Our Tree has come Home

Aug. 7th 2013


Belle Grove Plantation

March 2013 – With our 200 year old Mulberry Tree

As most of you know that follow our blog, we had to cut down four of our trees on the plantation this year. It was a heart-breaking task because one of those trees was a 200 year old Mulberry. This tree stood here for 200 years and witness many of the historic events at the plantation. It was even standing when James Madison was alive.

Before we cut them down, we did look around for a good use of the wood. I just didn’t want to have it end there. I wanted to respect them and have their wood be something of value. In my search and thanks to one reader of our blog, we came into contact with two woodworkers who treasure “Witness Trees” and who work hard to preserve them. One woodworker is local to us and has taken a large trunk section to be milled and worked into a colonial style table for the mansion. The other woodworker is from New Jersey. He took several of the limbs and will be turning them into beautiful historic pens for us. Most of the wood is currently drying, but The Historic Pen Company was able to dry some of the wood through a faster method so they could produce a few pens now.

Today, I was surprised by a package. When I opened it, I was thrilled to find one of these Historic Pens. 









Made from the 200 year old Mulberry Tree and engraved with our name and that of James Madison,

this pen will now sit proudly in our Grand Hallway for all to see.

My heart is truly thankful and tears fill my eyes as I look on this pen knowing that our tree has finally come home.

Bob DeMartino

Bob DeMartino


John Greco

Thank you so much to Bob DeMartino of the Historic Pen Company and to John Greco the Master Woodworker who turned our tree wood into a beautiful reminder of what history we have at Belle Grove Plantation!



To get your own Historic Pen made from our 200 year old Mulberry Tree

Please visit our Online Store on our Official Website!

Home Page


Part of the funds raised from the sell of these pens will benefit our 1720 Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 21 Comments »

A New View

Jul. 26th 2013

We have taken thousands of photographs of Belle Grove Plantation over the last two years.

But one of them we haven’t gotten was from the river.

Last night, we were invited to come along on a boat trip by Jim from Port Royal.

He knew we wanted to see this view and took us out in his boat.

All I can say is….. WOW! 


It looks so much more beautiful looking at it the way the builders intended it to be viewed. You know, when it was built, all travel was by boat. So the riverside of Belle Grove Plantation is in fact the front of the Mansion. 

And what a view it was!






Just so you can understand the land between the Mansion and river.

Mansion’s Riverside is a River Plateau.

From the door to the first terrace is about a hundred yards.

Then we have two more terraces that are about 50 feet each.

Then we have a brush line that marks the drop off. This drop off is about 20 feet straight down to the waters edge.

Of course it didn’t hard that it was time for the sun to set too!


The James Madison Bridge.

Belle Grove is on the other side of the river and the other side of the bridge.

The Ferry that once worked from Port Conway is just to the right of the bridge on the other side of the river.





I normally don’t include out of focus pictures, but this one was just so pretty!


Make sure you watch Facebook and the Blog tonight!

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We have a HUGE Announcement coming!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 36 Comments »

Help Needed!!

Jun. 20th 2013


Okay everyone! I’m coming to you for some help!

As you know we had wanted to open our doors in March of this year, but hit a delay with the Special Exemption Permit.

Then we pushed our opening date to May 1st, only to once again but delayed.

Then we pushed our opening date to July 1st.

As of two days ago, we were informed that our seamstress wasn’t going to be able to start for 8 WEEKS!

Of course that wasn’t good, so our design team worked hard to find a new seamstress, which they did.

But the only problem is she can’t start for 4 WEEKS!

So we are now facing yet another set back on our opening date. (deep breath…)

So we are coming to you for help.

We are looking for a seamtress or many seamtresses who knows how to make detailed curtains. Of course we didn’t select the easiest of window dressings. So you will need to have some experience to make these.

If you know anyone that is close to us in King George, Fredericksburg or Richmond, please ask them to email us at virginiaplantation@gmail.com.

They MUST be able to start now and

MUST be able to complete four rooms of windows before July 12th.

Thank you all for all your support!

It has meant so much to Brett and I!

We just want to get these doors open so you too can come and share in the beauty and elegance that is

Belle Grove Plantation!!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 12 Comments »

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

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Where in the World am I?

Jun. 12th 2013

Today our handyman guys were busy sanding and paint so I decided to escape the plantation along with the dust and flumes and head out on an adventure. As most you know, when I go on an adventure, I don’t go with a plan. I just point the car and head out. Today was a particularly good adventure!

