My Dear Sister

May. 13th 2014

My Dear Sister,

I am sorry that my letters have not been getting through these past years. While I have longed to talk to you, we have been restrained from sending our correspondence due to the war. But now that the fighting has ended, we are again at liberty to send them.

Much has changed since we last spoke. The war has taken much from us and I fear things will not be the same as it once was. It is hard for me to remember how we long thought we would escape this war as Mr. Turner and our son, George were neither of age to fight. Since the war, Mr. Turner seems to have aged so much. While he is just fifty-seven years old, he seems to have aged to much older through these last four years. One would think that it was 1885 instead of 1865 according to the lines on Mr. Turner’s face and the look of exhaustion.

Belle Grove Pan

Riverside of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

While other homes were not spared the invasion and destruction of either armies, our beloved Belle Grove Plantation still stands. But I don’t know if the loss of our home would not have been better than the terrible sight we witnessed as the Union army approached and took our home from us. We were only given a short time to collect what clothing and personal items we could and were forced to leave. How hard it was to gather my four, young daughters and son into the wagon we were allowed to take, never knowing if we would ever see Belle Grove Plantation or our fine things again. Taken from us were all of our livestock and slaves. One officer seeing the tears of our nine year old son, George, did allow him to take his small pony with him.  I think had it been a horse, George would not have been given such a gift.

john 2

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

john 3

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

We left Belle Grove Plantation to head to Chotank to be near our family. It was here that we stayed through the rest of the war. I have to say, dear sister that it was one of the most peaceful places we have been. We were away from the main fighting and were able to living without much fear.

It is my understanding that our home was also used as a headquarters during that time that the Union army held her. I must say, it is with thanks that they did use her as such for I am sure it would have been worse for Belle Grove. There is even a rumor that they used part of Belle Grove as a prison of war camp for a short time.

We have been able to return to Belle Grove Plantation, but it is not as it was before. Much of our fine personal items were stolen from our home. All the livestock have been taken or eaten. The slaves were taken from the plantation and used by the Union army or released. It seems such a different place than it was before. It is as if something had died, never to return again. Oh, will it ever be that grand place I once called home? I fear not. If it wasn’t for Mr. Turner, I think I would have rather stayed in Chotank.

Oh how I long for those days that seem so long ago. My memory of the beginning of the war, when our men were so sure. I did have the honor in meeting some of these great men just as the war started. General Robert E. Lee, whose old family home, Stratford Hall is yet but a day’s ride from Belle Grove Plantation, stopped by early to assure us that all would be far away from us and that we would not need to worry. He and General Stonewall Jackson, both made us feel that comfort we longed for. How sad was the news of General Jackson’s death early in the war.

Rich Johnson Lee 2

Rich Johnson - Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson Jackson - Lee

Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

RIch Johnson Lee

Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

Robert E Lee

Robert E Lee – Madge Haynes

 The 47th Virginia made a stop at Belle Grove as well. We offered them water and what food we had to give. Many soldiers walked up our lane throughout the time we were at Belle Grove Plantation, in need of water, food and a place to rest. It was our honor to be of what assistance we could.

Lee Jackson 47th

Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and 47th Virginia – Madge Haynes

Rich Johnson - 47th

47th Virginia – Gloria Sharp


47th Virginia – Mike L Cary

Rich Johnson - Soldier 2

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography – Gloria Sharp

Rich Johnson - Soldier

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier 2

General Bartow – Leslie

The one sight we soon learned to fear was that of the Union army gunboats. These steamboats were fitted for war and would sail up and down the river, firing their guns at whatever fancy they saw fit to shoot. Many of our plantation homes along the river have felt their guns and several home stand no more because of them. Once I received word that our family at Camden were fired upon. An officer from one of these gunboats arrived at their door asking if anyone was at home. Our dear cousin told him that she and her sick child along with their servants were the only ones at home. He reassured her that she was be safe and they would not harm her or her home. When the officer boarded his gunboat, the captain of that gunboat gave the command for them to fire upon the house. The officer that had spoken to our dear cousin protested telling the captain he had given his word that no harm would come to the home. The captain did not relent. As our dear cousin was laying her sick child down in her crib a shot broke through the nursery wall and nearly killed her. Had she not been laying over the crib, surely the shot would have struck her and killed her. They continued their barrage until our dear cousin’s tower on her beautiful home lay in ruins. Yet sad news still followed just a week later as our dear cousin’s child passed away in her arms.

Just as the war ended, we were yet pulled into another event that will forever be imprinted in my mind. In April, word traveled to us about the death of President Lincoln. Shortly after, we saw a sight that again brought fear to us as a group of Union soldiers once again rode up the lane at Belle Grove. We were informed that the assassin and his companion were in our mist and that the soldiers had been pursuing them for days. They required our front lawn to rest and eat before moving on the next day. One of these officers, Lt Col Conger, seemed in a very bad way. This officer had been wounded three times during the war and was having a hard time of this pursue. We allowed him to come into the front hall to rest and eat. My dear sister who would have ever guested that the famous actor, John Wilkes Booth would be the one to bring down our President! As I am sure you know, he did not survive Garrett’s Farm. I have heard that Lt Col Conger, the very one that slept in our hall, set Garrett’s barn on fire in hopes of smoking out the assassin. But before J Booth could exit, another soldier fired through the barn wall striking down J Booth forever.

