Decking the Halls

Dec. 14th 2013

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This year will be our first Christmas at the plantation. We are having several events here during December so it was important for us to dress the mansion in style. After giving it a lot of thought, we decided to go back into the history of the mansion to find a way to dress it as it had been in years past.

In a past blog, I talked about Christmas in Colonial Days. When we think of Colonial Period Christmas, one thought always comes to mind… Colonial Williamsburg. Now before you say anything about their decorations, I want you to know I love visiting Colonial Williamsburg anytime during the year. But during the Christmas season, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg is just one of those special times that really helps us get into the Christmas Spirit. But yes, I know they use fruit in their decorations, which is something that would not have been done in the Colonial Period. But it is still just beautiful. So I knew I wanted to go in that direction with our decorations.

I did have a guide of sorts from Belle Grove Plantation’s past. In January, 1906, a newspaper article from the Daily Star gave us a glance into what Christmas was like for the Thornton Family and Belle Grove Plantation.

Daily Star


Article Text

When we started looking into decorating the house, I knew my talents were never going to get us far. I can make a dinner plate into a work of art, but don’t ask me to arrange flowers or make a swag. It just wouldn’t be pretty. So our search began . . . I knew I wanted someone from the local area to help us. Using local talent is important to us, not just because is supports our community, but because most of the families in the area have been here for many generations. These families, whether they know it or not, have connections to the plantation. So for me, it is like bringing the “spirit” of the past back to the mansion.


After several weeks of searching, we met with a wonderful lady named Cindy. She came to us from Bowling Green, Virginia which is about 15 miles from us. She is the owner of a wonderful craft store called “Cindy’s Corner”. In this store, you can find many other talents ladies who range from floral designers to woodworkers.  Cindy and several of these ladies came to meet with us with the understanding that they were going to just decorate one room. But by the time they left, they had committed to decorating the whole house . . .  inside and out!

After only two weeks, they arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start decorating. Cindy and the ladies knew we wanted to keep it as ‘Colonial’ as possible. That meant that they had to go into wooded areas and cut fresh greens and hollies to make our window swags. They even found a wonderful center point for the swags with Osage Oranges. How unique that was!! They pruned our Southern Magnolia trees to use the leaves in our decorations.

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After just in a few days, they turned our mansion into a festive place that hearkens back to days gone by.


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Brett and I would like to thank each of the ladies for all their hard work and for giving of their talents to help us make our first Christmas at the plantation very special.

Cindy's Corner

100 South Main Street

Bowling Green, Virginia 22427


Please help us show our appreciation to these ladies by stopping by their store when in the area or by going to their facebook page and giving them a “like” or leave a comment.

Thank you to Cindy and the ladies at Cindy’s Corner!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 4 Comments »

“Skunking” Away

Jun. 19th 2013
Sunset at Belle Grove by Tamara Riley

Sunset at Belle Grove
by Tamara Riley

Yesterday was another one those days that so much happened that it was hard to write about it all. But there is one more thing I just have to tell you about.

If you follow the blog and Facebook, you know we have allot of wonderful wildlife. We have deer, groundhogs, osprey, rabbits, eagles and raccoon. Recently, I came across a skunk that seems to like to hang out in our lane at the entry of the plantation. When I first saw it at night, I thought it was a cat. But the white strip down the back quickly told me this was not a “cat” I wanted to get close to.

Yesterday, we got a surprise for our skunk. He decided to head over to the bowling green and visit the grassy field behind the caretaker’s house. Being sunset, I thought I could finally get a good shot of him. So I jumped into my car, windows rolled up mind you, and headed to that side of the driveway.


He had moved off into the tall grass and my camera doesn’t have a good long range lens so it was hard for me to get up close. So, I decided to do a little off roading. Of course with all the rain, I was just praying I didn’t get stuck in the mud. Can’t you image me telling the toll truck driver, “Yeah, I got stuck because I wanted a close up picture of a skunk.”  Boy would this small community have a laugh about that one! Thankfully I didn’t get stuck.

