’s terraces with boxwood-lined parterres full of fragrant and colorful flowers such as tulips, peonies, iris, and lilies. Romantic plant containers, statuary, and structures were added.

The bowling green and the reflecting pool share one long terrace with the teahouse acting as one terminus and the young fawn statuary as the other. The rose garden and a memorial to a daughter of Mrs. Eustis also became garden elements. Under her care, Carter’s terraces were revivedwith ornamental charm typical of the Colonial Revival Style popular in her time. Edith Eustis took pleasure in transforming Carter’s garden. In 1923 she stated, “It was a thankful task to restore the old beauty, although the thoughts and conceptions were new, they fitted it. And every stone vase or bench, every box-hedge planted, seemed to fall into its rightful place and become a part of the whole.”

Carter plants: Boxwood, larch tree canopy, and English Oak.

Many Carter plantings survive today:
• Towering above the east-west axis, American Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens `Arborescens’) provide shade as one descends the stone steps.
• English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens `Suffruticosa’), along the north-south axis, remain but are experiencing decline.
• Two large trees planted in Carter’s day still thrive: the European Larch (Larix decidua) welcomes all to the garden with soft descending branches at the garden gate and the English Oak (Quercus robur) stands majestic in the center of the garden.

Today, the challenge of maintaining and enhancing the Oatlands Garden is still a thankful task. With Carter’s garden structure remaining solid along with his values of self-sufficiency, the old beauty continues to inspire just as it did for Edith Eustis. Her vision and ideas encourage us to creatively provide for this garden so that it will sustain, grow, and thrive for generations to come.”

Oatlands –

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Then it came time for the tour. I was the only one on the tour, so the guide was able to spend a few more minutes with me. The interior was just as grand as the exterior. Sadly, I couldn’t take pictures. But the layout reminded me a little of the Confederate White House in Richmond. The guide was wonderful in pointing out architecture, people and items that might catch my interest. The one thing that really caught my eye was as you came. There are two portraits in the main hall and the young lady’s dress is what my eyes kept returning to.

Here is some information on the mansion according to their website:

“George Carter began building Oatlands mansion in about 1804, having inherited the property on which it sits from his father in 1798. The house can be seen as George Carter’s personal interpretation of early 19th century architectural styles. Although no original architectural plans have been found, it is thought that Carter probably designed the house himself, possibly with help from builders and pattern books.

Carter’s original plan was for a Federal or Adam style mansion consisting of a central block and symmetrical bays to the east and west. The house stood on a full basement and contained three main living floors and a small attic. A cupola topped the building. Construction continued for approximately 5 years. By 1808 the mansion probably had some rooms finished on the first floor, but was only framed in on the upper two floors and attic.

Events leading up to the War of 1812, which brought on a financial recession and an embargo against trade with Britain, halted construction at Oatlands. After the end of the war, Carter – always the businessman – put his money and effort into building a mill complex on Goose Creek, the southern boundary of his property, rather than completing his mansion. When Carter again turned his attention to finishing the house, his vision for its appearance had changed. Greek Revival style swept the country in the 1820s, and George Carter was not immune to its pull. The red brick walls were covered in stucco and scored to resemble stone; half-octagonal staircases were added at either end; and a grand portico rose on the face of the mansion. Carter also added a parapet wall along the roofline at the front and sides of the house, thus emphasizing the linearity of Greek Revival style rather than the vertical focus of Federal architecture. Inside the house, Carter made one last change. By enclosing two corners of his drawing room, he created an octagon, a very popular shape throughout early 19th century architecture.

The 20th century owners of Oatlands, William and Edith Eustis, made hardly any structural changes to the mansion. Sensitive early preservationists, they retained George Carter’s floor plan and architectural features with only a few exceptions. A porch was added to the north face of the house, the second floor staircase was moved, and two small bedrooms on the second floor were joined to form one large room.

Today Oatlands remains true to George Carter’s mature vision for his home.”

Oatlands –

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As I finished up the tour and headed back to the Carriage House to return and thank them for the umbrella, I just had to take a deep breath and smile. What would I have missed if I had not turned around? Over the years, as we have traveled, there have been places we came across that we had wanted to stop but didn’t think we had the time to do. What have we missed over the years! There truly is something to “Stopping and smelling the roses”.

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Tomorrow – Part 2 of my first day.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | Comments Off on A Little Adventure – Part One

Happy July 2nd!

Jul. 2nd 2014


After seeing a Facebook status from the History Channel saying


“John Adams believed that Independence Day should be July 2nd and refused to attend July 4th events in protest”

I became curious. I mean I have never heard about this. And knowing how much I love history, I had to find out.

I came across this article from the National Constitution Center. So let me share enlighten you.

When is the real Independence Day: July 2 or July 4?

by Scott Bomboy

There’s no doubt the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. But which date has the legitimate claim on Independence Day: July 2 or July 4?

If John Adams were alive today, he would tell you July 2nd. Other Founders would say July 4th, the day that is currently recognized as a federal holiday by our national government. And still other Founders would say, “what Independence Day?” since the holiday wasn’t widely celebrated until many of the Founders had passed away.

Here is the evidence, so you can decide which Independence Day is really Independence Day!

Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Britain on July 2, 1776, when it approved a resolution and delegates from New York were given permission to make it a unanimous vote.

John Adams thought July 2 would be marked as a national holiday for generations to come.

“The most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more,” Adams said about what he envisioned as a July 2nd national holiday.

After voting on independence on July 2, the Continental Congress needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public. It had been proposed in draft form by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) and it took two days for the Congress to agree on the edits.