If you are following us on Twitter and Instagram, you got to see some real time photos of where I have been. But here is the fun part, I didn’t reveal where I was! So for those of you who didn’t get to play, I am going to extend the fun to you!

Below are the photos I sent out with the expectation of the last. I didn’t send that one out to anyone. Today I am going to give you a chance to figure out “Where in the World Michelle was!”

In 24 hours, I will reveal where I was.

I will extend one clue…. I was in Virginia and within a half a day’s drive from Belle Grove.

Good Luck!

Nanzatico small

First Photo

Oaken Brow small

Second Photo

Ingleside Plantation small

Third Photo

Pope Creek small

Fourth Photo

(Yes those are cows standing in the water)

Oak Crest Vineyard small

Fifth Photo

(This one didn’t go out via Twitter or Instgram – It’s also the hardest to figure out)

To see more of our adventures

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“Virtual Housewarming Party”


Help us stock our historic library!

Thank you!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 10 Comments »

Retiring the Old Guard

Jun. 6th 2013

Belle Grove Plantation small

Today was a very interesting day at the plantation. I woke bright and early so I could get ready for the contractors to come in. First thing in the morning, I like to open the front and back Grand Hallway doors so people know I am up and here. As I opened the front door, I was greeted by Jasper and his family. They were up close to the front porch and I had to stand there and watch for a few minutes as they hopped around the yard eating the sweet grass.


I headed back to the kitchen to get my breakfast ready. I was surprise to see our deer standing by the wooded area eating. I have seen her every evening either there or back near the front gate. But I had never seen her in the morning. It was a nice surprise. So off I went cooking myself a quick breakfast.

As I moved around the kitchen, something darted pass the window near where the deer was feeding. I didn’t catch what it was so I moved over to the window. What a surprise I had! There standing next to their mother were twin fawns! It was the first time we have ever seen them. They were chasing each other and kicking up their heels. It was so precious!

deer 4

After breakfast, the contractors started arriving. We have had the handyman contractor here all week. His team has done an amazing job and is making good progress. We also had two volunteers here today. Terri and her son Nick came up from Richmond to lend a hand. Nick got out in the front and helped me transfer a plant from our front entry bed to the caretaker’s house. Terri helped Nick and also helped me clean some appliances in the kitchen. With my broken finger, it is a little harder to do things with water or dirt. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all that they did for me today!


Around 11am, MOTS Tree service arrived. You may remember them from our three trees that had to be cut down about a month or so ago. Matthew and his team did a wonderful job for us the first time. So when we knew that we had to take another tree down, they were who we wanted. I just love how Matthew takes the time to explain things to me and how sensitive he is to my desire to preserve the wood.


The tree that we had to cut down today was one that was located on the north Riverside of the Mansion. It became very apparent that it was no longer alive. While all the other trees have filled with their beautiful spring foliage, this Maple has stood bare.  So with a heavy heart, we scheduled MOTS to come out.

As they set up for the cutting, Terri, Nick and I watched from the back portico. They tied a line to one of the upper limbs and attached it to their truck. Then they pulled the line tight. This was to help bring down the tree where they wanted it. It was located between a line of trees on the bluff and the Mansion, so placement was very important.

Once the line was in place, they started cutting.

It took all of maybe five minutes for them to complete the cuts and bring down the tree.






It still amazes me the sound of the tree hitting the ground. It just sounds so massive. I had told Terri earlier that I wouldn’t cry this time. I knew it was dead and I worried that it might fall during some of these storms we have had lately and possible hit the house. So bring it down was a good thing. Still…. after that sound of it hitting the ground, the tears flowed. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I have come to love this plantation so much. It’s like someone taking something so special away from it. Terri gave me hugs and I was better.



Unlike the last time, we asked MOTS to clear the wood, grind the stump and remove the mulch. Last time, we cleared the wood and mulch. It took us four weeks with the help of some wonderful volunteers. This time, they had the wood cleared, the stump grinded down and the mulch removed within hours. It was wonderful! I have to say there is something about letting the professionals handle it. It was much better not having to face that pile again.


Before they started removing the wood, Terri pointed something wonderful out. The base of the tree where they cut it lay exposed after it fell. I came over to see if I could see the rings to figure its age. It is about 60 years old. That means it started growing in the 1950s.

But Terri pointed one thing out to me that I missed….


The base of the tree was shaped like a heart.

