Let’s Get Digging!

Mar. 30th 2014

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We are excited to announce that starting on Sunday, March 30th,

The University of Mary Washington

will be starting a 5 to 6 weeks Archaeological Survey at Belle Grove Plantation!

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Douglas Sanford of the University of Mary Washington will be heading up this survey. He has given us some information about his department (Department of Historic Preservation) to share.

We are one of about  8 undergraduate programs in historic preservation in the United States.  We are the oldest (founded in 1984) and largest undergraduate historic preservation program.  Our Department also is distinctive in that we employ an interdisciplinary approach to historic preservation, blending the theories and methods of archaeology, architectural history and conservation, museum studies, and preservation planning.  Most American historic preservation programs, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, do not include archaeology and museum studies.  We also are well known for blending text and classroom-based learning with practical, hands-on experience.  Our students conduct historical research with period documents; photograph, measure, and draw historic buildings; work on archaeological sites; and, engage in developing museum exhibitions. 

The students I will bring to Belle Grove are enrolled in our introductory archaeology course, Historic Preservation 207: American Archaeology.  One requirement of the course is to work one day in the field, learning some of the basic methods for archaeological survey, sampling, and excavation.  In cooperation with local landowners, the primary goals of our testing operations are to identify and document suspected archaeological sites, to sample those sites to gather further information about the site’s date, use, and its surviving artifacts, features, and building remains; and, to provide information to the landowners to encourage the future study, preservation, and management of these archaeological sites and materials.”

They will be doing work around our historic 1720 – 1750 Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse. They will also do some test digs along the road way where our 1856 map showed the slave quarters were located. We are so excited to see what they will find!

Make a point to stop by over the next 5 to 6 weeks and see what progress they are making and what they find!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Archaeology at Belle Grove Plantation | 6 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 www.neh.gov

Grand Hall
photo from www.neh.gov

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 www.gunstonhall.org

photo from www.gunstonhall.org

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 roamingtheplanet.com

Dining Room
Photo from roamingtheplanet.com

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 www.virginia.org

Formal Parlor
Photo from www.virginia.org

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 transatlantica.revues.org

The Primary Chamber
Photo from transatlantica.revues.org

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

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Or visit Gunston Hall’s Official Website at


Artifacts Results are in!

Apr. 3rd 2013
Ferry FarmGeorge Washington's Boyhood Home

Ferry Farm
George Washington’s Boyhood Home


On Tuesday, after my appointments, I went to Ferry Farms, boyhood home of George Washington to see our favorite archaeologist, Mara. She has been helping us for about one year identify and date our artifacts as we find them. About two weekends ago, we allowed a one time metal detecting hunt of the plantation. We were able to undercover some really nice pieces this time. Here are the items and the results she was able to tell us about!

MaraFerry Farm

Ferry Farm

One of the finds we discovered close to what would have been the barn site turned out to be a trash pit. Back before trash pick up, people would burn most of their trash. If it didn’t burn, it would go into a pit and would be buried. These are treasure finds as the items can be place to a time period by looking at all the items as a whole.

From the dates of the items we recovered from this trash pit, we can say that the period would fall during the last residence, John Palmer and Mary Hooker (1930-1987). We mostly found glass bottles and pieces of plates.

Papa Bear on the hunt

Papa Bear on the hunt


Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit


Uncovering the trash pit

Uncovering the trash pit

Look what we found in the trash pit!

Look what we found in the trash pit!


Mara’s Results:

Clear Liquor Bottle:   Aluminum Screw Cap, Machine Made, Volume Designation (Quart),  Embossed on Body:  “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use of This Bottle”,  Owens of Illinois Mark and Suction Scar, Embossed on base:  D-1 / 60-6.

  • Although Owens of Illinois started using this mark in 1929, the federal government did not start regulating the re-use of liquor bottles until 1935.  This makes the date range for this bottle 1935-1959 based on the embossing on the body and Owens of Illinois mark.

Bottle 3

Mara’s Results:

Ball Jar:  Embossed:  Perfect Mason, Valve Mark on Base, Threaded Rim, Machine Made.

  • Wide mouth machine made canning jars without ground rims started to be manufactured in 1910.  Valve marks (marks made from semi-automatic bottle machines, usually reserved for wide mouth bottles/jars) have an end date of 1940.  The ‘Perfect Mason’ designation was utilized between 1910 and 1960.  You can further identify the years by looking at this website:  http://www.balljars.net/ball_jar_progression.htm  Without having a picture of the jar, the most conservative estimate would put this jar between 1910 and 1940.