Once the Congress approved the actual Declaration on Independence document on July 4, it ordered that it be sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed, with John Hancock’s name printed at the bottom. Today, 26 copies remain.

That is why the Declaration has the words, “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at its top, because that is the day the approved last version was signed in Philadelphia.

On July 8, 1776, Colonel John Nixon of Philadelphia read a printed Declaration of Independence to the public for the first time on what is now called Independence Square.

(Most of the members of the Continental Congress signed a version of the Declaration on August 2, 1776 in Philadelphia. The names of the signers were released publicly in early 1777. So that famous painting showing the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776 is a bit of an exaggeration.)

The late historian Pauline Maier said in her 1997 book about the Declaration that no member of Congress recalled in early July 1777 that it was almost a year since they declared their freedom from the British. They finally remembered the event on July 3, 1777, and July 4th became the day that seemed to make sense for celebrating independence.

Maier also said that the Declaration (and celebrating its signing) was stuck in an early feud between the Federalists (of John Adams) and the Republicans (of Thomas Jefferson).  The Declaration and its anniversary day weren’t widely celebrated until the Federalists faded away from the political scene after 1812.

In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1941, Congress made it a paid holiday for them.

In the last letter he ever wrote, Thomas Jefferson spoke in 1826 of the importance of the day. “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them,” he said.

Two days later, Jefferson and Adams both passed away on the Fourth of July.

Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | Comments Off on Happy July 2nd!

All Aboard

Apr. 23rd 2014

Saturday, April 12th
Belle Grove Plantation

The day was beautiful. Weather was clear and warm. Arrivals began at 1:00pm. Ladies of beautiful entered the mansion with hats of great style and grace. First Class Passengers, The Countess of Rothes, Margaret Brown, Lady Duff Gordon, Mrs. John Jacob Aster and Leontine Aubart arrived to receive other First and Second Class Passengers.

Tea was served by the staff. Salmon Mousse, Tarragon Egg Salad and Cucumber Canapes were enjoyed by all. Mini scones of lemon, blueberry, cinnamon and chocolate delighted all that tasted. The petite desserts of Lemon Madeleines, Mini Victoria Sponge Cake and assorts cookies only made the serves of Earl Grey that more delightful.

After tea, Passengers adjourned to the parlor for tales of our distinguished guests. They told of their lives before and after that fateful night. Several of the guests were clearly moved by their experiences.

All enjoyed their time with us. Some even escaped with one or two pieces of the china. As they exited Belle Grove, all learn of their fate to come on that tragic and sad night. We are happy to report, most were saved.

Video of the event to be posted on the morrow.

Report completed.

Captain Edward John Smith
Captain of the Titanic
White Star Line

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Brett Darnell as Captain Edward J. Smith

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The Countess of Rothes

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Lady Duff Gordon

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Margaret Brown

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Mrs. John Jacob Aster

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Leontine Aubart

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The Little Country Church

Mar. 26th 2014


Located just as you enter our tree-lined lane that leads you back to the mansion, you will see a beautiful, little, country church called Emmanuel Episcopal Church. This one acre property was once part of Belle Grove Plantation. In 1859, Carolinus Turner, Owner of Belle Grove Plantation, donated the one acre property and helped finance the construction of this wonderful church. The church opened its doors in 1860.

Last week, I had another opportunity to tour Emmanuel Episcopal Church with a ladies group that had toured Belle Grove Plantation. I never tire of touring the building and the grounds. It holds so much history.



Before 1859, church parishioners had to take the ferry across the Rappahannock River to attend St. Peter’s Church in Port Royal or travel to St. Paul’s in Owens. After 1843, they also could attend St. John’s in King George.

The church was thought to be designed by a Baltimore design firm, architects Nierness and Neilson. J. Crawford Neilson and John R. Nierness were known to have designed other churches in Virginia in a Gothic style similar to Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

J. Crawford Neilson was born in Baltimore in 1817 and studied civil engineering in Brussels, Belgium and established his practice in the United States. John R. Nierness came to Baltimore from Vienna, Austria, where he attended Vienna Polytechnic. In 1848, Neilson and Nierness entered into a partnership.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church is constructed of stretcher-bond brick and has a gable roof. The front of the church is dominated by a 2-story entrance tower. The principal entrance is set with an equilateral arch consisting of paneled double doors topped by a wheel –like motif transom. The windows are elongated pointed arches. There are two windows that face the front and two on each side of the building. There is a basement entrance is located outside of the building on the south wall.




The interior of the church is painted white, but is thought to have had an original decorative paint scheme. There is a central aisle that is flanked by wooden pews that are painted white. These pews have a Gothic ends and are thought to have been varnished and later painted. The front of the church has a raised sanctuary where the recessed altar is framed by an arch. This part of the interior is thought to date to the 1960s. There is a Gothic style wainscot running along the west wall.



At the back of the church there is a gallery with additional seating. It is believed that this gallery was where slaves would be allowed to sit during services. This gallery also contains the original Henry Erban pump organ which is housed in a Gothic Revival style case. The room is illuminated by a brass pseudo-colonial chandelier.








The side and back section of the church yard contains grave sites that date back to 1800s. The oldest grave site is that of Major Henry and Elizabeth Turner. Their tombstone, which dates to 1751, was moved from its original location to the church. Their bodies were not moved with their tombstones and remains in an unknown location. Notable families that are buried within this small cemetery are the Turners, Strothers, Robbs, Jetts, and Hooker Families. Most of these family members were born, lived or died at Belle Grove Plantation. The exception would be that of the Strother Family. This family was from the Milbank Plantation that is next door to Belle Grove Plantation.