Rich Johnson President Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson - Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier and lady of the house

Soldier and the Mistress of Belle Grove – Leslie

Today, I walk the bluff overlooking our river, hearing the sounds of the past years and longing for them to quit. I do not know if that will ever happen here or if it will ever be that grand place in my heart as it once was. But I pray and hope for it. Until then I continue to walk and watch for the end in my heart and head to finally come.

William Hutchins Gone with the Wind Belle Grove

Mistress of Belle Grove Plantation on the Riverside Bluff – William Hutchins

Your Loving Sister

Belle Grove Field

Fields of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

All the photographs were taken during our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. We would like to thank each of the photographers that gave of their time to capture our first Civil War event.

The re-enactors seen in the photographers all gave of their time for our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. They came short notice and helped us make the event such a great success. We wish to thank each of them for come and being a part of the event and hope to see them again next year. Next year, the event will be a weekend camp out and we hope to have several more units with us.

We would also like to thank all the volunteers who came and helped us. Without our volunteers, Belle Grove Plantation could not present our living history events as we do. You are so special to us!

The letter in this blog is a fiction letter written from the history we have uncovered over this past two years. It is told from the view of Susan Augusta Rose Turner, wife of Carolinus Turner and mistress of Belle Grove Plantation during the war. Susan did in fact have family in Chotank as well as the Pratt/Turner family at Camden. After the death of Carolinus Turner in 1876, she did not remain at Belle Grove Plantation. The plantation was willed to their four daughters and she moved back to Chotank. Whether it was for her own comfort or for whatever other reason, we do not know. It is a fiction thought that she might have wanted to leave after the events of the war at Belle Grove Plantation.

We also do not know if General Robert E. Lee or General Stonewall Jackson ever came to Belle Grove Plantation. It was added to the letter so we could show the photographs of our re-enactors. We do know that the Turner Family was forced from the home and their home, belongings and livestock were taken. It was through family information that we found that George was allowed to take his horse. We assume that it was a pony because a true horse would have more than likely been kept. We also believe that Belle Grove was held as a headquarters for the Union Army. One reason was that the house has never had any bullets holes, shots or cannon ball scaring. Another reason is we have found Union “drop bullets” at the base of one of the outside staircases and at the white entry fence. One last clue was in the pardon letter from Carolinus Turner to President Johnson. In this letter, Carolinus speaks of knowing General Burnside. While we still haven’t confirmed the thought that is was a headquarters or even a POW camp, we believe that the clues do lean that way.

We would like to say that they letter is written from the view of someone that lived through and lived after the Civil War. The reference to the actions of either Union or Confederate armies or the reference to slaves does not reflect our belief and is used only to show what Susan’s feelings may have been. Again, this is a written fiction letter and not intended to be taken as fact.

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

A Visit to the White House

Jan. 29th 2013


The Museum of the Confederacy
Richmond, Virginia

On Saturday, January 12th, I headed to Richmond to do some more research and to work on adding to our “Virginia Traveler Passport” that is being sponsored by the Virginia Executive Mansion. I decided it was time to visit the White House.

No… not that White House.


White House of the Confederacy
Richmond, Virginia

I am speaking of the White House of the Confederacy located in Richmond, Virginia. It stands next door to the Museum of the Confederacy. It was funny that I selected this day to visit there because the Museum was celebrating Lee-Jackson Day, which was just the day before.

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson

Lee-Jackson Day is a holiday celebrating the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Celebrated in the Commonwealth of Virginia, this holiday was originally created in 1889 to celebrate Lee’s birthday. Stonewall Jackson’s name was added to the holiday in 1904. In 1983, the holiday was merged with the new federal holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day to become Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia. However this merge was reverted in 2000. Lee-Jackson Day is now observed on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is the third Monday in January.

The Museum of the Confederacy was opened on February 22, 1896. Before the current museum was opened, the museum items were housed in the White House of the Confederacy. Started by influential Richmond society ladies, Isabel Maury, Ann Crenshaw Grant and Isobel Stewart Bryan, their work with the Relics Committee was instrumental in securing much of the Museum’s current collection. Even today, through the Isabel Maury Planned Giving Society this spirit continues.

This Museum houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of artifacts, personal effects and other memoriabilia related to the Confederacy. Among these are the provisional Confederate Constitution and the Great Seal of the Confederacy.

