Be in the “Know”

Sep. 6th 2013

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Do you like to be the first to know?

Well here’s your chance to be the first to know about Special Events and Offers at

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast!

We now have a new service that will allow us to send out Emails with our Monthly Newsletter, Special Events and Offers.

Please take a moment and sign up!

Through this service you will also receive Special Email Offers that won’t be available to any of our other media sites.

It’s quick and easy!

Please Share Our Website with your Family and Friends!

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Help us get the word out about Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 2 Comments »

She Has A Name!

Aug. 28th 2013

The Naming Contest is complete

and our elegant lady has a name . . .


Sara Elizabeth

Thank you to Suzanne W. for suggesting the name and to Dolley Madison for narrowing the choices to the top ten!

Let’s have more fun!

Now that Sara Elizabeth has a name, she needs history!



Belle Grove Plantation’s 1st Short Story Writing Contest!

Using our Lady’s new name and picture, we would like you to create a history for her.


1. The Short Story must be between 2,000 and 7,500 words.

2, The history must be set some time between 1670 to 1790.

3. She must have had some connection to Belle Grove Plantation and the families that were here during this period. See below for the time periods and family. You can’t change the course of history for these people.

1670 – Captain Anthony Savage, his wife Alice Stafford Savage and young daughter Alice. He also had an older daughter, Dorothy Savage Strother who was married and lived next door at Millbank Plantation with her husband, William Stother I. Belle Grove Plantation wasn’t called Belle Grove, but “Mangecemuzen” an Indian name. There was 1000 acres at the time of purchase in April.

1695 – At Captain Savage’s death – Granddaughter Margaret Thornton (daughter of Francis Thornton and Alice Savage Thornton’s daughter) who had married her first cousin, William Strother II at Millbank Plantation received 300 acres of the 1000 acres. The other 700 acres to Elizabeth Thornton Conway, second daughter of Francis Thornton and Alice Savage Thornton. By this time, Alice Savage had died in 1692.

1698 – Edwin Conway passes and Elizabeth Thornton Conway holds on to the property until their son, Francis Conway I becomes of age and inherits the property.

1717 – Francis Conway I and Rebecca Catlett Conway marry and Francis inherits the property.

1722 – Francis Conway I and his wife Rebecca Catlett Conway welcome their second child, Francis Conway II. Francis Conway II would inherit the property after the death of his mother in 1761.

1730 – Francis Conway I and his wife Rebecca Catlett Conway welcome their sixth and final child, Eleanor Rose Conway who is also known as Nelly. She would go on to marry James Madison Sr. when he comes to Port Royal to ship out his tobacco. She would return in 1751 to have James Madison Jr. at her mother’s home.

1736 – Francis Conway I passes. Rebecca will remarry to John Moore in 1737 and hold the property until her death in 1761. John Moore renames the plantation “Belle Grove”.

1748 – Francis Conway II and his wife Sarah welcome their first son, Francis Conway III.

1751 – Nelly returns to Belle Grove to have her first child, James Madison Jr. at her mother’s home. Her brother Francis Conway II and his wife Sarah also live there. Their home is just next door.

1761 – Rebecca Conway Moore passes. Francis Conway II also passes away this year. Francis Conway II’s wife Sarah remarries in 1765 and holds the property until her death.

1784 – Sarah Conway Taylor passes away and Belle Grove goes to Francis Conway III and his wife Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway.

1789 – Captain Francis Conway III (former Minuteman during the Revolutionary War) sets aside 13 acres of Belle Grove Plantation to establish the village of Port Conway.

1790 – Captain Francis Conway III sales Belle Grove Plantation, without the rights to Port Conway, to John Hipkins. John Hipkins would remove the Conway homes and build what is now the center section of the current mansion at Belle Grove Plantation for his only child, Francis (Fanny) Hipkins Bernard.

4. The contest will run for one month. It will start on Thursday, August 29th and end at 12:00am (eastern) September 30th.