There is one monument other than Major Henry and Elizabeth Turner tombstones that represents a family that is not buried in this cemetery. This monument is the Hipkins-Bernard monument. It is a six foot obelisk that has the date of 1849 and the name J.H. Bernard on it. It also has a plaque that was added in 1983 that states that this monument was once located on Belle Grove Plantation. It was to mark the unmarked grave site of John Hipkins, Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins, Frances “Fannie” Hipkins Bernard, Eliza Bernard, William Bernard II and five of William’s infant children. The orginial burial site is located just in front of the Hipkins-Bernard Suite on the north side of the mansion and is marked by a 12 foot by 12 foot sections of English Boxwoods and 10 Red Knockout Roses for each of the family members. There is a identical flower bed on the south side of the mansion, but is there just for symmetry.




The church is surrounded by a brick wall that was erected sometime in the 1960s. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.

In 1861, the Reverend Alexander Shiras was rector for both St. John’s Church in King George and Emmanuel Episcopal Church. During 1862, he reported the following:

“The war borne somewhat heavily upon the Parish (Hanover Parish), scattering its families, carrying off its young men and almost dissolving the congregation. Regular services were steadily kept up and others held for the soldiers occasionally stationed in the neighborhood.”

The area of Port Conway and Port Royal saw many struggles between the Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Most homes were either destroyed or damaged. Churches would also see the same fate. Emmanuel Episcopal Church somehow managed to survive. That is a story that has been handed down as to the fate of this small country church.

During the Civil War, when Port Conway was occupied by Union forces, a soldier walked into Emmanuel Church and sat down at the organ. The building had seen some damage from shots fired at it. The soldier started playing the organ. It warmed his heart and made him homesick for his church back home. He was so moved by it that he convinced the other soldiers not to destroy Emmanuel Episcopal Church. This sweet, little country church was spared and was repaired after the war.

The Reverend Henry Wall, who became the rector in September of 1865, reported the following:

“Emmanuel Church at Port Conway was now fit for occupation. It has been repaired by aid of the liberality of kind friends of the Church in Baltimore and New York and my personal friends of the subscriber in Alexandria.”

Today, Emmanuel Episcopal Church still holds services every 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, General History | Comments Off on The Little Country Church

John Douglas Hall and Belle Grove Make Press

Mar. 20th 2014

From the Freelance Star on Monday, March 17th

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John Douglas Hall begins each morning as he has for nearly 30 years—by immersing himself in the life of James Madison.

The Stafford County man, who resembles the fourth president, peruses the same gazettes, correspondence, military reports and other works that Madison would have read on that day exactly 200 years ago.

“I read what he read to prepare for his work,” said Hall. “I think it’s fascinating to learn history this way. Every day is a new day.”

Hall is an historical performer, and his daily practice is the basis for his appearances as Madison at historic venues, judicial forums, leadership conferences and anniversary events across the country.

This past weekend they included a “Happy Birthday President Madison” dinner on Saturday with Lynn Uzzell as Dolley Madison at Belle Grove Plantation in King George County, where Madison was born; and a commemoration of the 263rd anniversary of his birthday Sunday at Montpelier, his Orange County home.

Hall doesn’t use a script. Instead, he brings the founding father to life by talking about him in context of his day two centuries ago. That approach, he said, makes him unique among that handful of people who portray the Madison and his life.

And what a life he had! Madison was instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, was a key champion and author of the Bill of Rights, supervised the Louisiana Purchase as Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state and succeeded Jefferson as president. He served two terms from 1809 to 1817 before retiring to Montpelier.

Hall said he’s spoken at many symposiums dealing with the anniversary of the War of 1812, focusing on the issues that led up to the rematch with Great Britain.

“There were war hawks in Congress, issues of an international nature, relationships with the French and Spanish ministers to the United States,” he said. “It was almost a case study of how the government proposes to handle these issues. What’s unique is that there was no precedent for them.”

Madison was adamant at that time that there be no suspension of the Bill of Rights, no prevention of public assemblies and no Alien and Sedition Acts, Hall said. The president also showed up on the field of battle in 1814 with several members of his Cabinet.

“Not many know that he went to the front lines,” Hall said. “There are a lot of things that historians put out that are not true.”

He said he’s particularly disturbed by comments that some of Madison’s cabinet appointments were incompetent.

“Admittedly, he didn’t have much administrative experience, but not many people did,” Hall said. “When you go day by day, you get a better picture of how and why he made the appointments. He might not have had better alternatives.”

Hall traces the start of his career as a Madison historical performer to March 1987, when the National Trust for Historical Preservation first opened Montpelier to the public. At the time, Hall was portraying a 28-year-old Connecticut gentleman farmer of 200 years ago at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria.

People from the National Trust had seen him there and knew his height was about the same as Madison’s. They asked him to portray the man Dolley Madison once referred to in a letter as “the great little Madison.”

He said he was a little reluctant to accept the Montpelier appearance at first because he was doing fine at Gadsby’s. Soon after his appearance as Madison, however, he began receiving invitations to appear at a variety of bicentennial events.

At first, most wanted Hall to do a survey of Madison’s life or talk about the British burning the Capitol building in 1814. Now he’s more likely to be asked what Madison would think of today’s hot-button issues, such as separation of church and state and the United States’ international obligations.

Hall said he refuses to second guess Madison because so much has changed—from precedents set by prior administrations to our perceptions of the country’s obligations. Instead, he discusses Madison’s perspectives on similar issues of his day.

