Archive for the 'Year of the Virginia Historic Homes' Category

Exciting News!

Sep. 24th 2013

Belle Grove

I just got an email from the Virginia Center for Architecture. They will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects (VSAIA) in 2014. As part of the year-long recognition, the Center will be hosting an exhibition entitled “Virginia’s Favorite Architecture.” This exhibition will highlight the top 100 favorite structures in the Commonwealth of Virginia and will be selected through a general public vote.

Back Belle Grove

Belle Grove Plantation at Port Conway

has been selected among the 250 structures that have been identified by Virginia architects as especially significant!

Ext View of Porch of left wing from ground

In early November, the Virginia Center for Architecture will launch a site for the general public to review the 250 structures and will give information on how to vote for your favorites! If we receive enough votes, we could be selected as one of the 100 Favorite Structures in the Commonwealth!


As we get closer to the launch, we will put out information on where to go and how to vote.

Please keep an eye out for this information

and help us be one of the 100 selected.

Ext Back Portico Stairs close

To see more photos of Belle Grove Plantation

Please visit our Official Website at

Home Page

What’s Cooking at the Plantation today?!

Sep. 22nd 2013

I have been sharing photos of some of the breakfast foods we have been making, but completely forgot to share it here!

So here is what we have cooking today at the plantation!

This morning is a colorful one!


We started with Green Tea and Mint Infused Cantaloupe


Followed by Homemade Blueberry Pancakes with a Peach and Fig Syrup!

To see more of the foods we have on the menu

Visit our website at 

Home Page

and look under our Breakfast Menu!

If you’re a history buff, a special Virginia B and B awaits

Sep. 17th 2013

This is a touching post about Belle Grove Plantation and our efforts to bring it to the public. Please enjoy.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | Comments Off on If you’re a history buff, a special Virginia B and B awaits

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

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

Facebook Link

or Our Official Website

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Please like and share both with your family and friends

Help us spread the word about Belle Grove Plantation!

ABC News Washington / WJLA Channel 7

Aug. 23rd 2013

[brightcove vid=2621264153001&exp3=180211731001&surl=,AAAAGuN0bcE~,rS1wzGXkRNnKZBuQ4FRjFM7e28yVdmek&w=486&h=412]

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 17 Comments »

New Connections!

Aug. 7th 2013


We are so excited to announce that we are now on Bed and!

Now you can find us and make reservations!!

Please bookmark this and share it with your friends!

To see what else we are up to at the plantation

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page!

A B&B James Madison Would Love

Jun. 5th 2013

Here is a wonderful post about Belle Grove Plantation. You must see the picture!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 6 Comments »

Some Gave All

May. 26th 2013


Being Memorial Day Weekend, we wanted to share our adventure from last Sunday with you. We had the great honor in watching a bike rally that was both moving and impressive. We didn’t know about it until the last minute, but we are so glad we made the time to come and experience it.

First let me tell you a couple of stories.

Our first story is about a young man from Spotsylvania County. He was born on June 28, 1982 and graduated from Spotsylvania High School in 2000. After struggling to find his direction, it found him on September 11, 2001. Following his true calling, he enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight for our freedoms.

He graduated from Boot Camp he would travel to Okinawa, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He embraced his position in the Marines and would live as an example to others. While at home on leave, he would encourage other struggling teenagers to work hard and stay in school. After serving in Iraq, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor after saving lives while he was there. This young man was a quiet and kindhearted young man. He was boastful when he would help others.

After his tour of duty in Iraq ended in April 2006, he was determined to return because in his words, “the job was not finished.” He knew while other men with less to no experience would be coming, his knowledge and experience could make a difference in the fight. He would lobby for a second tour and would transfer battalions and even extend his service in order to return to Iraq. He would return in September 2006. When he was later given the opportunity to return home, he would again volunteer for another extension because his men didn’t have that choice.

His eagerness to help his fellow Marines and his compassion, caring and willingness to put the safety and well-being of others above his own exemplified who he was. His firm handshake, warm smile and hearty laughter and hug gave a genuine sense of protection. His one fear above others was that someone would get hurt when he had the ability to save them.

Update to First Post!

We were honored to be contacted by Josh Frazier’s parents and friends after we posted this. We were informed that Josh was laid to rest just a few miles from Belle Grove Plantation. We were also informed that Josh was a descendant of James Madison through his father’s family. We wish would could have met this wonderful young man. Soon we will be hosting his family here at the plantation to thank them for their son’s service to our wonderful country!

Sergeant Joshua James Frazier

Sergeant Joshua James Frazier

Sergeant Joshua James Frazier died on February 6, 2007 while serving in Iraq.