Hat Worn by Robert E. Lee

Hat Worn by Robert E. Lee

Enamel, Brass and Silver Dagger found on the Union Retreat Route

Enamel, Brass and Silver Dagger
found on the Union Retreat Route

Field Notebook of Captain James Keith Boswell

Field Notebook of Captain James Keith Boswell

One of the most notable items in the Museum’s collection is over 500 original, wartime, battle flags that were carried by the Confederate Army. Flags were donated by veterans in the early years of the Museum. Other regimental flags that were captured during the war and housed in the archives of the U.S. War Department were formally transferred to the Museum either by Act of the U.S. Congress or by Act of the Virginia General Assembly, depending on the level of unit identification of the flag.




This current building was built and opened in 1976 to better preserve and exhibit the Museum’s collections. It was build adjacent to the White House and covers ¾ acres of the property. Adorning the front entry to the Museum is the anchor of the first ironclad warship, CSS Virginia which fought the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862.

This Museum has seen over 5 million visitors since its first opening in 1896. President Theodore Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are among the famous visitors to the Museum.


White House of the Confederacy
Richmond, Virginia

The White House of the Confederacy is located just next door to the Museum. It is a gray stuccoed neoclassical mansion that was built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, who was the president of the Bank of Virginia. It was designed by Robert Mills and served as Mr. Brockenbrough’s previate residence located in the affluenet Shocke Hill neighborhood in the early nineteen century Richmond. Shocke Hill, later known as Court End was two blocks north of the Virginia State Capital.

Drawing Rooms

Drawing Rooms

Front Foyer

Front Foyer

Dinning Room

Dinning Room





The home was sold by the Brockenbrough family in 1844 and passed through a succession of wealthy families throughout antebellum period, including U.S. Congressman and future Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. Just prior to the Civil War, Lewis Dabney Crenshaw purchased the home and added a third floor. He would later sell the home to the City of Richmond, which in turn rented it to the Confederate government as its Executive Mansion.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

In August 1861, Jefferson Davis and his family moved into the home and would lived there for the remainder of the war. Jefferson Davis suffered from recurring bouts of malaria, facial neuralgia, a cataract in his left eye, bone spurs in his heel from his time in the Mexican War and insomnia. Due to his illnesses, he would maintain a home office on the second floor of the White House. This was not an unusual practice at that time. The West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C wasn’t added until the Theodore Roosevelt administration. President Davis’ personal secretary, Colonel Burton Harrison also lived in the house.

Mrs Davis

Varina Davis

When the Davis family moved into the home, they consisted of the President and First Lady Varina, six year old Margaret, four year old Jefferson Davis Jr. and two year old Joseph. William Davis would later be born in the White House in 1861 and Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis would later join the family in 1864. From the stories told by the tour guide, the Davis children were an unruly bunch. President and Mrs. Davis didn’t believe in punishment and allowed the children to run wild within the home. One story tells us how Jefferson Davis Jr. use to stand in the front window overlooking the front door of the home cursing at visitors as they waited for the servant to answer the door. Another story tells us of a small cannon toy that was given to the two Davis boys that would fire real gunpowder. The boys were said to dress in their Confederate uniforms and stand out back firing their little cannon. No word if anyone was harmed in this little “battle”, but it is said that the cannon would raise the neighbors.

Davis Children

Davis Children

None of the Davis boys would live to marry and have children. Joseph Davis would die in the spring of 1864. It is believe he was tight rope walking the railing around the portio and fell 15 feet to his death at the age of five. William would pass away in 1872 of diphtheria at the age of eleven. Jefferson Davis Jr would pass away in 1878 of yellow fever at the age of twenty-one.

Jefferson Davis Jr

Jefferson Davis Jr

Winnie Davis

Winnie Davis

The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. Within twelve hours, the Union army seized the former Confederate White House intact. President Lincoln, who was in nearby City Point, now known as Hopewell, Virginia, would travel up the James River to tour the captured city. He would visit Davis’ former residence for about three hours, but would only tour the first floor of the home, feeling it improper to visit the more private second floor of another man’s home. Later a number of meetings would be held in the home with local officials.

South Portico with Maj Gen E.O.C. Ord and staff

South Portico with Maj Gen E.O.C. Ord and staff

During Reconstruction, the White House of the Confederacy would serve as the headquarters for the Military District Number One and was occasionally used as the residence of the commanding officer of the Department of Virginia. When Reconstruction ended in October 1870, the City of Richmond took possession of the house and used it as Richmond Central School, one of the first public schools in postwar Richmond.

In 1890, the City of Richmond announced plans to demolish the building to make way for a more modern school building. This is when the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed with the sole purpose of saving the White House from destruction.

South Portico

South Portico

In 1976, after the new building for the Museum of the Confederacy opened, the White House was closed and was fully restored to its wartime appearance. This milestone restoration project was complete in 1988 and was giving high marks for the preservation, accuracy and richness of detail. It was reopened in June 1988 and now features extensive reproduction wall coverings and draperies as well as significant numbers of original White House furnishing from the Civil War Period.

Window on the South Portico

Window on the South Portico

To see more photos from the Museum of the Confederacy

Visit our Facebook Page!

Facebook Link

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 32 Comments »

Pardon Me

Sep. 29th 2012

As I started working on this post, it was just to be the last of the history I had of the Turner Family before we moved on to the 1900s. Little did I know that it would end up being so much more for us.