“Madison had a remarkable confidence in the American people, and I do, too,” Hall said. “For all the vitriol cast today, it’s not nearly as hostile as in the 1790s. People are very upset today about the lack of virtue and camaraderie in Congress. It was much worse in Madison’s day.”

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | 2 Comments »

Virginia Center for Architecture

Jan. 23rd 2014

We are so proud to have been recognized by the Virginia Center for Architecture as one of the top 100 architecturally significant structures in Virginia. We will be apart of a year long exhibition that will open on April 10, 2014 at the Virginia Center for Architecture in Richmond, Virginia.

After being so honored, I of course wanted to know more about the Center. So on an off day, I traveled from the plantation to Richmond for a day of adventure. My first stop was for lunch with my dear friend, Terri at one of our favorite spots, Can Can Brasserie on Cary Street. Cary Street is a wonderful place full of shops and restaurants. I have eaten at the Can Can before and really looked forward to enjoying this visit.

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The last time we ate there, the sun was out and the temperature was warm with a nice breeze. So we chose the option of eating outside on the sidewalk cafe under the shade of the umbrellas. This visit, we weren’t so lucky. Rain had been coming down most of the morning and the air was crisp with winter’s breath. So when I arrived, I grabbed a small cafe table at the front inside so we could enjoy the view from the picture windows. Just outside was a flower vendor, near where we ate before. With the French Cafe interior and the flower vendor just outside, I could have sworn I just flew into Paris.

Our lunch was wonderful! I had just made my new dish, Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprout Hash with Poached Eggs and Thyme Hollandaise Sauce at the plantation the weekend before. So when I saw the Crispy Ham Crepe filled with Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts on top of Butternut Squash Puree, I knew what I was having. Terri followed suit and ordered the Chicken Crepe. Oh how delicious it was! Of course you know I tried to get the recipe, with no luck. But in my mind I was already forming my recipe to try at home. We just may have to make it this weekend!

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Crispy Ham Crepe

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Chicken Crepe

After I said my good-byes to Terri, I programmed my GPS to take me to the Virginia Historic Society. I wanted to just see if there was something I might have missed when I “cleaned” them out before. Well, wouldn’t you know it, there was. I went in a different direction, looking for the portraits of three of the Bernard Family. I found out who donated the images and found that this family had also donated some paperwork. So I requested that they pull these papers. How I was rewarded!

I found out that the portraits of William Bernard and his wife Sarah Bernard were in fact large family portraits. And that these portraits were with a certain line of the family. So now I have a lead to chase to see if I can find the original portraits. I know these portraits are family heirlooms, but wouldn’t it be wonderful just to find them! I know from the family history that they once hung here at Belle Grove Plantation. I would give anything to see them return to hang here again.

William Bernard II

Sarah Dykes Bernard

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After I finished and as if I wasn’t already excited beyond belief, I head over to the Virginia Center for Architecture. I had never seen it before so I didn’t know what to expect. The homes in the area were older Victorian homes and were just beautiful. But when I arrived at the Center . . . well words just couldn’t describe it.

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The Center is housed in an English Tudor Manor Home called the Branch House. The house was designed in 1916 by the firm of John Russell Pope as a private residence of financier John Kerr Branch and his wife Beulah Gould Branch. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1967 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1997. One of the Branch family heirs gifted the home to a local charity in the 1950s and was later purchased in 2003 by the Virginia Center for Architecture Foundation. The Center opened in 2005 as headquarters of the Virginia Center for Architecture, offices for the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects and its publication, Informmagazine and as architectural museum.

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Walking into this magnificent home was just overwhelming. Fortune for me, one of the staff members were on hand to give me a personal tour through the house.

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After viewing this beautiful place, I just can’t believe that Belle Grove Plantation will be in an exhibition here! We are so honored! Of course I couldn’t get them to reveal the rankings. That will come on opening night of the exhibition on April 10th. But no matter where we fell in the rankings, we just feel so privileged to be apart of its history.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History, Food and Recipes, General History | Comments Off on Virginia Center for Architecture

Christmas during Colonial America

Dec. 3rd 2013


As we prepare to decorate Belle Grove Plantation for our First Christmas and our Colonial Christmas Candlelight Tour, I was reminded of a blog I wrote last year about how Colonial America celebrated Christmas. It was one of our favorite blogs so I thought you mind like to see it again to remind you how simple life was during this time.


I have had several of you ask me about how true are the wreath decorations of Colonial Williamsburg. So true to form, I did some research to confirm their authenticity. In my research I came across some interesting information on customs and traditions of Christmas within the colonial period.


During the colonial period in Virginia, the Christmas season followed a four week period of Advent. Most Virginians were devout Anglicans and they would have observed a period of fasting, prayers and reflection. They would have read daily from the Book of Common Prayer. Fasting would have been only one full meal, which generally would have been meatless during the day. After the four weeks, they would end with a Christmas meal and the start of the Christmas season.


Did you know that most of New England didn’t celebrate Christmas during the colonial period? Christmas was outlawed in most of New England because Puritans and Protestants disliked the celebration and likened it to pagan rituals. In 1659 Massachusetts if you were found observing the season in any way, including feasting, you would have been fined five shillings per offense. During the same time, in Connecticut, you were prohibited from reading the Book of Common Prayer, keeping of Christmas and Saints Day, making mince pies, playing cards or performing on any musical instruments. This didn’t change until the early nineteenth century. The Burgermeister Meisterburger from the animated Christmas show “Santa Claus is Comin to Town” would have loved living here during that time!