After she pointed it out, my heart broke again.

Not too long after, they finished cleaning up, packed up and left. Looking at the space where this wonderful old guard stood, you would never know that it was there. All that is left is a space of dirt. We held on to two pieces that we will place in the artifact boxes. We want to remember this tree. One that stood guard over this Mansion and the family that lived there deserves at least that.

To see more pictures of the trees of Belle Grove

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 34 Comments »

Meet the Bunnies of Belle Grove

Jun. 5th 2013


Something was tickling his nose. He raised his head and that was then he could feel the warm morning sun shining down on his little nest. The blades of grass dripped another drop of dew and it tickling his nose again. He quickly nuzzled down his head into the warm fur that his mother had placed for him just before he was born. He loved the warmth and smell of his mother. It made this little nest feel like home.

Suddenly he heard his name being called, “Jasper, it’s time to get up.” The sweet sound of his mother’s voice let him know that it was breakfast time. If anything could get Jasper up and going in the morning it was the thought of the sweet blades of grass and clover in the field beside the driveway.

Out he came, stretching and raising his face to the sun to warm him. Just as he stretched out his front paws, the attack came. It was on top of him before he could react. A hard thump and over he rolled. But it was the giggles of his sister, Alice that let him know that he was okay. “Alice! You scared me!” Jasper shouted at her as she made her escape. “I know. That’s why I did it.” She laughed and hurried to catch up with her mother and father as they made their way toward the driveway field.

Jasper thought about how he would get her later. As he raised his head, he could see over the bluff at the river that gentle flowed by this plantation. This morning a mist was raising off the water and made it look dreamy. Overhead he could hear the birds singing. There were hundreds of birds here of every shape and size. Cardinals, Robins, Woodpeckers, Sparrows, Blackbird and Finches all call this plantation home. There was even a pair of Osprey that nested here every year. Miss Dolley and Mr. James weren’t a danger Mother had said because they ate fish from the river. When the Osprey weren’t here, the Bald Eagles were. Mother said that they needed to be watchful with them.

River Morning Mist small

“Jasper, come on!” shouted his father, Francis. Jasper ran quickly to catch up. The field beside the driveway wasn’t far. They just had to come around the big house to get to it. They generally stayed close to this area, even though the fields were as far as the eyes could see. Jasper sometimes wondered what the grass on the other side tasted like. He had asked his mother, Sarah, but she had told him she didn’t know. She had said that they didn’t go over there. He had thought about asking his grandmother, Rebecca because she knew everything. She had been around this plantation for a long time and was the keeper of the history.

Grandma Rebecca had told him that his family had lived in this field for many, many years. Her stories had come down from generations of other bunnies that had lived before them. Jasper loved her stories and begged her to tell them often. Grandma Rebecca would talk to them as the nibbled on the clover. Maybe today she would tell them another story.


Just as Jasper rounded the corner, he stopped fast in his tracks. His family was standing very still and was laying low with their ears down. He knew this was a sign that danger was near. He was just a few feet from them, but to him it was miles away. He didn’t know what it was and he was scared.

It was just a minute later that he realized that one of those loud, moving things was passing by on the driveway. He didn’t know what it was, but it was loud. The sound broke that silence of this plantation and he didn’t like it. His father that told him that it was something that the humans used to move around in. He had seen them get into it and disappear. His father had warned Jasper and Alice to stay away from these humans. They were dangerous and could harm them. Hearing the noise from this big thing, Jasper believed his father.


A minute later and it was gone. The family of bunnies moved over to the field by the driveway to eat their breakfast. After a quick nibble of the grass, Jasper sighted his sister just a few feet away. She was taking a break alongside the driveway and enjoying the bright, warm sun. Jasper decided it was time for revenge. He crept up on her, slowly, one hop at a time, nibbling grass to throw her off. Slowly, slowly, he was almost there. Jasper lowered himself to get a good spring. One, two, three…. He jumped up high to pounce on her. Before he could land his jump, Alice had turned around and leaped back at him. Surprised, Jasper couldn’t react. Alice caught him mid-air and they fell back to the ground. She was on top of him and then she was gone. Jasper rose up and ran after her. They chased each other, laughing until they were worn out. Out of breath, they stopped and rested.

Mother and father were still nibbling on the grass. Alice had found a spot in the sun and was again nibbling on her favorite clover. Jasper had also found his place in the sun. Its warm rays heated his back and gave him that warm nest feeling. Before he knew it, he was drifting to sleep. As he closed his eyes, he thought to himself, “This is the best place in the world.”