Our second story is about a young man from King George. He was born on October 7, 1984 and graduated from King George High School in 2002. While in high school he was a star wrestler, cross-country runner and track athlete.  This young man served his community as a volunteer firefighter.

While in college at Virginia Tech, he joined the National Guard. He would answer the call of duty to serve in Iraq in December 2003. Just one year later, while serving in Mosul, he and another service member were killed during a suicide bombing.

During his memorial service, he was remembered as someone who “chose to go to a place he didn’t have to go, to do a job he didn’t have to do for people who didn’t know him.” His Awards and Decorations included the Army Service Ribbon, The National Defense Medal, 1/25 SBCT Certificate of Achievement and the Army Achievement Medal. He was posthumously promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

Overflow crowds jammed into the school’s cafeteria and gymnasium to pay tribute to this 20 year old. Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, the Virginia Guard’s adjutant general, knelt between this young man’s flag-draped coffin and his family, and presented a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and the Virginia Legion of Merit.

His fellow firefighters also honored him as they stood and saluted as his father received his helmet. A series of symbolic rings tolled on a silver fireman’s bell, signifying Sergeant Nicholas C. Mason’s death and that his job was complete.

Sergeant Nicholas Conan Mason

Sergeant Nicholas Conan Mason

Sergeant Nicholas C. Mason died on December 21, 2004 while serving in Iraq.

In 2007, The Some Gave All Foundation was established in memory of Army Sgt. Nicholas Conan Mason of King George and Marine Sgt. Joshua James Frazier of Spotsylvania. The foundation honors these men and all others who have been wounded or killed in service to their country. Each year this foundation sponsors a Bike Rally from Spotsylvania High School to King George High School.


This year, we were on the road side watching as the bikes came in. It really is a sight to see! There had to have been over 500 motorcycles of every shape and size! One thing that was so moving was to see the King George Volunteer Fire Station, which is on the bike route, with their engines lights going and their ladder extended with an American Flag flying.












The people along the road way stood as cheered as each bike passed. It was really an honor that we later found out that we were standing right beside Nick Mason’s grandmother!

Nick Mason's Grandmother

Nick Mason’s Grandmother

The end of the ride stops in the parking lot which is filled with food and booths. The bomb squad was there as was the Army National Guard with their Orange County Chopper bike! And of course the Marine Corp arrived in style in one of their tanks.

US Marines arriving in style!

US Marines arriving in style!

Bomb Squad

Bomb Squad

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper – I think Brett is in love!

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

National Guard Orange County Chopper

We met allot of wonderful people!

We met allot of wonderful people!



This is John Crosson. He is from the Virginia Woodworkers Guild that will be making a colonial table for us from our Mulberry Tree!

This is John Crosson. He is from the Virginia Woodworkers Guild that will be making a colonial table for us from our Mulberry Tree!

Loved his bike!

Loved his bike!

Brett did too!

Brett did too!

There were lots of other bikes there honoring others who gave it all!

There were lots of other bikes there honoring others who gave it all!














Music and stunt bikes and lots and lots of motorcycles!



Don't try this at home!

Don’t try this at home!


It really was a great day remembering those that Gave It All!


We would like to remember other American Heroes who Gave Their All…

Thank you.

1LT Benjamin John Hall

1LT Benjamin John Hall

1LT Benjamin John Hall was killed July 31, 2007 while leading his platoon in combat against Taliban forces in the Chowkay Valley, Afghanistan.

Captain Shane Timothy Adcock

Captain Shane Timothy Adcock

Captain Shane T. Adcock was killed on October 11, 2006 when a hand thrown explosive device hit the Humvee in Iraq.

Corporal Aaron Gautier

Corporal Aaron Gautier

Corporal Aaron Gautier on was killed just south of Baghdad on May 17, 2007 while searching for soldiers who went missing after their convoy was attacked days before.

Corporal Brett Lundstrom

Corporal Brett Lundstrom

Cpl Brett L Lundstromwas killed  on Jan. 7, 2006 by enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations near Fallujah, Iraq.

Cpl. Christopher L. Weaver

Cpl. Christopher L. Weaver

Cpl. Christopher L. Weaver was killed on January 26, 2005 as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

Lance Corporal Caleb J. Powers

Lance Corporal Caleb J. Powers

Lance Corporal Powers was killed by enemy action in the province of Al Anbar, Iraq August 17, 2004.

Lance Corporal Kyle W. Brown

Lance Corporal Kyle W. Brown

Lance Corporal Kyle W. Brown was killed in combat on January 07, 2006 in in Iraq.

Sergeant David Alan Ruhren

Sergeant David Alan Ruhren

Sergeant David Alan Ruhren was killed on December 21, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq when his base dining facility was attacked.