Mara’s Results:

Clear Condiment Bottle:  Metal Screw Cap, ‘Ghost’ Seam, No Basal Markings.

  • Not able to date this bottle but given that it is machine made, it has an early date of no later than 1920 on it.


Mara’s Results:

Brown Square Medicine Bottle With Remnant Applicator:  Screw Finish, Iron Alloy Cap Present.  Base Embossed with Owens of Illinois Mark and identifying Marks indicating plant where made, year and mold type, Suction Scarred Base.

  • Basal Marks indicate this bottle was produced at the Alton, Illinois plant in 1937

Bottle 7

Mara’s Results:

Glass Jar (Art Deco Motif):  Embossed:  “Mrs. Schlorers” on body.  Base Embossed:  “No 89403 Des PAT A 4 42”.  Suction Scarred Base.

Jar was patented on March 7, 1933.  Remember how I told you that some bottles contained condiments that we didn’t consume today?  Well, that bottle was for Mrs. Schlorers Mayonnaise or ‘Olive-naise’.  She made the first commercially sold mayonnaise in 1907 in Philadelphia.  See:  http://www.mrsschlorers.com/history.html


Mrs S

Early date on this bottle is obviously 1933

Bottle 12

Mara’s Results:

Orange Lustre Elephant Figurine:

Bottle 14

Mara’s Results:

White Granite Hollowware Base With “Bona Fama…” Mark:

  • This mark reads fully:  “Bona Fama est Melior Zona Aurea” or “A good reputation is better than a golden belt.”  It was utilized by the Edwin Bennett Pottery Co. of Baltimore, MD. From 1890 until 1936.  I would put the end date of this piece at 1930 at the latest, however.  So, 1890-1930 for the hollowware base (likely a pitcher).

Bottle 15

Mara’s Results:

Milk Glass Fragment with Strawberry Molded Motif

  • This one is pretty cool.  It’s part of a strawberry ‘jam jar’ manufactured by Hazel Atlas from 1938-39 and would originally have been painted red and green like a strawberry, although the paint has worn off (this often happens with painted milk glass recovered archaeologically).  A lot of people don’t know that many milk glass novelties and decorative tablewares were originally painted but, over time, that inexpensive enameling rubs off.  These strawberry jam jars were given away free with other purchases, such as Corn Kix cereal to promote the product.  Along with the strawberry jam jar, one shaped like an apple was also produced and given away by manufacturers looking to market their products.  The original would have looked like this:  http://www.etsy.com/listing/93492998/mid-century-hazel-atlas-glass-strawberry

strawberry jam jar

To see all the artifacts

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and view our Artifacts Album!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 28 Comments »

Heading Back

Jan. 11th 2013


It’s the weekend and we are so excited!

The term “TGIF” has a whole new meaning to us these days.

View of Belle Grove from the opposite bank in Port Royal

View of Belle Grove from the opposite bank in Port Royal

Yes, tomorrow we are heading back to the plantation for a full day of fun.

But we won’t be taking this trip alone!

We will be taking our favorite staff member…



We have two or three meeting set up for tomorrow.

Ferry Farm

Ferry Farm

Our first is with our favorite archaeologists from Ferry Farm. They are coming to see the plantation for the first time! We are so excited to have them there! Who knows what we are going to find out with expert eyes viewing the plantation for the first time!

First Bridal Shoot at Belle Grove Plantation

First Bridal Shoot at Belle Grove Plantation

Afterwards we are meeting with a bride-to-be to discuss having her photo shoot at the plantation. We expect to have many photo shoots and weddings in our future! We can’t wait!

We may also have a group of ladies stopping by to see the plantation and to discuss a future meeting and luncheon with Belle Grove Plantation. I am so excited to have this group come to see us. We are much honored to have them. I will reveal the name once I talk with them to make sure it’s okay to let you know too.

Sidewalk on the Carriage side

Sidewalk on the Carriage side

All while this is going on we are going to start pulling up the bricks that are laid out as the sidewalks on the Carriage side and pathways on the Riverside. There are tons of them! But we have to get them up before they can do the grading on the grounds. We are going to “repurpose” them as part of the new sidewalks and arrival area on the Carriage side.