Burgermester Mesterburger from "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"
Burgermester Mesterburger from “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

The Christmas season was a twelve day event during the colonial period. It would have started on December 25th (Christmas Day) and would end on January 6th. During this time, you would have great feasts and meal, attended parties, gone to visit others and would have received guest to your own home.

colonial christmas

Christmas decorations were a common sight during the colonial period. However, those used today in Colonial Williamsburg are inaccurate recreation of the eighteenth century customs and materials. Oranges, lemons and limes would never have been wasted on any form of decorations. Pineapples were considered a precious commodity and you would have never seen them used. What were used were garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel, berries, mistletoe or whatever natural materials were available. Lavender, rose petals and pungent herbs like rosemary and bay set the holiday scent for the season. Also during the colonial period, only one or two rooms in the home would have been decorated. The church was general more decorated than the homes. The door would have had decoration, but no Christmas tree. Most Christmas trees didn’t make their debut until the nineteenth century.


Christmas meals would have been fresh meats such as beef, goose, ham and turkey. They would have also had fish, oysters, mincemeat pies and brandied peaches. In the well to do households you would have found wines, brandy, rum punches and other alcoholic beverages.

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Christmas gift giving during the colonial period was also a little different than what we know today. Believe it or not but eighteenth century shopkeepers placed printed ads noting items appropriate as holiday gifts. But there wasn’t a special day that it was given on. No real Christmas morning of unwrapping presents. Gift giving was done from masters or parents to dependents such as children, servants, apprentices and slaves. But the dependents didn’t return the gifts. This tradition didn’t come about until later and was a new American tradition. Santa Claus was also an American invention although European countries had their own version of him. In colonial times, Santa Claus or Father Christmas didn’t visit the children as he does today.

mt vernon christmas

Christmas carols and hymns were very popular during the colonial period. During the Christmas season there would have been lots of dancing and singing at the many parties. Hymns were always sung, but beloved songs such as “Joy to the World”, “The First Noel” and “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” were among the songs at parties. However no Christmas carols were ever sung at church.

Our present day customs have been derived from the many immigrants who settled this country with most of our traditions coming out of the nineteenth century. But this look back at the colonial period, when things were truly more simple I hope will give you a chance to really embrace the Christmas season and focus on the true meaning of the time.

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Thanksgiving in Virginia

Nov. 27th 2013

We all know the story of the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts and celebrating the first harvest with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. But did you know that there were other “Thanksgiving” celebrations before this event?


The first documented thanksgiving feasts in the territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Spanish explorer Pedro Men’ndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The Spanish most likely offered cocido, a rich stew made with pork, and the Timucua may have brought wild turkey, venison, or even alligator, along with corn, beans, and squash.

Spanish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

Jamestown Settlement

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

Berkeley Hundred

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Berkeley Thanksgiving

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

Present Day Berkeley

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Brett and Michelle

Happy Thanksgiving from Virginia!

Brett and Michelle

Hurley at Belle Grove 2

and Hurley

The Official Plantation Dog!

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Belle Grove

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, General History | 2 Comments »

Ghost Story Anyone?

Oct. 25th 2013

As we prepare for our busy weekend of ghost hunting, we thought it would be fun to share some of the spooky happenings in and round Belle Grove Plantation. Just to get you in the mood for some chilling and thrilling fun we have in store for you tonight!

Make sure you watch your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates through the day and night as we share in all the fun!

Haunted Lambs Creek Church in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Lamb’s Creek Church – King George, Virginia

This story is taken from “Virginia Ghosts” by Jenny Lee, Marguerite du Pont Lee

In King George County on the King’s Highway about thirteen miles from Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River side, an interesting Colonial building may be found called Lamb’s Creek Church. Erected in 1769 it is now six miles from a lone gravestone on Muddy Creek marking the site of the Mother Church in use as early as 1710.

In Brunswick parish extending up to Stafford County, in days almost forgotten, far beyond the tide of the years in which we live, Sunday mornings the coaches of the aristocracy rolled from far distant points and over rough roads to the door of Lamb’s Creek Church.

In the company of family and friends and surrounded by retainers a large congregation listed to the delights of paradise glowingly painted, and hell pictured as very real and very hot! The lessons were read from the priceless old ‘Vinegar Bible’, so called owing to a typographical error in the edition, the heading of the Parable of the Vineyard made to read ‘Parable of the Vinegar.’ This Bible was given to Muddy Creek Church about 1716. Stolen after the Civil War, by great good fortune it has been recovered and is in use one each year when a service is held in the church. The old prayer book, also inherited from the Mother Church was printed in 1739 when George II was King.

The devastating War of the Revolution scatted the faithful an altered the lives and fortunes of the people. For fifty years the church doors were closed.

Not until the Civil War did man’s hand shatter and desecrate this relic of a civilization of which the despoiler did not even dream, and could not possibly appreciate. The woodwork was pulled out, the windows and doors broken, and the church used for a stable.

In a bend of the road this large country church may be seen from quite a distance. A vital need in the lives of a generation long passed away, it stands in an isolated spot abandoned and by the world forgot-a mute witness to the  transitoriness of all human religious expression.

Just prior to the desecration of this house of worship by Federal soldiers two Confederate officers, one named Hunter, are said to have entered the church one night seeking refuge from a heavy thunder storm. The flashes of lightning were very vivid, and the thunder deafening. Running in they seated themselves at the door facing the chancel. Presently, for one brief moment the inky darkness was relieved by a great flash of lightning. The two men were dunfound to see kneeling at the chancel rail as if in prayer a woman dressed in white! In pitchy darkness, silently and breathlessly they awaited the next flash. There still kneeled the woman! A third view of the figure was sufficient and both soldiers made a hasty exit into the teeth of the furious storm!

