Childhood Homes

Jun. 22nd 2012

Ferry Farm – Childhood Home of George Washington

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

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

Ashley – Ferry Farm

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

Ferry Farm

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

Ferry Farms

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

Ferry Farm

Jason and Mara – Ferry Farm

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

Artifact from Belle Grove – Printed Pearlware – 1807 to 1830

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

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

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

Ferry Farm

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

(Visit Ashley’s Blog and see what she is up to!

(Visit Ferry Farm’s web site!

Ferry Farm Garden

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

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

Cleydael – Back of House

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

Cleydael – Front of House

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

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

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

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

Adventure to Ham Town

Jun. 10th 2012

Ok, after my disappointment with the lawyers, I need to do some retail therapy. This time, I decided to venture to a new place for some new finds. Brett and I have lived in Chesapeake, Virginia for 20 years now. But in all of this time, we have never gone to Smithfield, Virginia. Well, we have gone there, but only to someone’s house in the outlying areas. What we haven’t seen is the Historic District in downtown Smithfield. So our daughter, Alexa and I headed there for a day of fun. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Our plantation is not in or anywhere near Smithfield)

Smithfield, Virginia – Historic District – Main Street

Now you may know the name Smithfield from the hams that come from there. Paula Dean has recently started promoting them. (Brett asked me if we got to see Paula Dean while we were there. Sorry Brett, Paula is in Georgia.) But there is a whole different side of Smithfield we had yet to discover. According to the brochure “Smithfield Virginia, Historic Downtown District Walking Tour” that we picked up at the Visitors Center along Main Street here is a little about Smithfield:

“Born on the banks of the Pagan River and nurtured by the trade and commerce that sailed on its tides, Smithfield was, from its very beginning, a “river town” and its whole life and growth have been conditioned by the river. On our walking tour of Smithfield’s old town district, you will see a harmonious blend of the 18 century Colonial, Federal, Georgian and Victorian period houses and buildings side by side. Settled primarily by British merchants and ship’s captains, Smithfield, a river port town, thrived for more than 20 years as a British colony before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Today the town boasts fifteen houses that are authentically 18th century, ten of which are brick and ten of which pre-date the Revolutionary War. In the early 19th century, a number of excellent Federal period homes were built, but it was after the Civil War, in about 1876 that the big building boom began. It was in this era of steamboats and the flourishing peanut industry in Smithfield that many of the elaborate Victorian homes were erected. Their ostentatious elegance of turrets, towers, stained glass windows and steamboat Gothic trimmings is easily evident. After the Warascoyak Indians, the first person to own land was Arthur Smith in Isle of Wight County. On September 10, 1637, he patented 1,450 acres of Isle of Wight County, described as ‘a neck of land running southeast along a creek behind the Pagan Shore. It was Arthur Smith IV, who in 1750 had the land surveyed and laid off as a town. Smithfield derived its name from this Smith family, not from John Smith of Jamestown. The town consisted of four streets and 72 lots. The principal streets, as shown on the original plat, are now Main Street to Institute Street, South Church Street to the bridge at Smithfield Station, South Mason Street and Cedar Street from South Mason Street to South Church Street. Within two years after the town was established, 59 of the 72 lots had been sold, and before the Revolutionary War all of the lots were sold. Each lot sold for four pounds, six shillings.”

When Alexa and I arrived I was struck by the homes along Main Street. As you roll into town, first the homes and then store fronts greet you. It is everything you would imagine as a small town. The first place we stopped was “Smithfield Gourmet Bakery & Cafe”. This cafe was in a small older building that once served as a retail store. We were greeted by the wait staff as they rushed to help the large number of guests in and outside the cafe. We were seated in the front window area, which gave us a good view of the street and traffic that passed by. This cafe served some of the best food! And it was not little town style food you might expect. The chef created a sandwich for me of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and focaccia bread. Alexa had a turkey and roast beef with cheddar cheese on focaccia bread. The bread was made fresh and tasted it!