During my initial research, I had found a number of documents at the Library of Virginia on Belle Grove and the families that called it home. One of those documents was a copy of a Presidential Pardon from President Andrew Johnson to Carolinus Turner for his connection to the rebellious uprising of the South. I would later find out that the original copy is stored in the archives of the King George Library. Currently the King George Library is undergoing some remodeling so I have not been able to visit and view any of their archives.

Copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon
Library of Virginia
Their copy was dark so my copy is not as clear

One thing that has eluded me has been what connection Carolinus Turner and his family had with the Confederate Forces and what happened to Belle Grove and his family during the Civil War. I have known that most of the area of King George County and Port Royal were primarily Confederate. When I was at the King George Historic Museum, I had come across a document from the Confederate Memorial Association of King George County Virginia with a list of members that included Carolinus Turner. But with this evidence, a couple of things left me truly puzzled.

Confederate Memorial Association
Carolinus Turner’s name is listed
King George History Museum

First, Carolinus would have been in his early fifties when the Civil War started. He also had a very young family. All of his children, including his only son were under 15 years old. At this age, would he have been able to serve as a soldier? Also, during the restoration of Belle Grove from 1997 to 2003, no evidence was found that would indicate that the house had ever been shot at during the war. This was really hard to believe considering that all the plantation homes along the Rappahannock River had either been damaged or destroyed by shots fired from Union gunboats. Why wasn’t Belle Grove scarred by this war?

Here is a little bit of background information on these Presidential pardons that occurred during and after the Civil War. I discovered a wonderful essay by Dr. William Long that best explains the pardons. With his permission, I will be sharing some of that essay with you. You can find the whole essay on his website at

During and after the Civil War, Federal officials recognized the need for new laws to deal with the rebellious acts by most of the Southern population. There were two acts passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862 that fixed penalties for the lesser crimes of “conspiracy” and “rebellion”. The second act also provided for future pardons and amnesty to those who participated in the rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln

The first amnesty proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on December 8, 1863. It extended pardons to persons taking an oath to support the Constitution and the Union and to abide by all Federal laws and proclamations in reference to slavery made during the war.

“During the Civil War many statutes were passed which allowed punishment and confiscation of land of people who fought against the Federal government on the side of the Confederacy. The most important law to this effect was the Second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862. It assessed penalties for treason (not less than five years in prison or $10,000 fine, with the maximum penalty being death) and for insurrection against the US (not exceeding $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail), as well as the liberation of his slaves and the confiscation of his property. But, significantly, the Congress also approved Sec. 13 of the bill, which provided as follows:

“That the President is hereby authorized, at any time hereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such time and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.”

This, then, provides the legal framework and basis for Presidential pardon in the Civil War Era.”

“Just as Abraham Lincoln waited until a propitious time (the Union victory at Antietam in Sept. 1862) to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, so he waited until he felt the tide was largely turned in the war to issue his first amnesty/pardon proclamation. In addition, this amnesty proclamation was coupled with a plan for reconstruction. Thus, amnesty and reconstruction would always go hand in hand in Lincoln’s mind. The first proclamation was made on December 8, 1863. In order to get people to resume their allegiance to the United States, Lincoln proclaimed:

“I Abraham proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath and thence-forward keep and maintain such oath inviolate…” (Quoted in Dorris, Pardon and Amnesty under Lincoln and Johnson, 34).

Before getting to the actual words of the oath, a few points should be made. Note that the person who is seeking pardon will not have slaves (an example of property) restored to them. Other legislative acts said that no compensation for loss of slaves would accrue to former slaveholders. The meaning of “rights of third parties” in property issues simply means that where title has passed legitimately to other parties–bona fide purchasers– the person applying for pardon didn’t receive back that land.

Then there is the oath. It is quite wordy, but let’s hear it:

“I ______________ do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and Union of the States thereunder; and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far not repealed, modified, or held void by Congress or by decision of the Supreme Court…(another similar phrase followed regarding “proclamations of the President”)…So help me God!”

From an Essay by Dr. William Long

Robert E. Lee

One interesting note on Confederate Presidential Pardons is the Pardon for Robert E. Lee. Lee applied for a Presidential Pardon under President Andrew Johnson, however it was never approved. The reason was that the Oath of Allegiance was said to be missing from his application. After Lee’s death, his oath of allegiance was found, misfiled (possibly by someone who didn’t want to see him pardoned). Lee was indicted for treason in June, 1865, but it was never acted on. Lee’s citizenship was restored by Congressional resolution and a pardon was granted posthumously effective 13 June 1975 by Gerald R. Ford.

Andrew Johnson

As I said before, I had come across a copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon. When I started working on this post, I pulled up information on Civil War Presidential Pardons. When I did, came across a new resource for military records. There I found something I never thought I would see; Carolinus Turner’s handwritten application for Amnesty for his part in the rebellious uprising! I couldn’t believe it! This letter gave me insight into his part in the war and possibly Belle Grove’s part in the war!