Mr. Thomas Lomax Hunter, a lawyer of King George County, very courteously makes rely to my letter of inqury as follows:

‘My father and uncle were the only Hunters in the Civil War from this county, but I have never heard the story you relate of them and Lamb’s Creek Church.

Lamb’s Creek Church has however been long looked upon by the natives here as haunted, and while I cannot recite any detailed story about it I have no doubt that reputable witnesses of its neighborhood could be put upon the witness stand to prove its ghostly character.’

(One note – Thomas Lomax Hunter was the son of Frederick Hunter and his wife Rose Turner Hunter. Rose was the daughter of Carolinus and Susan Turner, owners of Belle Grove Plantation from 1839 to 1894.)

There are a couple more stories about Lamb’s Creek Church.

It is said that two civil war soldiers can be seen resting on a rainy night. This usually happens on rainy nights and that the church’s windows glow from the inside around the 27th of October. There is also a ghost of a young girl who died of pneumonia. You can see a strange blue light and an apparition of the girl running and playing.

Haunted Marimon in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Marmion – King George County, Virginia

This  story is taken from “Virginia Ghosts” by Jenny Lee, Marguerite du Pont Lee

“Marmion, in King George County, Virginia, has been in the family of Mrs. Lucy Lewis Grymes for more than 150 years. Lord Marmion was the last of the title in England, and in his honor William Fitzhugh, emigrated to the Colonies in 1670, named this portion of his vast estate, erecting in 1674, between two splendid springs flowing in the primeval forest, the mansion still standing. One finds to the north the little house from the depths of which countless juleps were cooled; not far distant the old kitchen to which, from smokehouse and dairy, still standing, bacon, butter and cream flowed in a constant stream throughout the generations.

Behind the house the lovely old office stands in a garden, carpeted in spring with single blue hyacinths and yellow primroses, hardly descendants of flowers brought from England long ago. In the attic of this office quite recently Mrs. Grymes found a roll of Colonial money, signed by her husband’s ancestor, Robert Carter Nicholas.

In 1719 John Fitzhugh took unto himself a wife, and Marmion was their home. A grove of pecans, walnuts and maples stand close to this sturdy and picturesque relic of a bygone age; its two secret rooms, one built in the huge chimney about the other, speaking to us of turbulence and of dangers unknown to our generation.

Marmion in 1785 became the property of Major George Lewis, son of Col. Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington. Their great granddaughter, Mrs. Lucy Lewis Grymes, is the fortunate owner today. A mile and a half beyond flows the Potomac River, and in 1782 Philip Fitzhugh, the last of his name at Marmion, is said to have brought to his home, one day, one of those accomplished artisans, contributing by their skill to some of the most beautiful decorations remaining with us from their day. This Hessian soldier was in a dying condition when found by Philip Fitzhugh on the banks of the river. Recovering his health in course of time, the stranger was then desirous of contributing evidence of his skill in return for the kindness shown him. He decorated the walls of the parlor in lovely landscapes and cornucopias filled with flowers, making from Virginia clay and plants the paints he used – clear and beautiful after the passing of 150 years! Owing to Mrs. Gymes’ willingness to share with countless others her treasures, the superb paneling, decorations and mirror in this beautiful parlor at Marmion were transferred into the keeping of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

In the long age when dangers threatened, before cannon balls from two wars were left embedded as relics in the brick walks leading from the mansion, a chest of valuables was buried. Whether discovered and carried off nobody knows. But Marmion possesses a charming ghost; thieves cannot break in and steal.

Some of the old darkies whose forefathers lived in the ‘Quarters’ on the plantation claim today to have seen the ‘white lady’ walking among the roses and honeysuckle in the little cemetery.

Mrs. Grymes writes: ‘Since my childhood, every now and then guests have spoken of a lovely young girl they have seen from time to time in the house. Twice, I myself, when in the guest-room, have felt there was someone in the room, but have never seen the ghost. During the summer of 1928 Miss Edmonia Goode, an elderly lady from Chase City, Virginia, was staying at Marmion with a group of young people whom she had been chaperoning at a house party in Fredericksburg. It was in the afternoon of a bright sunny day. Miss Goode was lying down on her bed resting, when the door opened an a very beautiful young girl came in and started to open the wardrobe. Miss Goode sat up and exclaimed: ‘Why, how do you do? I did not know there was another guest in this house beside our party.’ The girl turned and looked squarely at her. The face of the Spirit, Miss Goode would recognize anywhere. She arose advancing towards the visitor in order to shake hands….”

(This is where the story ended in the book… sorry)

Haunted Stratford Hall in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Stratford Hall – Home of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee

This story taken from

The Spirits of Stratford Hall 

Paranormal experts, if there are such things, are in general agreement that Virginia is one of the most haunted states, perhaps the most haunted, in the nation. And for good reason. It is the oldest colony in America and there are more surviving old houses here than anywhere else. Plus, since the experts contend that tragic and traumatic deaths are a leading cause for the existence of ghosts, if there are such things as ghosts, then Virginia surely ranks at the top of the list since there has been more blood shed here over the past 400 years dating from Indian attacks on the early settlers on up through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Accounts of lingering spirits blanket the entire map of the Old Dominion, from Winchester south to Bristol, and from Monterey east to Virginia Beach. The Northern Neck is not excluded from this questionable list and, arguably, one of the most haunted houses in this historic area is Stratford Hall. It was here, of course, that Robert E. Lee was born in 1807. The mansion itself dates to the late 1730s. Among its long-ago occupants are some of the most famous names in American history, including Richard Henry Lee, a leader of the Continental Congress, and Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War, and Robert’s father.