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella on Focacia Bread – Smithfield Gourmet Bakery and Cafe

After we finished we headed out to shop. Our first stop was “Laura & Lucy’s”. This was a large antique store that once served as a retail space for a large department style store. It was beautiful inside with items arranged in “room” settings. I think I could have bought almost everything in there.

After this stop, we headed to the next shop, “Return Engagement Antiques and Consignments. This store was in an old house along Main Street. Each room was set up as a store area for consignments. Here we walked the main floor, then headed down into the basement. There I found our first find of the day. A beautiful blue salad plate.

Then we headed back up to the top floor up some of the narrowest, steepest stairs I have ever climbed. At the top, Alexa and I got a little laugh that they had even used the bathroom as a store front.

Up here is where we found our second find of the day, a lovely pestle cup.

Next stop was the house next door, “Olive’s”, where I met Donna Lowery. Here we made a find we weren’t expecting! A gift for Brett for Father’s Day. Sitting on a shelf, tucked behind some other pieces was a blue, white and gold plate from Penn State University. Brett is really a devoted Ohio State fan, but just last year he completed his masters from Penn State. So we thought this would be something neat he could place on his desk. Donna was very helpful! We talked about our B&B and she let me know that she could help us locate some of the items for the house. We look forward to talking to her soon!

We headed down Main Street towards more shops, but took a moment to enjoy the beautiful old homes along the way. Brett and I have a passion about old homes. Our first home was built in 1885 and we spent our first two years restoring it. So to see these homes brought back memories of our old historic neighborhood.

Our next stop had to be one of our most pleasant visits. We stopped at “Olde House Antiques” where we met Pasty Privott. Pasty warmly welcomed us as we walked up the stairs to her front porch. We explained our mission and she right away showed us in to view her wares. She pointed out pieces that she thought I would like and allowed me to wander around, looking for those just right pieces for our plantation. We found most of what we purchased here. While she checked us out, we had a grand conversation and I really look forward to returning to see her!

Our last stop of the day had to be one of our greatest surprises! We found a tea shop, “Olde World Tea Company” where we met the owner, Jacki. We discussed our needs for the plantation and she informed us that she could do some research and come up with a blend that they would have used back in 1790! What a great addition to our teas!

After our shopping, we strolled down Main Street and viewed the homes and took more pictures. The homes here all have great charm and we even found an Inn and a Bed and Breakfast! May be sometime soon, Brett and I will have to come back and do some more “research” before we jump into our own project.

Smithfield Inn

Mansion on Main Bed and Breakfast

Today, I did make one more trip out to look for more finds. This time, it was off to Norfolk and the Ghent Historic District. Here we found five more pieces to add.

All and all, therapy kept me busy and helped me forget, if only for moment that we are still waiting. Maybe this week will be the week! Fingers crossed and holding my breath!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 41 Comments »

We are almost there!

Jun. 6th 2012

Progress is happening!

First an update on our progress. Tomorrow we are meeting with an attorney to review some things for our LLC, which we have now! (Yay!) But we also are expecting a draft of the contract! (It’s about time!) If everything looks good and we don’t have to make any changes, we could be on our way by the first of next week! And we could be revealing the plantation this weekend! (fingers crossed)

I don’t know about you, but I am dying to tell! 

NEW Item for the Menu!

Tonight I made a Sweet Crepe with a sweet cream cheese filling with slices of bananas and topped with blueberry compote. I also added some fresh blueberries on top of the compote to give you that snap of the fresh berries with the smooth compote. No leftovers in our house!

Sweet Crepe with Bananas and Blueberries

NEW Antique Finds!

Sunday I had to go back to an antique mall in Virginia Beach to pick up a creamer that I missed with the tea set I purchased a few weeks ago. I ended up coming home with five new plates for the afternoon tea parties! We are making progress in finding the china that we need!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 79 Comments »