Front Gate Entry

Front Gate Entry

If we have any left, we are going use them to upgrade the front entry gate. They are about four feet tall and have been painted white. They use to have a topper that would have been most likely a ball and the wrought iron gate has been removed. The wrought iron more than likely went during the Civil War.

Idea for the new Front Gate Entry

Idea for the new Front Gate Entry

But I have an idea of what I would like it to look like now. I want to replace the ball toppers with a finial topper like the one in the picture. It matches the ones I have used in my design for the road sign at the entry.

Best of all I have my father’s really nice camera to take tomorrow. Maybe we can finally get a good shot of the eagles that are flying over all the time. I think I could sit all day and watch them!

Follow us on Twitter tomorrow!



I will be sending our “Sneak Peak” Pictures and Updates!

Don’t forget to send your Cookie Recipes in soon!

Cookie Contest 2013

The Deadline will be here before you know it!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Hurley | 37 Comments »

Childhood Homes

Jun. 22nd 2012

Ferry Farm – Childhood Home of George Washington

Yesterday had to be one of the most exciting days I have spent in my research of Belle Grove Plantation. I had been invited to a picnic by the King George Historic Society earlier in the month. Being that it is about 2.5 hours from our current home, I decided to take a half day and do some running around in the county while I was there.

Recently I had come across another blog on WordPress by an anthropology student doing her field study at Ferry Farm. Ferry Farm is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia and was the childhood home of George Washington. Recently they had uncovered the foundation of the house on the property and had been doing archaeological digs there. In her blog, Ashley talks about the artifacts she has found during her digs. This caught my interest in many ways.

Ashley – Ferry Farm

First they are digging on a property that is very close to our plantation, just about 20 minutes away. And it was a childhood home of one of the founding fathers. With all the artifacts I have been finding on our plantation, I decided to email her and see if she could help me identify some of the artifacts and also give me some suggestion on what we could do to preserve the artifacts we may discover as we are doing the landscaping. One thing Ashley told me was that it was hard to identify artifacts by pictures on an email. So I decided to make use of my extra time and head there to see if they could help me.

Ferry Farm

When I arrived, the first thing I saw was the students working on their dig site. My heart just leaped. I packed up my bag and headed into the Visitors Center to pay for my admission. The gentleman pointed out the self guided walking tour and things I might want to check out. So I headed out the door and straight across the field to the dig site.

Ferry Farms

When I walked up, one of the students greeted me and I asked for Ashley. She came over and thanked me warmly for coming. Then she and two other students showed me their finds for the day. One of these finds was a small piece of a wig curler. (You must read about these curlers on her blog!) But I got to hold it and she showed me the small lettering on the end, just like it had shown on her blog. Holding it was a thrill! I then showed them some of my finds from Belle Grove along with some of the pictures I had brought with me. There I was unloading my little zip lock bags of “artifacts” beside the dig site of the home of our first president, in 101 degree sunshine.

Ferry Farm

Jason and Mara – Ferry Farm

Jason, a Lab Assistant to the supervisor suggested that since I had a lot of glass and dishware, I might want to come to the lab and meet one of the resident archaeologists who would be better at identifying these pieces. Jason introduced me to Mara, an expert on glass and dishware. She was excited to see what I had. The first thing I showed her was our pictures and explained what we were doing with this historic property. Then I pulled out the artifacts and the fun began! She went through piece by piece and told me what it was and about what time period it comes from. It was almost like looking at lottery tickets to see if I had a winner! Below are some of the ones that turned out to be great finds and one that was quite a surprise. If you want to see all of them, we are going to start adding our finds to our Facebook page. Please check them out there.

Artifact from Belle Grove – Printed Pearlware – 1807 to 1830

Artifact from Belle Grove – Ceramic Sewage Pipe – late 1800s to early 1900s

Artifact from Belle Grove – Large Piece – Green Shell Pearlward – 1807 to 1835
Small Piece – Hard Paste Porcelain Saucer – Guilded over Glaze Painted – 1800 – 1835

One of the things we talked about was how I wanted to make sure we preserved items as we did the landscaping. She also suggested that I contact a college or university to see if we might be able to put together a field study for students through the college to uncover more of our history. I had mentioned that I wanted to contact James Madison University due to the fact that he was born on the property to see if they might want to do some exploring. I know right now they are working on the project at Montpelier. She gave me a name of someone she knew in the archaeology department that might be able to help us in the future. It won’t happen this year, but soon! One thing I had a little laugh about was watching Jason with our nails. As soon as I pulled the zip lock bag out, he picked it up and started separating them. Then he left and returned with small bags to place them in for me. Then as we pulled out the glass pieces, he would take them to another room and return with them. I wasn’t sure what he was doing until Mara told me that he was checking them for light refraction to help determine their dates and kinds. He was just about as excited as I was I think.