Carolinus Turner’s Handwritten Application Letter
page 2

Here is what the letter says:

Port Conway, King George Co. VA

July 20, 1865

His Excellency Andrew Johnson

President of the United States


I have the honor to make application for pardon and protection of property under your Amnesty Proclamation of May 29th 1865.

Neither I nor any member of my family have taken part in the rebellion or sympathized with its abettors. I represent property the taxable value of which may be estimated at more than twenty thousand (20,000) dollars. I am fifty two (52) years of age and with my wife and children (four (4) girls and one (1) boy under twelve (12) years of age have remained throughout the entire war quietly at my  home which for a great part of the time has been within the lines of the United States Army.

During this period I made the acquaintance of many officers of the United States Services some of whom I beg leave to refer your Excellency (via?) Gen G Burnside, U.S. Army Gen Abercrombie and Acting Master G.C. Shulze U.S. Navy who has been in command of this Station for the last year and a half. I would also beg to refer you to Captain William Jameson U.S. Navy an uncle of my wife.

Hoping that this may meet with your favorable consideration.

I am Sir

With Great Respect

Your Obedient Servant

Carolinus Turner

In this record, there is also a handwritten Oath of Allegiance by Carolinus Turner and a copy of the witness by the Provost Marshall’s Office in Tappahannock, Virginia. One last sheet of paper shows that Carolinus Turner was recommended for pardon.

From this I am guessing that Carolinus was in fact too old to serve in the military and that he and his young family did remain at Belle Grove throughout the war. This also shows that the Union Forces were in fact in Port Conway through most of the war. This would lead me to believe that Belle Grove may have served as a headquarters, which was one of our theories!

It also tells us that General Burnside and General Abercrombie visited the plantation where Carolinus and his family lived. Wow to know that well known Generals of the Civil War walked here! But here is a funny twist. While Generals of the Union Army were spending their time at Belle Grove, Confederate Generals such as General J.E.B. Stewart were being hosted by the granddaughters of the man who built Belle Grove for his daughter, at his home, Rose Hill Plantation (also known as Gaymont during the Civil War). Rose Hill Plantation sits high on a hill across the Rappahannock River, with a clear view of Belle Grove. We think that he placed his plantation on the hill so he could look after his daughter and her plantation (Belle Grove).

General Ambrose Burnside

General John Abercrombie

The discovery of Mr. Turner’s letter may help us find out whose the name is etched in the window is under Carrie Turner’s name! If Belle Grove was used as a headquarters for the Union Army, maybe W. Vanderburgh was a young Union soldier that she met while he was there! I think we might need to get History Detectives involved on this one!

Etching in the Window
Carrie Turner
W Van der burgh
May 18 1869

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 36 Comments »

Surprises around every corner… part two of four parts

Aug. 1st 2012

View of the Mountain Range
Hite Family Cemetery

From the Hite Family cemetery, we headed out to find a place to stay for the night. We ended up in Winchester, Virginia. As we drove we used my cell phone to look for bed and breakfast locations. There we found three and chose to stay in the oldest place.

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

This was the Nancy Shepherd Inn. The history of this inn according to the inn’s website is:

“The Nancy Shepherd House Inn was built as a dwelling in the 1700s on the south end of Winchester’s main street, lot 213 on South Loudoun Street. So far, our earliest findings of its existence are from insurance policies from 1792, but it was certainly built much earlier. In 1792 the building was listed as a one-story wooden dwelling.

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

It is constructed of log and was originally one and a half stories high with two rooms and a large central chimney. In 1798, the house was bought by Robert Cochran who considerably enlarged and embellished it for the purpose of an ordinary or tavern. He also added the fine moldings and a grand three-story staircase.

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

Nancy Shepherd Inn
Winchester, Virginia

In 1814, the inn, now enlarged and greatly improved, was passed on by Robert Cochran to his daughter, Mary (then Mary Schenck), for $500. She, her husbands, and her children ran the inn until it was sold to O. M. Brown for $1,500 in 1840, a considerable amount of money at the time, indicating that the business was quite successful.

Front Parlor
Nancy Shepherd Inn

The property remained a thriving tavern until the war, but since Winchester repeatedly changed hands between union and confederate forces, the local economy was crushed and so was the tavern business. During the war, the building was used as a rooming house for occupying soldiers of both sides, and also as a hospital for the injured from surrounding battles. By the end of the war the property was listed in city records as a “two story wooden tenement”. After its glorious pre-war days as an inn, the building began a slow process of deterioration as it changed owners over the years. From the 1860s until we acquired it, Robert Cochran’s old tavern remained a rooming house or multi-unit apartment building. To this day, it has not been a single family dwelling since 1798!

Dining Room
Nancy Shepherd Inn

The property was bought at public auction on the Winchester courthouse steps in early 1987 by Nancy Shepherd McLaughlin who realized that most of the building’s original fabric still lay intact under aluminum siding, dropped ceilings, drywall, and plywood & carpet floors. She decided that its preservation was critical and that it was too important to allow it to continue to deteriorate. Her mission was to bring the tavern back to life as a historic B&B inn, just as it had originally been during it grandest days between 1798-1861.

