What a Day!

Jun. 17th 2013

You know as we draw closer to opening, the more exciting things become! My day started out with a cancelled meeting so I tried to sleep in a bit. Poor Brett called me at 8am thinking I was up only to wake me up. But that was okay because it lead to so much! I started by heading to King George to do some errands. As I drove past a small historic church, I noticed a sign for Tidewater Preservation. I had seen them recently at our little church on what was part of Belle Grove. They are a historic restoration company.

So I decided to stop and see if they could help me with rescuing our outbuildings. I met a wonderful young man who climbed down from a 10 foot tall scaffold to talk to me. He gave me his bosses information and told me that he would call ahead to let them know I was going to call.

When I arrived home, I jumped on the computer to answer emails. One was from a wonderful pastry chef, Karen that I had just met. She owns Cakes in Art. She wasn’t going to be able to make it to our Vendor Fair. So I had invited her to come ahead to meet and talk. She asked if today was open which it was so I set up an appointment with her at noon. I am so glad I didn’t eat much for breakfast!

Around 10:30, I received a call from Tidewater Preservation. Chip, the general manager had received a call from his worker and wanted to see if we could meet today. So we set up a meeting for 2pm. Shortly after that call, I got a call from David, Project Manager of Tidewater Preservation. He asked if we could change the meeting so he and Frederick, the President of Tidewater Preservation could come out. Unsure of what time Fredrick was going to be available, I asked if they could call me back. I didn’t want to rush the meeting with Karen, but I didn’t want to miss a chance to meet them.

At noon, I met Karen arrived baring “gifts”!



I first gave her a tour of the mansion and grounds. Then we retired to the formal dining room. The tour took all of 45 minutes, but we talked until 2:30! What a wonderful person she is! And what talent! I can’t wait to see some of her creations at Belle Grove!

As I finished up and walked Karen to her car, I noticed that two gentlemen were wondering around our Summer Kitchen. As Karen left, I headed over to meet David and Frederick. They quickly told me more about our outbuildings than anyone has been able to tell us.


We have three outbuildings or dependencies that have been part of Belle Grove Plantation for a long time.


We have an Ice House, Smokehouse and Summer Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen is divided into two parts. One side with its large fireplace is the kitchen side. The other side has a smaller fireplace which I assumed was a Slave Quarters. I have been told that our outbuildings date somewhere in the late 1700s to mid-1800s. The late 1700s would place them there when the main section of the house was built in 1791.

 Here is what I learn today!

Tidewater Preservation has some history of its own with Belle Grove Plantation. During the restoration of Belle Grove from 1997 to 2003, Tidewater Preservation had been considered as the restoration company. They had done an in depth study of both the house and the outbuildings. With this past history and looking at the structure, they were able to tell me some really exciting things!

Smoke House in need

Smoke House in need

Summer Kitchen in need

Summer Kitchen in need

First, the age we had is incorrect. These outbuildings date to 1720 to 1750! They pre-date the house! This is really exciting news because it places them in the time period that the Conway Family owned the plantation! It also places them here when James Madison was born! I was shocked and excited all at once!

Kitchen side

Kitchen side

Laundry side

Laundry side

They also told me that what I thought was the Slave Quarters side, wasn’t a Slave Quarter, but a Laundry Room. Then another shocker! The slaves would have slept in the loft above the current ceiling! The last owners have used the Summer Kitchen as a pool house and had enclosed the loft. Oh my what do we have there!!

Winter Kitchen in the basement

Winter Kitchen in the basement

We moved into the house and they told me about the basement fireplace room. I had at first thought it to be a Winter Kitchen, but was told that it wasn’t. But that slaves had lived in the basement at one time. Frederick told me that before the restoration in the basement laundry room there had been two very large English ovens. That both the Fireplace Room and the Laundry Room had been a very large Kitchen sometime after 1839! My heart was pounding in my chest!

Brick on the top is from the foundation in the south side yard. Bottom is from the 1900 water fountain.

Brick on the top is from the foundation in the south side yard. Bottom is from the 1900 water fountain.