To see more wildlife at Belle Grove Plantation

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Bunnies of Belle Grove | 20 Comments »

Such a Busy Week

Apr. 22nd 2013
The River from our back bluff at sunset

The River from our back bluff at sunset


Can you believe that I have been working at the plantation for two weeks now!

Time just seems to race by now!

Just to give you a quick update on what we have going on…

We are almost done with the contract proposal for the repairs and landscaping. We hope to be able to move forward with the work within the next week. Once work begins, we hope that we will be able to complete it quickly so we can fill the mansion with furnishings. Our interior designer is ready to run as soon as we have things ready.

We were to start on the driveway and parking area this week, but found out at the last minute that the State and County required two permits and a bond for the work. So we are working like crazy to get those into place so we can start the work.

Sadly, because of the delays in the repairs and such, we won’t be opening on May 1st! Our hopes are to be ready by the end of May. It would be nice to open before Memorial Day and the start of the Summer Travel Season. But this is what opening a business is like. Best laid plans don’t always come when we want.

This week, I will be away from the plantation. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I will be taking a Food Service Management course so I can be certified in this new area. So if I don’t reply back quickly please forgive me! I will be studying hard for my final exam on Thursday! Fingers Crossed!

After Thursday, if we don’t have a change in our schedule, I may head back to Chesapeake to see our kids and Hurley. Then we will head back to the plantation on Friday evening so we can be there, ready to go on Saturday. Maybe we can see about bring Hurley along.

Spring has arrived at Belle Grove!

Spring has arrived at Belle Grove!

How would you like to see Belle Grove before we open?


Here’s your chance!

We are going to be working on the grounds this weekend and would love to have some volunteers to help us if you can! We still have some debris from the trees to clear and bricks to pull from the riverside of the mansion. Bring your shovel, work gloves, chainsaws, lawn chairs and a brown bag lunch for a great day at the plantation! Church or Social Groups are more than welcome! We need all the help we can get to get things ready to go for the landscaping!


We also have free mulch from the trees available.

All you have to do is come on Saturday and load your truck!

Thank you again to all who voted for our “Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation”!


We are excited to be serving all of them at Belle Grove!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 35 Comments »

New Beginnings

Mar. 31st 2013


Happy Easter!

From Brett and Michelle Darnell



What a weekend and what wonderful meaning it truly has for us! It just seem prefect that on Friday, I left my corporate job to start a new chapter in our lives. Today, the air is a little warmer and the flowers are blooming, a true sign that Spring is finally here and new beginning for the land. And today, being Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, a new beginning for all.

While, we are so excited to be starting this chapter in our lives, I would be kidding you if I told you that I had no doubt in what is to come; no worries that it will turn out as we had hope. One thing I have enjoyed about this blog is that through it, I feel like I can show others what it really takes to step out of your comfort zone and to pursue your dreams. So I try to be as honest as I can, to tell you of the highs and the lows so that you understand what it has taken for us to get this far.

As we come into contact with people in our travels and daily lives, we talk about our blog as a source of information on the history of Belle Grove Plantation and the history of our progress to opening it to the public. We joke about it being our “reality show”. But unlike the “reality shows” you see on television that are mostly scripted drama, ours is as you read it.

I would be fooling you if I told you that I wake ever morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. The truth is I have been waking up a lot earlier with agendas running through my head.

“Who do I need to talk to today?”

“Will we be able to get the Osprey nest moved before they lay eggs?”

“Will the Osprey take to the new nest that we have built for them?”

“Will we find the right people to cut down our historic trees and use them for something good?”

“Will we get the grading done in time and the seed or sod down so we can open with beautiful green grass and not puddles of mud?”

“Will we get the final engineering plans for the storm water run-off approved through the Planning Commission and VDOT in time to get the parking area completed before opening day?”

“What plants do we want to use in the flower beds and are they something special and will look good?”

“Will I be able find the right china and flatware in time and within budget?”

“Who is going to paint the inside and make the repairs we need and keep us from going bankrupt before we even get started?”

“Are we going to be able to raise the funds we need before the Summer Kitchen or Smokehouse completely slide off their foundations?”