Wood Floor
Nancy Shepherd Inn

Nancy Shepherd McLaughlin (1927-1996) put her son David in charge of the restoration. David has had a life-long interest in the preservation of America’s early buildings. As the steward of the Nancy Shepherd House Inn, he has worked non-stop for twenty years making the old tavern suitable for a true historic bed & breakfast inn, undoing alterations and unsympathetic modernizations. He has brought it back to its early 19th century state, preserving everything that is original from the Robert Cochran period, and has done so without removing its essence of ‘old.’”

Back Parlor
Nancy Shepherd Inn

We met David and he walked us through this wonderful old building. It is filled with antiques from David’s family. Our room, located on the second floor was very comfortable. Unlike the grand rooms we have been staying in, this room had charm and atmosphere. It wasn’t large and gave us the feeling of what it would have been like staying in a tavern inn. Our bath was just across the hall and would have been a shared bath if another guest had been staying on the same floor. But since we were the only ones on the second floor, we had it to ourselves.

Our Room
Nancy Shepherd Inn

After showing us the room, David informed us that he was on his way to a concert he was performing in with friends just a town over from Winchester. He walked me through the house and showed me the kitchen area where he invited me to take anything we needed. As we were walking through, his friends were in the front parlor room playing banjo and preparing for their night. They were playing folk music at the concert. What a treat to hear the music and to see such a wonderful place.

Front Door
Nancy Shepherd Inn

Once David left, Brett decided to take a quick nap and I headed out to an antique mall I saw as we were coming over to the Inn. Sadly, I didn’t find any tea items to add to my collection. When I arrived back to the Inn, Brett was just waking. Our bed was like a Tempurpedic, but not a name brand Tempurpedic. It was glorious! We have a Tempurpedic at home so when we travel now, I find it hard to go back to a spring bed. I end up with sore spots from the springs. I think we could have slept the whole next day because it was so comfortable. Brett and I have been talking about what mattress to purchase for the plantation and I am sure we have to have at least two Tempurpedics.

Old Towne Walking Mall
Winchester, Virginia

We headed out to find some dinner at the Winchester Pedestrian Mall. This mall is located on Loudon Street and is about three or four blocks that has been closed off and is now a nice open air mall area. We have been here before, so we had a good idea where we wanted to go. It was up to two choices, Union Jacks, which is a British Pub and Violino’s Italian Restaurant. We had eaten at Union Jacks before, but never at Violino’s so we head that direction.

Godfrey Miller House – Built in 1785
Old Towne Walking Mall
Winchester, Virginia

As you walk down the mall, you can see limestone buildings dating back to the 1700s, brick building dating to the 1800s and early 1900s. There is a courthouse which is now a Civil War Museum as well. We stopped there first to check the hours, which we found that they would be open until 9pm, just for a special night that night. So off to dinner and we would return to see the museum after.

Winchester, Virginia

Violino’s was quite the place. It is fine dining, but it is open for both formal, business casual and street wear. Brett and I were in blue jeans. The atmosphere is wonderful. They have both indoor and outdoor dining. The wait staff went over and above in their service. As we walked up to the door, the hostess opened it before I could and welcomed us. We had a cozy table for two and were surrounded by Italian pictures and musical instruments hanging on the wall.

After reading the menu, our waitress tempted us with delicious specials of which we tried one of the appetizers. This plate was fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mascarpone and mozzarella cheese, a zucchini fritter, caramelized figs and fresh slices of tomatoes. As we delighted in this appetizer plate, I heard someone walk by with a strong Italian accent.

Brett and I have friends who own an Italian restaurant here in Chesapeake that are from Sicily, so we are familiar with that accent. I asked our waitress if it was one of the owners and if she was from Italy. She told us that it was an owner and she was from Italy, but wasn’t sure where. So she asked the owner, who came to our table to talk with us. Her name was Marcella and she was from Torino, Italy in the Northern Region. She told us that her husband, Franco was the chef and he was from Friuli, Italy. Brett has traveled to Italy with his job in the Navy and his current job so he and Marcella were able to talk about places in Italy that he had been and food he had eaten. We talked with her about why we were in the area and about our Belle Grove. She told us that she would love to come see us once we opened and that she and her husband would jump on the motorcycles and take a ride over soon.

Our dinner came shortly after our conversation with Marcella. Brett ordered the basic spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and I had manicotti filled with ricotta cheese and asparagus and topped with a cream sauce, fresh basil, pine nuts and red currants. What a meal! It was beyond delicious! As I sat there enjoying the meal, I was working out in my head how to make this dish into a savory breakfast dish. So I am going to make it using crepes instead of pasta and call it “Crepes Marcella”. So next week, you may see my new menu item!

We finished up and were offered desert. As wewere eating, we had seen the deserts coming by and could not say no. We decided on the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Raspberry and Whip Cream. It was heavenly! What made it even better was as we were eating our desert, they had a violinist come out and play. It was a great dinner!