We walked outside and talked about the foundation of the house that was found under the current home, which would have been James Madison’s Grandmother’s home. I had noticed some of the bricks that the handyman guys had removed to place our French drains in on the south end of the house. I knew that the foundation was just under the house at that point and wondered if the bricks he has removed from the yard could have been early enough to be from that foundation. I had noticed that they were bigger in length and width from those we had pulled from the 1900 fountain. When I showed it to them, Frederick confirmed that they were man made and date to the early 1700s!!! In my hand, I was holding a piece of the house that Madison was born in!!!

 My day couldn’t have gotten any better… or at least that is what I thought!

Around 4:30 this afternoon, as I sat at my office, looking out the window typing and watching our Bunnies here at Belle Grove run around, laying in the sun and eating sweet grass, I noticed a big brown truck approaching.

 My mind raced!

Could it be?

Yes! It was the UPS delivery truck!

I ran to the front door only to stop and run back to grab my camera!


It was our first delivery of books for the library! I asked the driver if he would mind if I took a picture. I wanted to remember this and share it with you! I bounced back to the office and waited until Brett called to open them!

Now we received our first donation of books on Saturday from some dear friends, Glenda and Baxter in Chesapeake. We can’t say how much we appreciated all of them! And now our first delivery to the house! We really are starting to feel like this is real! But thank you to Linda and Richard of Alexandria, Virginia! You made my day even more special!

If you have any books you would like to donate to Belle Grove Plantation’s historic library, please mail them to:

 Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast 

9221 Belle Grove Drive 

King George, VA 22485


We really appreciate the donations!

Please see the bottom of this list for our “Wish List”!

So here is the up dated book list we have so far!

The Asent of George Washington – John Ferling

Madison Writings – Jack N. Rakove

A Slave in the White House – Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

The Debate on the Constitution – Bernard Barilyn

James Madison – Garry Wills

War at Our Doors – Rebecca Campbell Light

Images of America Virginia Presidential Homes – Patrick L. O’Neill

Places I Have Known Along the Rappahannock River – Beverley C Pratt

Come Retribution – William A Tidwell

A Perfect Union – Catherine Allgor

Gordonsville Virginia – William H.B. Thomas

Orange Virginia – William H.B. Thomas

Dearest Friend  A Life of Abigail Adams – Lynne Withey

Patriots of the UpCountry – William H.B. Thomas

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King

The Dead Zone – Stephen King

Pet Sematary – Stephen King

The Tommyknockers – Stephen King

Just Added!

Thank you Glenda and Baxter of Chesapeake, Virginia!

Rhett Butler’s People – Donald McCaig

The Gold of Exodus – Howard Blum

The Sum of All Fears – Tom Clancy

Faith of our Founding Fathers – Tim LaHaye

Gun – A Visual History – Dr. Chris McNab

American Soldier – General Tommy Franks

Wild at Heart – John Eldredge

How Did You Do It, Truett – S. Truett Cathy

Gettysburg – Newt Gingrich and William R Forstchen

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All – Allan Gurganus

Me My County My God – Dr. C Thomas Anderson and Don Enevoldsen

Lincoln on Leadership – Donald T. Phillips

The Civil War Battlefield Guide – The Conservation Fund – Frances H Kennedy

Gettysburg  An Alternate History – Peter G. Tsouras

Leadership Lessons of Robert E. Lee – Bil Holton

Run to the Roar – A Fable of Choice, Courage and Hope – J. Randy Forbes

His Excellency George Washington – Joseph J Ellis

Dear Catherine, Dear Taylor – The Civil War letters of a Union Soldier and his Wife – Richard L Kiper

Debt of Honor – Tom Clancy

Tale of a Tiger – R.T. Smith

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger – David Gregory

Command Attention – Col. Keith Oliver USMC (Ret)

Leadership Excellence – Pat Williams with Jim Denney

War – Sebastian Junger

How – Why HOW we do anything means everything – Dov Seidman

Psalm 91- Peggy Joyce Ruth

Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin

No Higher Honor – Condoleezza Rice

Extreme Dreams Depend on Teams – Pat Williams

The Ambition – Lee Strobel

Secrets of the Millonaire Mind – T. Harv Eker

Rembrandt – The Old Testament – Thomas Nelson Publishers

Rembrandt – Life of Christ – Thomas Nelson Publishers

Thank you Linda and Richard of Alexandria, Virginia!

Profiles in Courage – John F. Kennedy

Lady Bird – Jan Jarboe Russell

Wish List

These are books we would like to have for the library.