What I got was a really funny story!

I got up to the edge of the grass and I could see him walking towards the caretaker’s house. He was down low in the tall grass, so all I could get was this black thing moving through the grass. I kept thinking to myself, “Just look up!”

Then I got an idea…. I will tap on the roof to get his attention. Yes, I had the window rolled down to get a better shot.

So I reached up and tapped on the roof….

Have you ever seen a cat when you startle it?

It jumps up really high in the air.

That is what this skunk did!


He jumped up, turned to face me and had his tail sticking straight up in the air!

It was so funny!


After a few seconds, it continued on its way.

I tapped the roof again.


It jumped, turned and had it tail up again!


It continued walking….

I did this about five times, each time, it would jump up, turn and had its tail sticking straight up in the air!

I only got two good shots of him doing this because after the second time, I was laughing too hard!

I pulled away from the grassy area and the skunk made his way on through the grass. I am sure I will get another chance to see him. My friend who was visiting me later saw TWO skunks near the bowling green. Who knows. Maybe one day we will have baby skunks too! But now I have to think of a name for the two. One thing is for sure, it won’t be Pepe or Flower.

Anyone want to make some suggestions?

Sunset on the River on 6-18-2013

Sunset on the River on 6-18-2013

To see more wildlife here at Belle Grove

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 32 Comments »

Berry Fun Weekend

Oct. 7th 2012

Bowling Green Farm

This weekend Brett and I headed up to Fredericksburg and did some side road traveling to get to know the area a little better. What is so much fun about doing this is you tend to come across places you never knew where there. It’s like little surprises around each corner.

The first surprise came as we traveled over to Bowling Green, Virginia. Bowling Green is a small town just outside Fort A.P. Hill along Route 301. It is the location that the Union detachment found Willie Jett, the Confederate soldier who assisted John Wilkes Booth and David Herald across the Rappahannock River and sent them to Garrett’s Farm. Garrett’s Farm is just a few miles from Bowling Green.

Bowling Green is lined with beautiful old homes and a quaint small town square. As we were driving along, I would point out each of the houses and say, “Look at that one! I think I must have been saying that through most of the trip through town. As we came out of town just by the exit to I-95, we decided to turn around and go back through. That is when I caught sight of a home I missed just minutes before.

Sitting back behind a beautiful entry gate and a long drive and green sat what looked like a colonial home. There was a sign on the gate saying “Estate Sale” with Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s date. I quickly asked Brett to turn around. I told him we had to go. Not to buy anything (unless I found something) but to see the inside of this house.

Bowling Green Farm

As we walked up to the front door, you could see that it was in fact a colonial home. The sidewalk leading to the door was lined with tall boxwoods and the drive was lined with beautiful old trees. On the porch was a board with some of the history of the home. I would later find out it was called “Bowling Green Farm”. One of the owners informed us that the main house had been built in 1740 and the back kitchen section was built in 1791.

Bowling Green Farm

Front Porch Lantern
Bowling Green Farm

The main house was four room downstairs and four rooms upstairs. In the middle was a beautiful old stairway that turned its way up to the second floor. Through the dining room was the door that leads to the kitchen area. You entered a small room that could have been a small dining room. Through a door at the back of the room you walked into a small stair case area, more than likely a servant stairs. On to the back room which would have been the kitchen with its larger fireplace.

Door in the small kitchen area
Bowling Green Farm

Dining Room looking back into the front parlor
Bowling Green Farm

Small Dining Room in Kitchen Section
Bowling Green Farm

Kitchen Fireplace
Bowling Green Farm

If you heading up the servant stairs, you come upon two more rooms. These could have been servant rooms or children’s rooms. They were very plain and no detail, as most of the house. The only rooms that had more details where the front hallway and parlor. We didn’t get a chance to see the back yard, but through a window you could see a small sitting garden. I am sure there was a lot more if we had been about to see it. In the front windows, you could see the view of the front drive. Just beautiful.