Winchester, Virginia

Old Courthouse Civil War Museum
Winchester, Virginia

After dinner, we headed over to the Courthouse Civil War Museum. The Courthouse was built in 1840 on the site of the previous 1741 Courthouse. The tour started with a small speech located in the court room of the courthouse. The room reminded me of the courtroom in the movie “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson. You could almost see him standing there expressing his views. After the speech, I was able to talk to the director and we talked about how the Civil War affected the Winchester area compared to our plantation. Afterwards we headed upstairs for a self guided tour of the artifacts and history of this area.

Old Courthouse Civil War Museum
Winchester, Virginia

Old Courthouse Civil War Museum
Winchester, Virginia

During the Civil War, Winchester, just like Belle Grove in Middletown, Virginia, exchanged hands many times. Most of the local buildings and churches in the area were destroyed by the Union army. The courthouse had been spared and had been used for a hospital and prison. When it was in the hands of the Union army, they had housed 1500 prisoners in the front yard area.

Civil War Cannon

The collection upstairs was a range of items from guns, cannons and artillery to personal items like belt buckles and buttons. One of the most interesting parts was the graffiti that the soldiers left behind. During the restoration of the courthouse, they have preserved this graffiti and have it on view to the public.

Civil War Graffiti
Old Courthouse Civil War Museum

Civil War Graffiti
Old Courthouse Civil War Museum

Civil War Graffiti – Jefferson Davis Curse
Old Courthouse Civil War Museum

One of the most interesting pieces was a curse on Jefferson Davis. It reads as follows:

“To Jeff Davis -May he be set afloat on a boat without compass or rudder then that any contents be swallowed by a shark the shark by a whale whale in the devils belly and the devil in hell the gates locked the key lost and further may he be put in the northwest corner with a south east wind blowing ashes in his eyes for all eternity.”

As we walked out, I felt sad by the loss of so many. You know Brett and I poke fun at each other because he was born in the North and I was born in the South. He likes to point out that they were the ones who won. But you know I don’t look at it that way anymore. I look at it as we all lost. So many died, so many came back without arms and legs and families were torn apart. It truly was a sad part of our history.

Confederate Memorial
Front Lawn – Old Courthouse Civil War Museum
Winchester, Virginia

We arrived back at the Inn and settled down for the night. Our room was without television so I grabbed a book and settled into bed to read for awhile. As I lay there, I realized how quiet and peaceful this place was. I tried to imagine what it would have been like with the Inn and Tavern next door to each other and how the people who came to stay felt. I thought about the solders from the Civil War that hid out in the Inn. One thing David had told us was that they had found both Union and Confederate uniforms stuffed into the walls. I thought about the fear of discovery for those men. And what the owners felt as they watched this drama unfold around them.

I finally turned the light off and drafted to sleep. This time, my mind wasn’t racing with the thoughts of what we needed to do for our Belle Grove. This time, it was quiet and peaceful.

The Story Continues Tomorrow…

Going Sky High!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 18 Comments »

Surprises around every corner… part one of four parts

Aug. 1st 2012

Special Note:

There was so much that happened this long weekend, it is going to take me four postings to get it all in.

I will tell you the last post will have the most exciting part!

After a very busy week at my current job, I decided it was time for a long weekend. So Brett and I took Monday off and set off on a grand weekend. The best part of the weekend was that we had nothing planned. We took it moment by moment. And I have to tell you, it was wonderful!

Belle Grove Plantation
Middletown, Virginia

When Friday rolled around, I knew that I wanted to head up to Middletown, Virginia. This is the location of the Belle Grove Plantation that was owned by James Madison’s sister, Nelly Madison Hite. It was in part the location that started us on our search for our bed and breakfast.

This plantation got its start with Jost Hite, a German immigrant who came to the Shenandoah Valley in 1732 with his partner Robert McKay to settle on 140,000 acres with sixteen other families. These acres were acquired through two land grants. In 1770, Isaac Hite Sr. purchased 483 acres that would become the Belle Grove Plantation.

Old Hall foundation
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

The grand manor house was not the first home on this plantation. There was a large limestone home that was built around 1750 for a tenant farmer. The foundation of this home, later called “Old Hall” can still be seen next to the smokehouse. It was in this house that James Madison brought Dolley to for their honeymoon.

Belle Grove Plantation
Middletown, Virginia

Isaac Hite Sr.’s son, Isaac Hite Jr, who attended William and Mary College and served during the American Revolution, married Nelly Conway Madison, sister of James Madison in 1783. Major Hite’s father gave the couple the 483 acres as a wedding gift. The manor house was started in 1794 and took three years to complete. It was through his brother-in-law James Madison friendship with Thomas Jefferson that Major Hite was able to consult with Mr. Jefferson on the design of Belle Grove. Mr. Jefferson’s influence is seen in the final design.  The manor house is built of limestone that was quarried from the property. It is said that Nelly named the plantation “Belle Grove” after our Belle Grove Plantation in Port Conway, Virginia.