To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I slept sometimes. There aren’t answers to calm my mind and worries seem to creep up on me out of the blue. Sometimes I have to ask myself, “Am I crazy or just stupid?” (to borrow the line from Forrest Gump)

I think the only thing that keeps me sane, beside my wonderful husband and our many friends and readers that keep supporting us, is the fact that it has all seemed to work itself out as it should. Everything seems to just show up at the right time or we have been in the right place or met the right people. It was as if it was destined to be. As if it was God ordained.

I know we have readers from many backgrounds and beliefs so I don’t want to offend anyone. But as for Brett and I, we have been Christians from many years. So I pray each day, thanking God for the many blessings we have received. I tell him how I marvel at how He has worked things out just right. I also tell Brett that in my biggest moment of doubt, I stop and think to myself, “How could God bring us to this point only to allow us to fail.” It is after reminding me of that, that I find a renewed strength to push on.

So yes, I believe with all my heart we belong at Belle Grove Plantation. I believe that it will become something really special. And even in moments of doubt which are completely normal for anyone that is going through so much change, things will be okay. But the most important thing through it all is:

I Believe!


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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 59 Comments »

Decisions, Decisions

Mar. 5th 2013

crazy smiley

Wow, the last few days have been pretty much a blur for us! We had a last minute meeting at the plantation on Sunday and didn’t make it home until close to midnight. But the meeting was good and now we working on scheduling contractors to come in to do last minute minor repairs, painting, system changes, landscaping and furnishing the plantation.

Our goal is to get as much scheduled and done now before the March 19th Public Hearing so we can hit the ground running after that. The Public Hearing meeting on March 19th is the last one to get our final approval for zoning. After that, we can get our business license and get all the other stuff done.

Our Osprey Babies from 2012

Our Osprey Babies from 2012

We have our list going on what needs to be done to get the door open. First, we have to get the Osprey Nest removed from our chimney and moved to a new location. Hopefully we can get this done before they return for the year. The Osprey generally returns around March or April so our time is running out. There is an Osprey nest here in Chesapeake that is located within view of the highway. I have been watching that site for their return. This morning, I saw one of them! I just hope we aren’t too late!

The next thing we need to do is get all the systems checked out in the Mansion. This mansion was restored between 1997 and 2003 and had upgraded systems added. We are completely wired for anything and have a geo-thermal system. But since the restoration, no one has lived in the Mansion. So things didn’t get used.


We also need to do some painting inside and out. The Mansion has settled some over that last ten years and a few stress cracks have shown up on some of the archways. That is an easy fix. We also will be changing the color of two of the rooms. Outside, we just need to touch up some of the paint and repaint the rails white.

Sunset at Belle Grove

Sunset at Belle Grove

While all this is going, we have to get the contractor to install the new driveway, parking and storm water drainage. We also need to get the bricks out of the ground so we can get the grading on the grounds done. Then we need to install the sidewalks and arrival space with the bricks we pulled. There are also three trees we need to remove. Then there is the landscaping. We need to get our plan down and get the owner to approve it so when you arrive at the plantation, it will be beautiful again.

And while that is going, we have the interior designers working on getting the furnishing we want. Colors, fabrics, chairs, tables, beds, pictures and on and on! We also have to get with a book dealer to get our library stocked!

We also have to get the website finished and photographs done of the plantation for the website.


Then there are the decisions….

Do we want this color or that color? Do we like the flowers, trees and shrubs the landscaper has picked out? If not, we do we want? Do we want a gravel driveway or paved gravel or a tar and gravel driveway? Do we want to use brick or pavers for the sidewalk? When we get the trees cut down, what do we want to do with the wood? Where do we want the formal garden to start? What glasses do we want? Can we get the silverware we want to use? Antiques or reproductions?


These are the questions that are running through our minds these days.

We need your help!

We are going to ask for your advice every day or so on Facebook.

If you go to our fan page, you can help us pick out some of the things we are going to place in the Mansion!

It’s kind of like you are shopping with us!

Thank you for all your help!

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

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Please “Like” us and “Share” us with your Facebook Friends!

The more advice we get… the better we can make Belle Grove!

Don’t forget our Cookie Contest!

We have gotten some really great entries already!

Hurley has been licking the computer with all the wonderful recipes!

Hurley Taste Test

Click on James Madsion and find out how you can enter and win a $100 Visa Gift Card 

and be

The Official Belle Grove Plantation Cookie!

Cookie Contest Image

No Entry Fee, but Donations are very much appreciated for our Restoration Fund!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Food and Recipes, Hurley | 40 Comments »