As with so many antique estates, there is ample justification for ghostly encounters at Stratford Hall, for along with its majestic eloquence, family members through the centuries have had their share of tragic events. If a visitor to the house today asks a tour guide about ghosts, he or she is told they are not part of the narrative. The guides are trained to “protect” the historical integrity of the site. The key to finding a more positive answer to such a provocative question is to query others. Find a maid, janitor, or better yet, a night security guard, and they may well reveal some of Stratford Hall’s most guarded secrets.

That is precisely what the author did some years ago, and the results were quite surprising. Here are some examples. A domestic worker walked into the library one day to clean it, and then promptly retreated. Her supervisor asked what happened and she replied that she didn’t want to disturb the gentleman inside. What gentleman the supervisor replied. The worker said she saw a figure in old fashioned clothes checking over some papers. The two women then reentered the library. There was no one there. The worker became very frightened and fled the house.

Once, a well known psychic visited. When she passed through the great hall on the second floor, she stopped and said she felt “so many good impressions.” She claimed to see the room full of Lees and that there was dancing, music and entertainment. She added that the Lees were pleased with how the house was being taken care of.

A hostess said her encounter came on a dismal, dark winter afternoon. During a tour, she saw a woman and a child in a room in colonial period costume. She thought it was another hostess but when she later asked the hostess about it she was told she hadn’t even been upstairs. Then she lifted her hand and covered her mouth and said that the first hostess “had finally seen them.” Who? She has seen Ann Lee, the distraught and broken hearted wife of Black Horse Harry Lee, and their little daughter, Margaret, who had died in the house at age two in 1820 after falling down the stairs! Others, including tourists, have reported hearing a phantom woman calling for a child, the sound of a child running, and then both of them laughing, as if they were playing together.

Security guards, too, have experienced various forms of psychic manifestations. One said a lot of mysterious things happen here, especially strange noises at night. Like what? “Loud racket,” he emphasized. “The sounds of heavy furniture being moved around when no one is in the room. Other times we heard rustling sounds, like petticoats and skirts rubbing against chairs and tables, but you never see anything.” One officer said he heard fiddle and harp music on occasion.

Another guard said one night he was sitting in a chair when something unseen grabbed his sleeve and lifted his arm straight up. Also, he added, when he was alone one night reading a book, he got up to make his rounds and when he came back the book had flatly disappeared. One guard told of a new man on the job. “He quit after one hour and wouldn’t even talk about what happened to him.”

Two officers said that on multiple occasions they had seen the apparition of a small boy, about three or four years old, wearing dark purple britches and a light colored purple shirt with ruffled sleeves. Each time they approached the figure, he evaporated before their eyes. One said, “I believe he was a spirit. If he wasn’t, where did he go?” Could it have been the ghost of Robert E. Lee, who moved out of Stratford Hall when he was just three and a half? Another clue suggests that it might be the son of Philip Ludwell Lee, himself the son of Thomas Lee, the founder of the house. According to family tradition, this boy fell down the stairs in the mansion one day in 1779. He was four years old!

Possibly the most terrifying encounters were experienced by J.R. “Butch” Myers, a leather craftsman who lives in Richmond. He travels about demonstrating how 18th century shoes are made. In June 1989, he was at an exhibition at Stratford Hall. He spent the night in a dependency building near the main house. Getting ready for bed, he lit six candles in stands, then heard approaching footsteps outside and assumed it was the security guard making his rounds.

Myers recalled: “I took a couple of steps toward the door when a sudden down draft of freezing cold air hit me, taking my breath away. It was like walking into a cold storage locker. I got goose bumps all over. Just as this happened, there was a thunderous noise in the chimney. It sounded like the whole building was going to collapse. I didn’t find this out until later but the chimney was sealed top and bottom. There was no way anything alive could be in it.”

“If this wasn’t scary enough, and believe me it was,” Myers continued, “I turned around just in time to see the candles go out. They didn’t go out at once, as if blown out by a down shaft of air. They went out one at a time, in sequence, as if someone was snuffing them out!” At first Myers thought someone was playing a joke on him, but then he realized he was alone in the room. He told a security guard what happened, and the man didn’t seem surprised. He just said, “Oh, you’ve just met our friend.”

Myers returned to his room and relit the candles. He said, “Now you can believe this or not, I don’t care, but the icy coldness hit me again, and the racket kicked up in the chimney, which really scared me now, because the guard had told me about it being sealed. Then, someone or something very methodically extinguished each candle again, this time in reverse order!”
“There definitely was something there, a presence or whatever you want to call it. It was enough for me. I said, “Listen, you can have the room. Just let me get my pillow and blanket and I will get out of here.” And I got out of there as quick as I could and went over to another dependency, where the guard was, and I told him I was spending the night with him!”

Myers went back to Stratford Hall five years later for another craft show on the grounds. He refused to stay in the dependency where he had been before, but one evening he walked over to it. “It was a nice gentle breeze blowing,” he says, “but when I got in front of the building, everything was deathly still. Nothing was stirring. It was an eerie feeling. I put my hand on the doorknob and it was like clutching an icicle. That’s as far as I got. I wouldn’t go back into that room. There was something in there that didn’t want me inside.”