Sadly Nelly Madison Hite would not live very long in this beautiful manor. She passed away in 1803, just six years after its competitions. From my research Major Hite and Nelly had three children:

James Hite Jr – Born January 29, 1793 – Died January 11, 1860

James Hite – Born April 10, 1788 – Died December 8, 1791

Nelly Conway Hite – Born December 1, 1789 – Died 1836

Nelly Madison Hite would be laid to rest in the family cemetery in Warren County. Major Hite would marry Ann Tustall Maury. With his three children with Nelly and another ten with Ann, Major Hite expanded his manor house to include a 100 foot façade to the west side of the house. He would also expand his land holdings to a total of 7,500 acres and would have 103 slaves. He would open and operate a general store, grist mill, saw mill and distillery. The house remained in the Hite family until Ann’s death in 1851.

View from the front stairs
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

After the Hite family, there were several owners. In 1907, the Brumback family purchased the plantation. In the 1920’s they would operate an inn. It was sold to Francis Welles Hunnewell of Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1929. He would carefully restore this manor house in the 1930s and 1940s and later bequeath the house and 100 acres along with a $100,000.00 endowment to the National Trust for Historic Preservation at his death in 1964. The plantation would open as a museum in 1967 and is still operating as a museum and working farm to this day.

Site of the Cedar Creek Battle (also known as the Battle of Belle Grove)
Front field of Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

According to Wikipedi, during the Civil War, this plantation was center stage for the Battle of Cedar Creek, also known as the Battle of Belle Grove. This battle was part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. During this campaign, this area would exchange hands 70 times! In one day it would exchange hands 13 times! This area of the Shenandoah Valley was important to both sides as it would have given a backdoor to either Washington D.C. or Richmond. During this time, General Philip Sheridan had burned his way through the Shenandoah Valley, destroying crops, livestock and homes, much like that of General Sherman’s march through the South.

Lieutenant General Jubal Early

On October 19, 1864 Lieutenant General Jubal Early launched a surprise attack against the encamped army of Major General Philip Sheridan, just across the Cedar Creek, just northeast of Strasburg, Virginia. During this fight, seven Union infantry divisions were forced to fall back and lost numerous prisoners and cannons. Lieutenant General Early failed to continue his attach north of Middletown and Major General Sheridan, dramatically ridding to the battlefield from Winchester, Virginia was able to rally his troops to hold a new defensive line. A Union counterattack that afternoon route LieutenantGeneral Early’s army.

Major General Philip Sheridan

The Final Confederate invasion of the North was effectively ended. The Confederacy was never again able to threaten Washington D.C. through the Shenandoah Valley, nor protect one of its key economic bases in Virginia.

Our visit to this plantation was even more special as the plantation was also hosting a Family Reunion for the Hite Family. I had hoped to meet someone from the Hite-Madison side of the family, but I kept just missing them. Brett and I were able to meet several of the wonderful museum docents that we shared our Belle Grove with and compared notes on the families.

Since Brett and I had been there, they had added several new exhibits as well as carpeting in the halls. Believe it or not, but Major Hite had full rooms of carpet in the dining room and main parlor! Major Hite was great at keeping records and had saved the receipt for these purchases. The museum was able to trace the purchase back to the company in England, who are still in business. This company reproduced these carpets and they were installed as they would have been during Major Hite’s time at Belle Grove.

Some other points of interest at Belle Grove are outside. In the mortar on the back door wall, you can see the signatures of Civil War soldiers that were encamped on Belle Grove. There is also a beautiful kitchen garden just behind the house. Down past the barn, you can also see a field of stones. This is the slave cemetery of Belle Grove. Each grave is marked by a single stone with no names or dates.

Cannon Ball hit to the front wall
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

View of the back of house from kitchen garden
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

Slave Cemetery
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

Stone marking the grave of a slave
Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

One last story of Belle Grove that is worth telling is the story of the death of Confederate Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur. After being mortally wounded during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Major General Ramseur was carried from the field to Belle Grove. There his Union friends Major General George Armstrong Custer, Colonel Wesley Merritt and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander C. Pennington, all whom he had met at West Point sat with him through the night comforting him as he lay dying.

Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur

Major General George Armstrong Custer

Colonel Wesley Merritt

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander C. Pennington

Once Brett and I finished walking around the house and remembering our first time at Belle Grove, we drove over to the Hite Family cemetery. I have to tell you this is not an easy find. It is located down a dirt road that runs along the river. If you didn’t know where to look, you would miss it. It is a small cemetery that has a flag pole in it center. Just as you walk in to cemetery through a modern chain link fence, you see a small grouping of tombstones to the back left. There towards the middle we found Nelly C. Hite. It first, I wondered why they had not placed her maiden name on the tombstone, but then I remembered that she had passed in 1803. Her brother would not rise to fame as the fourth president until 1809.

Story Continues Tomorrow

A Night in Winchester, Virginia

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 24 Comments »