Sergeant Dustin Perrott

Sergeant Dustin Perrott

Sergeant Dustin Perrott died June 21 after the explosion near Miri, Afghanistan.

Staff Sergeant Joshua P. Mattero

Staff Sergeant Joshua P. Mattero

SSG Joshua P. Mattero 29 of Chula Vista, CA. was killed in action on July 24, 2007 in Baqouba.

Facebook Link

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 34 Comments »

Small Adventures

Apr. 24th 2013


After the drama at the plantation with the downing of our three trees, the rescue of our bees and having contractors coming and going all day on Wednesday last week, on Thursday, I decided to take the advice of one of our readers and take a break to relax. My only appointment had called early to cancel, so my day was open for me to do whatever I wanted. So I jumped into the car and pointed it in the directions of Washington DC.

I had no plans, no agenda and no time table. At first I thought, maybe I could head to Alexandria by way of the Metro to see Gadsby’s Tavern. We have been following them for a while and I have yet to see it. But when I got on Highway 95 into Washington, the traffic came to a stop around the Marine Corps base Quantico so I jumped off and got on the Historic Route 1.

From there, I realized that I was heading toward Mount Vernon.When we had visited Mount Vernon before, there was a plantation just as you turn off Route 1 so my thought was to go there. This plantation is called Woodlawn Plantation.


Woodlawn was originally part of Mount Vernon. George Washington gave this 2,000 acre plantation to Martha’s granddaughter, Eleanor “Nelly” Park Custis and George’s nephew Major Lawrence Lewis as a wedding gift. The house started construction in 1800 and it was finished in 1805. George Washington had Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capital Building to design the house for the couple. Today the plantation has 126 acres with the original home.

When I arrived and entered, I was surprised to find out that the house was closed to tours. They have been preparing for an exhibition called “Made in America”. When I asked about the furnishing, she told me that they had replaced most of the furnishing with newer pieces. As I stood there thinking about where to go from here, in walked another person looking to take a tour. She told me that she had just come from George Mason’s Gunston Hall. They were having “Colonial Days” with busloads of children on field trips.

I have seen Gunston Hall in the Year of the Virginia Historic Homes video so I was interested in seeing it. Kids and all. So I plugged in the address to my GPS and off I went. It really wasn’t too far. The route my GPS took me was down a single lane road through a wooded area. In this area was a wonderful creek that ran alongside me as I drove through. It was breath taking. Sadly I wasn’t able to stop as there were no shoulders to pull over to.

When I arrived, I watched as the last of the school buses pulled away. Yes, no kids! But the Colonial dressed actors were leaving too. Oh well. But I was happy to find out that it was going to be me and one other person on the tour. You get so much more when there isn’t a crowd.

After we watched the opening film, we headed back to the house. As you walk towards the house from the visitor’s center, you are lead down a path of double row magnolia trees. As I walked up to the house, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting something larger. From a distance it looked like a small Cape Cod style home.


Boy was I in for a surprise.

Gunston Hall was the home of George and Ann Mason. It is a Georgian style home that is located near the Potomac River in Mason Neck, Virginia. The plantation was a 5,500 acre plantation and the home was built between 1755 and 1759.

George Mason

George Mason

Ann Mason

Ann Mason

We have talked about how James Madison tends to be a forgotten Founding Father, kind of in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. But how much do you really know about George Mason?

George Mason was a statesman and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. When the U.S. Constitution was written, George Mason was one of three that refused to sign it. He believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the new government. It was through his pressing that James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights.

Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall

His home, Gunston Hall was mostly the work of William Buckland, a carpenter/joiner and indentured servant from England. It is believe d that Buckland and another indentured servant named William Bernard Sears created the ornate woodwork and interior carving.

Front Porch

Front Porch

Front Porch

Front Porch

Gunston Hall combines elements of Rococo, Chinoiserie (Chinese style) and Gothic styles. All of these are unusual contrast to the tendency for simple decoration in Virginia at this time. While Chinoiserie was popular in England, Gunston Hall is the only house known to have had this decoration in colonial America.

Grand Hall photo from

Grand Hall
photo from

When you enter the home from the front porch, you are greeted by a Grand Hallway. This Hallway divides the house. The Grand Hallway is lined by six symmetrical Doric style pilasters. There is also a double arch with a carved pine cove that divides the front of the passage from the back. In the front, there are four doors placed opposite one another. One of these doors is a fake door added for symmetry. The front of the hall is covered in colonial style wallpaper.