“The guards told me it wouldn’t hurt me, but they hadn’t felt what I had in that room. I’m not saying definitely that it was something evil, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out. It had made its point with me. I’m not psychic or anything, but I believe there is something to ghosts and spirits and there’s a lot we don’t understand about all that yet. But I can say for sure that I am certain there is something other worldly at Stratford Hall. There was something unexplained in that room, and one experience with whatever it was, or is, was enough for me!”

If you are interested in seeing Stratford Hall at Halloween, they are hosting a “Spook-tacular Halloween” as part of their annual Halloween program. It will have something for everyone this year. L.B. Taylor, author of over 13 books on the Virginia paranormal, will present a talk on the ghosts of the Northern Neck in the duPont Library. There will be ghost tours, refreshments, craft making, palm and Tarot card readings. You can check their event out on their website at

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | Comments Off on Ghost Story Anyone?

A Phoenix shall rise from the ashes

Sep. 7th 2013


Thursday, on my way back up Route 3, I made a detour in my travel to see Menokin Plantation. Located just outside of Warsaw, Virginia (about 30 to 40 minutes from Belle Grove), this plantation is down a long gravel drive that runs beside fields of corn. In the morning light, this tall corn towers over my car and is illuminated by the sun filtering through its green leaves.


I didn’t know what to expect. I have heard about Menokin, but my knowledge of its history and its appearance was very little. I came to a turn in the corn field and in the distance I could see what looked like a small building in ruins with a huge shelter over it. I knew that to be the house. I had been told that it was in ruins and to see it from this distance made my heart ache.

I arrived at the Visitors Center and met the Museum Curator.

She started me off by giving me some history of Menokin. 


“Menokin was built c. 1769 on the occasion of the marriage of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Rebecca Tayloe. Rebecca was the daughter of John Tayloe II, who built neighboring Mount Airy. He gave the couple the large plantation on Cat Point Creek, and financed construction of the two-story stone Menokin and its dependencies. Soon after, Francis Lightfoot Lee joined the cause of American independence, served in the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1779 and signed the Declaration of Independence (together with his brother Richard Henry Lee) and the Articles of Confederation. Except the years when Francis Lightfoot Lee’s term of service in the Continental Congress drew both him and Rebecca Tayloe Lee to Philadelphia, the couple lived at Menokin until they both died in 1797. The Lees did not have children: Menokin reverted to the ownership of the Tayloes of Mount Airy, and was the home of John Tayloe Lomax, the first professor of law at the University of Virginia. In 1823, Menokin was sold to Benjamin Boughton, who then sold the property to Richard Harwood lived in the house with his family and farrmed the land until his death in 1872, after which the property passed to the Belfield family and then to the Omohundro family. By 1995, Menokin was owned by T. Edgar Omihundro and his sister, Dora Omohundro Ricciardi. Upon her death, she willed her share to her brother and on July 4, 1995, Mr. Omohundro gave the entire property to the Menokin Foundation.

During the 1960s through the early 1990s, Menokin lay vacant and went into serious decline. The house never burned, but slowly collapsed over three decades. Today the northeast quadrant of the house still stands and approximately 80 percent of Menokin’s original materials have survived, including the interior woodwork. In 1940, while the house and one outbuilding were still standing, the Historic American Buildings Survey produced detailed photography and comprehensive measure drawings of the property. In 1964, the original pen and ink presentation drawings for Menokin were discovered among some Tayloe Family papers at Mount Airy. Four years later, as the house was in serious trouble of collapsing, the interior woodwork was removed by the Omohundro family and put into storage. The surprisingly intact woodwork is back at Menokin and can be viewed at the Foundation’s King Conservation and Visitor Center.”

After the short film and history lesson, the curator walked me around the center. She showed me what is next for Menokin. They are working on building a glass structure around the ruins to show what the house would have looked like in contact. This will also allow visitors as well as students to view the architecture and building skills of the 1700s and 1800s.



I also had the opportunity to view some of the woodwork that was taken from the house before the collapse. From what the curator told me, just before they started removing the woodwork from the house, some of it had started “disappearing”. It is sad that someone would come and just take it. But with the original drawings, they are able to identify pieces that they have and know where it went.





They also had someone come to them with a possible piece of the woodwork. The owner told them that if they could identify the door as theirs, he would donate it to them. Through these drawings, they were able to let him know where the door originally stood. So it was nice to see something make it back.

After my visit to the Visitors Center, I headed up to the ruins. This is a self-guided tour. I was the only one there at that time. After I pulled up to the ruins and opened my car door, the breath quickly escaped from me. I stood there just for a moment and could feel tears starting to drop down my cheeks. Still my breath didn’t return. It was very overwhelming and sad to see.


I slowly made my way around the house, listening to the quiet and trying to image Francis Lightfoot Lee and his Rebecca moving in and around the doors and windows I could see. I tried to image fires burning in the fireplaces and the fire of Independence they must of felt. The “ghosts” from the past were so thick in the air that the whole time I was there, I could hardly breath. I walked down the walkway that lead down to the basement and stopped just short of walking into the basement. Somehow it felt wrong for me to be there. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in. I took what pictures of I could and stood and listened to the “ghosts” of the past as they went about their daily lives. I did something I don’t know if I really understand why I did it. But I spoke to those that came before; that fought for what we have today. And I thanked them. I then turned and returned to my car.












My heart was so sad for the house. But I was happy to know that it was going to be saved. That someone cared enough to keep it and to do something that would benefit future generations. For this I am thankful that today we don’t just have a picture of what was, but something real and from that time we can capture and remember.

To see other places I have gone

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