Adams, John Defence of the Constitutions
Burns, Robert Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect
Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John de Letters from an American Farmer
Filson, John Discovery, Settlement, & Present State of Kentucky
Gibbon, Edward History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
A. Hamilton, J. Jay, and J. Madison The Federalist 
Jefferson, Thomas Notes on the State of Virginia
Ledyard, John Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean
Locke, John Treatises on Government
Longacre, James Barton National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans
Montesquieu The Spirit of the Laws
Morse, Jedidiah Geography Made Easy
Shakespeare, William Hamlet
Plato The Republic
Raleigh, Sir Walter History of the World
Ramsay, David History of the American Revolution
Vattell, Emerich de The Law of Nations
Warville, J.P. Brissot de The Commerce of America with Europe

 Books about Madison

Ketcham, Ralph James Madison: A Biography
Banning, Lance The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the founding of the Federal Republic
Brookhiser, Richard James Madison
Burstein, Andrew and Nancy Isenberg Madison and Jefferson
Madison, James Notes of Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787
Mattern, David and H. Schulman The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison
Mattern, David B. James Madison’s Advice to My Country
Rakove, Jack James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic
Stagg, J.C.A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, & Warfare in the Early American Republic
Wood, Gordon Empire of Liberty

To see more exciting status updates and to view pictures of Belle Grove

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Depression Cake

Dec. 21st 2012
Mildred Johnson"Grandma Johnson"

Mildred Johnson
“Grandma Johnson”

This Sunday will be my husband’s birthday. Each year, Brett looks forward to just one thing; a cake that his grandmother made him every year since he can remember. Even when he left home in 1982 to join the Navy, Grandma Johnson would bake this cake and ship it to where ever he was station. When she passed away in 1997, I pick up where she left off.

The cake that she would make was called an “Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake“. What it really is a Depression Era cake. Depression cakes, also known as “War Cakes” date back to World War I. The recipe  was in a pamphlet distributed by the United States Food Administration in 1918 entitled “War Economy in Food“. War Cakes are listed under “Recipes for Conservation Sweets.” The United States Food Administration stressed the importance of reducing sugar consumption during the war and offered molasses, corn syrup and raisins in its place.

When the Great Depression hit the United States just after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, families were forced to stretch their budgets and to “make do” with minimal or cheaper ingredients. Desserts become a luxury for most and Depression Cakes were more affordable alternative to other cakes that used milk, eggs and butter.

It was through ingredient substitutions that made this possible. For example, shortening was substituted for butter, water for milk and baking powder for eggs. Some women took full advantage of the practice by making mock foods such as mock apple pies and mock fish. There were some women who were so good at this that they were able to feed their families on just $5 per week!

Radio shows and women’s periodicals played a large role in circulating the recipes during the Great Depression. “Betty Crocker’s Cooking Hour” was one such show that provided women with budget-friendly recipes.

A common Depression Cake is also known as “Boiled Raisin Cake” or “Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake“. “Boiled” refers to the boiling of raisins with the sugar and spice to make a syrup base early in the recipe. Boiled raisin cakes date back at least to the American Civil War.

Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake


2 cups brown sugar

2 cups boiling water

4 Tablespoons shortening (I use Crisco)

1 large box of seedless raisins (not small individual boxes) about 2 cups

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons ground clove, heaping

2 teaspoons cinnamon, heaping

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 Tablespoon lukewarm water

2 cups sifted self-rising flour


Preheat oven to 325 degrees


In a medium size sauce pan, bring water to a boil.


Add brown sugar and shortening. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add raisins, salt, cinnamon and cloves and allow to boil for 5 minutes.


Take off the heat and cool for 30 minutes.


While the syrup is cooling, grease and flour a standard Bundt cake pan.


After 30 minutes, in a small bowl, add baking soda and lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve the baking soda. Pour this mixture into the cooled syrup in the same pan. You will see the baking soda start to foam.





Add the flour and stir with a spoon.


Once combined, pour into your greased Bundt pan, making sure that the batter is even around.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack. You may need to slightly run a butter knife around the edge of the cake to loosen before trying to remove it from the pan. This makes it easier to remove.

Eggless Butterless Milkless Cake


Make sure you keep your favorite cookie recipe handy after the holidays!