Staircase photo from

photo from

The first room we entered was the western room called the parlor or dining room. This room as a public room that was ornately decorated. The walls are painted in a yellow ocher and the woodwork is Chinese style. The wall of the fireplace has a mantel decorated with fretwork, pagoda-like scalloped moldings as well as canopies topped by pine cone finials. Above the doors are similar canopies, which might have displayed Chinese porcelain vases or ceramic figures. During Mason’s lifetime, three of the walls were probably wallpapered with a chinoses (Chinese-style) design which was popular in England. It is believed that this room was one of kind in Colonial America.

Dining Room Photo from

Dining Room
Photo from

The southern room called the Palladian room was also a public room and was the most elaborately decorated in the house. The classical woodwork shows touches of the fashionable rococo design. The floor was made of carefully matched blind-doweled planks. Egg and dart carved patterns surround the black walnut entry doors. On either side of the fireplace you will see beaufats, which are shallow shelves with no doors. Here they have decorated them with a shiny blue slate color surrounded by gold gilding. From here you can view the back gardens.

Formal Parlor Photo from

Formal Parlor
Photo from

The little parlor across from the southern room was a private room and was less ornate than the public rooms. The walls were painted a neutral grey. This is the room that they family lived in and worked in. It was used as a dining room when company wasn’t there. It was used as Mason’s office being just off the primary chamber.

The Primary Chamber Photo from

The Primary Chamber
Photo from

The primary chamber was the master bed room and was private. It was painted an emerald green, which was considered a desirable color. The windows had pocket shutters and it is believed to be the only windows in the house that may have had curtains.

Just down the small hall between the primary chamber and the little parlor is a narrow servant’s stairs that led up to the second floor. Guest would use the beautiful staircase in the Grand Hall to access the upstairs. Once upstairs, you will find less wood decorations and colors. Eight small rooms were used primarily as rooms for the children and guests. Each room was very basic and offered a bed, desk and chair. Some rooms had two beds.

Summer Kitchen

Summer Kitchen

In the side yard, you will find their reproductions of the outbuildings used during Mason’s life. Summer Kitchen, Laundry, Cold Storage and Smokehouse were among the builds. On the opposite side you can see the reproduction school house for the children.

Summer Kitchen inside

Summer Kitchen inside

The back grounds are covered in ancient boxwoods and would have been a grand formal garden. The back of the garden comes to a two terrace slope that overlooks the Potomac River.


View from the back terraces of the Potomac River

View from the back terraces of the Potomac River




While I was there, I was able to observe an archaeological dig. The three archaeologists were working on uncovering what they thought might be a road way. Bricks, broken wine bottle and broken pottery were among the items they were uncovering. As I thanked them for allowing me to view it and as I walked away, I quickly stopped. As I have started doing while at Belle Grove, I was scanning the ground for artifacts. And low and behold, I found a pottery shard!

Look what I found! A brown salt glazed pottery shard!

Look what I found! A brown salt glazed pottery shard!

How cool was that to find a piece of pottery at George Mason’s home!

As I said good-bye to the other tourist and headed back to Belle Grove, I have to say I really felt much better. Going nowhere and finding such a wonderful surprise really renewed my spirit and allowed me to get on with what we needed to do.


To see more photos from Gunston Hall

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

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Or visit Gunston Hall’s Official Website at

Chatham Manor – The Later Years

Apr. 7th 2013


Continued from Wikipedia:

Daniel Devore

Daniel Devore

The property had a succession of owners until the 1920s, when Daniel and Helen Devore undertook its restoration and made significant changes. During the restoration, they re-oriented the house away from the west front on the river, as it was no longer the main transportation route; they made the east entrance the main entrance, easily reached by the automobile. They also added a large, walled English-style garden designed by the noted landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman on the east side. Shipman completed re-making of the estate’s grounds. As a result of the DeVores’ efforts, Chatham regained its place among Virginia’s finest homes.













John Lee Pratt

John Lee Pratt

Today the house and the 85 acres of surrounding grounds are open to the public. The last owner, John Lee Pratt, purchased Chatham from the Devores in 1931 for $150,000 cash and used the estate as a retirement home and working farm. Chatham’s distinction as a destination of note continued during his ownership. Serving as one of President Roosevelt’s “Dollar-a-Year” men, Pratt met and had as visitors Gen. George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. Upon Pratt’s death in 1975, his will provided additional land for parks to Stafford County and Fredericksburg, as well as a large section to the region’s YMCA.

Pratt gave the manor house and approximately 30 acres surrounding it to the National Park Service, which uses it as the headquarters facility for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Five of the rooms are open as a museum facility, and the grounds are open to the public. The remainder of the house and outbuildings are used as offices for administrative and maintenance facilities. Additional support for the site is provided by the group, Friends of Chatham Manor, formed in 2012 to emphasize the need to maintain the historic building and its grounds.

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to see more Virginia Historic Homes

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 14 Comments »