Ferry Farm

Once we were done, Mara took me downstairs through the inside part of their lab and I got to see some of the projects they were working on. How exciting to see objects that they had recovered and were painstakingly putting back together. One of the objects she picked up and showed me. She placed it in my hand and then told me that it was owned by Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother! I was overwhelmed! To think I was standing there holding something that Mary Washington touched, or that George Washington could have held! As we walked out, Mara made a point to let me know that they would be happy to help us at any time and that I was welcomed to bring anything I find there for them to help me identify them. I really appreciated the time she and Jason had given me to identify the artifacts I had. I was most thankful for Ashley’s blog. If it hadn’t been for her writing about her experiences, I would have never found them! Thank you Ashley!

(Visit Ashley’s Blog and see what she is up to!  diganthro.wordpress.com)

(Visit Ferry Farm’s web site! www.kenmore.org)

Ferry Farm Garden

After I finished at Ferry Farm, I headed back toward King George. I had about one hour till the picnic and headed over to one of my favorite antique stores, McGinnis Barn on King Highway. I had been there two weeks earlier and had found some plates I wanted, but didn’t have the cash on me to purchase them. So Mr. McGinnis had put them aside for me until I could return. I had called him the night before, knowing I would be in the area and asked if I could stop by since he is only open Saturday and Sunday. When I arrived I paid for my plates and found a silver tea pot. When I asked how much, as he always does, he gave me a deal I couldn’t say no to. I went back to the car and to my luck I had just enough cash left to get it. I wasn’t sure before if I wanted to have silver tea pots as well as porcelain pots, but this one was so pretty and has some of the same decorations around the top as some of the cups I have. So home it came with the plates.

With just half an hour left, I made a quick stop at Belle Grove before heading over to the picnic. The picnic was being held at another historic plantation called Cleydael plantation in King George. This plantation has just recently been purchased and is under restoration by the new owners. This plantation is historically important as it was the plantation that John Wilkes Booth and David Harold had stopped at on their way through King George.

Cleydael – Back of House

This plantation was the summer home of Dr. Richard Stuart. Dr. Stuart was good friends with the Lee Family and had even sheltered Robert E. Lee’s daughters through most of the Civil War. When John Wilkes Booth arrived at the house and asked for assistance, Dr. Stuart refused to treat Booth, but offered both Booth and Harold a meal, which he served them on his back porch just like a common field hand. After they finished their meal, Dr. Stuart asked them to be on their way. From here, Booth and Harold made their way down to the ferry at Port Conway and on to Garrett’s Farm.

Cleydael – Front of House

The picnic was full of wonderful new faces for me to meet and some others that I have already met. The one thing I do have to say is that King George is very proud of its history, and rightfully so. This group continues to work to preserve that history and to bring it to the attention of others. Maybe soon we can have them at Belle Grove Plantation to help us celebrate the opening.

Cleydael – This is the back porch that John Wilkes Booth ate one of his last meals.

One last stop on the way out at Belle Grove Plantation. It was a wonder stop. It was just twilight and as I pulled into the long driveway heading to the house, I could see a deer in the field next to the house. I stopped just for a moment to look at her. She stood there and stared at me for a moment. I could see her white tail flicking back and forth. It was so peaceful. Then off she ran toward me and the driveway then across to the woods beside me. I continued up to the house and as I pulled in, two rabbits popped up and hurried away. Then I heard Dolley, our resident osprey. She was sitting up on the nest peering over at me and calling out “Who’s there?” I sat for a moment, not even getting out of the car, but listening through my open window. I listen to the quiet sounds of Belle Grove Plantation and wondered how it might have sounded during the time James Madison or George Washington could have been here. I wondered what “treasures” are we yet to find and what new and exciting people will come and add to the history of this grand plantation. A chill came over me as smiled and knew that the best is yet to come.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 55 Comments »