Something really special is coming in January!

To see other foods we have posted, please visit our Facebook Page and view our “Food” album!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 96 Comments »

A day at the Plantation and Hint #5

May. 28th 2012

Today we headed up to the plantation for a day trip with our Plantation Dog, Hurley. As we crossed the bridge and saw the house sitting on the bluff, I felt it hard to catch my breath. We have been working on this for almost one year (July, 2011) and I still get the electric feel when we see it again. I can’t wait to come home for good.

Entry driveway

When we arrived, we allowed Hurley to jump out and walk around the front yard while I walked down to let the caretakers know we were there. We then stepped into the front hall. As I stepped in, I realized that the air had not been turned on, so it was a little warm in the house. The second thing I noticed was how Hurley was reacting to the house. Now you have to understand Hurley is a very easy going dog. Nothing really affects him. He just goes with the flow. We have taken him to other places and homes and every time he was just himself, excited to be somewhere new. But this time, it was different. As he came in, he started to appear kind of skittish. His body was lower to the floor and he was walking as if he was afraid the floor would drop out from under him. I don’t think it was the floor, which is hardwood. We have hardwood at our current house and he grew up on them. But as we walked through the house, you could see he just wasn’t sure about it. And he had to look at every space in the house. When we went upstairs, he even nosed his way into a closet where the door was slightly ajar.

We decided to take him outside for water and to walk around outside. He ran as normal, nothing seems out of place. He loved the front circle and yard until he saw the back and the bluff overlooking the river.

Riverview from the balcony of the house

After being outside for a short time, we realized that he was getting over heated so we decided to take him up to the balcony for the breeze to try and cool him off. It didn’t work. So we walked back in and he walked to the other side of the upstairs hall and laid down on the landing. My husband and I agreed we need to cut it short to get him out of the heat, so I called for him to come. This is where it gets weird. He got up and started towards me and took a step off the landing. But he stopped half off the landing and just stood there. Now I have seen him do this before at our current house. My daughter who lives with us also has a cat that Hurley grew up with. If he is walking somewhere in the house and she is in the way, he will stop and wait for her to move. That is almost what he did. It was like he was waiting for someone or something to move. So I walked over to him and told him to come on. He moved around me, but walked to the far side of the wall opposite of the staircase and then made his way around to the top to head down. All I can say is weird.

Magnolias from the plantation

Brett and Hurley on the front portico

After we got back in the car and got some air on Hurley, we head to a local winery. There are two that are very close to the plantation and they are both really good! (I will post a blog about the winery soon) As we headed over to the winery, we came across (you guessed it) an antique store! I have been to this one before, but I talked my husband into stopping on the way back from the winery. Score again!! This time I found 5 new tea cups and a tea pot set. Once we reveal the plantation, I can tell you the name of this place. But I can tell you it is in a barn that belongs to an 85 year old man who has to be one of the coolest people to talk with. His favorite thing to say is, “Buy something so I don’t have to eat hot dogs tonight.” I love it!

After my last antique purchases of the long weekend (glad it wasn’t a week, I would be broke!) we headed over to a local candy store to see if they were open. This candy store (which I will reveal once we make the announcement) is one to die for! When you walk into this store, you immediately go into a diabetic coma! The aroma of chocolate is so thick here; you almost have to cut it with a knife! The owner has been in business for years. She makes chocolate confections that Willie Wonka would envy! She also makes cakes and pies people come five hours to get. She used to make wedding cakes, but her orders got to be so overwhelming she had to stop. But! We have come to an agreement that she will be making wedding cakes exclusively for our plantation. She won’t make any wedding cakes for anyone else!

However, when we arrived, we were greeted with a closed sign for her store. That’s okay; we will be back on Saturday!

New Hint!

Hint One:

Captain John Smith sailed up the river that runs by this plantation in 1608 and noted the Indian settlements along the river banks.

Hint Two:

George Washington was a frequent visitor to this plantation.

Hint Three:

It’s not Williamsburg or the area around Williamsburg.

Hint Four:

Two famous Virginians were born on this plantation. Both were very good with words.

Hint Five:  NEW!

The town located across the river from this plantation once was under consideration for Nation’s Capital.

Advice – Read other’s comments. If someone guesses correctly, I do tell them. The first hint has been answered correctly.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 85 Comments »