Servants Stairs
Bowling Green Farm

Top of Servants Stairs looking into on room
Bowling Green Farm

View of front section of home from servant stair case window
Bowling Green Farm

Sitting garden view from Servant Stair case window
Bowling Green Farm

Front Stair Case
Bowling Green Farm

Front view from upstairs window
Bowling Green Farm

Front walk leading to front drive and green
Bowling Green Farm

From Bowling Green, we headed down Route 2 heading towards Fredericksburg. It had been my hope to see a sign that showed us where Mount Sion Plantation was located. This is the plantation that Captain Francis Conway and his wife Elizabeth moved to once they sold Belle Grove to John Hipkins. It is my hope to find out where it is and who lives there. I would like to see if there is a family cemetery and if so if Captain Conway is buried there. We didn’t find it… yet.

From there, we headed back down Route 17 towards Port Royal, then up Route 301 passing by Belle Grove. They are working on the highway, so traffic was really busy so we decided not to stop at the plantation. We are going to be there next weekend, so I was okay with not seeing it up close. We then turned onto Route 3 (Kings Highway) heading towards the historic site of George Washington’s birthplace and Stratford Hall, home of Robert E. Lee and his family.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

As we made our way down the road, we came up on a sign for Westmoreland Berry Farm. We have passed this sign many times, but today we decided to stop. As we pulled into the farm, we were greeted with fields and fields of fruit trees. I loved the signs at the front of each one of the fields informing the public that these trees were not open for “pick your own”. Immediately Dorothy and the Scarecrow came to mind as they picked apples from someone else’s trees.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

The farm was just beautiful. The main shop sits at the top of a ridge and overlooks a small valley that leads down to the Rappahannock River. It was breath taking. Then we saw the biggest entertainment located just to the side. On top of a pole was a platform and standing on this platform was a small goat. He was eating feed that kids from below where sending up along a rope pulley. The platform was connected to a walkway that crossed over the road way and down into the goat enclosure. There at the fence line were more goats enjoying feed from adults. It was sweet!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We were drawn over to the fence where we too feed the goats and admired their wonderful horns. There was one larger goat who did bully his way into getting most of the feed, but after he would move on to others with handfuls feed, the other goats cleaned up the feed that had dropped from the hands as the larger one fed. My favorite was a smaller goat just relaxing on another platform with no care in the world.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We turned to head back as a tractor came up the road from the small valley. Behind the tractor were smiling faces of people who had just enjoyed the beautiful views of the valley and crops and the view of the river. From the opposite side came another tractor pulling a small line of cow painted cars with small kids enjoying a short ride along the road of the farm.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Inside the shop we found some wonderful surprises. Along the wall were homemade preserves, jelly and jams as well as sauces made by Westmoreland Berry Farm from their own crops. There were homemade pies and baked goods made from the berries and fruits from the farm. We even found honey that was made locally!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We made a point to mean the store manager and farm manager while we were here. We found out that they not only grow local fruits and berries, but they also produce a wide range of local vegetables. Brett and I were so excited to hear this. The farm isn’t but 10 minutes from Belle Grove and will be a wonderful vendor for our fresh fruits and vegetables! The only time we will have to find another vendor will be during their down season of December to March. I can just see the wonderful dishes I will be able to serve to our guest using these local produce! Yum!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

From there we head back down Route 3 admiring the many small Virginia towns. Places that had been there for centuries. Farms and Farm homes lined the highway and gave you a sense of what this area is really like. While Route 17 and I-95 will get you to where you are going fast, Route 3 will show you what life is like in old Virginia. It was nice to slow down on the way home. What we would have missed if we hadn’t done so.

View of the Virginia country side along Route 3

View of the Virginia country side along Route 3

Sunset over the Rappahannock River just outside White Stone, Virginia

Don’t forget to check out our Silent Auction!

Lots of Virginia Antiques and Vintage Items!

You can see the items under our Silent Auction page located just to the left under the”About Us” page!

Email us at with your bids!

Auction closes on Friday, August 2nd!



Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 30 Comments »