5. All writings must be submitted in word document to our email address at

6. Submitted stories should be sent to We will confirm receiving it by email.

7. No stories will be entered if received after the deadline.

8. By submitting your story, you are giving up all rights to the story to Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

9. You agree to allow us to publish on blog, facebook or any other form media or paper your story including your name as author. Full credit for the writing will be given to you.

10. Any of the rules that are not met will cause your story to be rejected.

11. Include the following information with your Short Story:

Full Name


City – State – Zip

Phone where we can reach you:

Email Address


The Winning Short Story Prize

On October 5th, we will announce the winner of the Short Story Writing Contest on Facebook and our Blog. If you are selected, you will receive a Free Night in the Conway Junior Suite where our Lady now lives. We will also contact you by phone of your selection.

You story will be published on our blog and promoted throughout our media resources.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!!

To see what we are up to at the plantation

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Page!

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

Belle Grove Plantation Makes Press… Again!

Mar. 13th 2013
The entry drive to the Mansion

The entry drive to the Mansion

Just a few weeks ago, I did an interview for the King George Journal, a local newspaper in King George, Virginia. The article ran in their March 8, 2013 paper in a section for their 24th Annual Home & Craft Show. We were so excited and can’t tell you how much we appreciated the coverage!

The photos on this post were the ones that ran with the article.

You can read the piece below:

The Riverside of the Mansion at Sunset

The Riverside of the Mansion at Sunset

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Carolinus Turner, a Virginia planter who grew Belle Grove Plantation into a successful and grand estate, would gather friends and family on the mansion’s upstairs balcony overlooking the Rappahannock River for conversation and drinks at 5pm.

If Brett and Michelle Darnell have their way, and the King George Board of Supervisors approves their application for a special exception permit at their March 19th meeting, those 5pm gatherings on the balcony at Belle Grove will once again be filled with laughter, music and tales of old.

“Our goal is to be open May 1st, said Michelle Darnell, who is leaving her position at Wells Fargo Bank to move with her husband, full-time to Belle Grove, the birthplace of President James Madison. “We will establish residence and prepare to receive house guest.”

“Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast will have four guest suites. In addition to the guest suites, Belle Grove will also be available as a venue for catered events on the scenic grounds.” Mrs. Darnell said. “Our business plan projects one to three catered events per month during the fair weather months.”

The Darnells have been looking for a special Virginia mansion to turn into a bed and breakfast since 2010. “Everything we looked at was either too expensive or needed too many improvements. Then we came across this listing.” Michelle said.

Belle Grove 1937 Riverview side

Belle Grove
1937 Riverview side

The Darnells are leasing the Belle Grove estate from Haas Belle Grove, Inc. which bought the plantation in 1987 and spent $3.5 million in historical renovation which was completed in 2003. If they received their permit from the Board of Supervisors, the Darnells will be making their own improvements including repairing the road to the historic plantation, building a parking lot and landscaping.

Belle Grove is one of the most historic homes in King George County. The Belle Grove property on the North side of the Rappahannock River was purchased by Captain Anthony Savage in 1670. The house and acreage were later acquired by Francis Conway and Rebecca Catlett Conway, James Madison’s grandparents.

Their daughter, Eleanor Rose Conway returned to the riverside plantation in December 1750 for the birth of her child, the nation’s fourth President, on March 16, 1751. The plantation was named Belle Grove by Rebecca Conway’s second husband, John Moore.

Belle Grove1906

Belle Grove

Belle Grove1906

Belle Grove

Over the decades, the stately home passed through several members of the Conway family and their descendents. Captain Francis Conway III, James Madison’s cousin set aside 13 acres in 1788 for the newly formed Town of Port Conway and a “burying ground”.

The plantation and its acreage were purchased by John Hipkins and Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins in 1790. Hipkins built the current Belle Grove mansion before passing along the tree laden site to his descendents who eventually sold the home and farm land to Carolinus Turner in 1839. Turner successfully developed Belle Grove. He also donated land for the near-by Emmanuel Episcopal Church in 1859.

First known photo of Belle Grove 1894

First known photo of Belle Grove

The plantation is believed to have been used as a Union Army headquarters during the Civil War, which explain why it was undamaged by Union gunboats moving up and down the Rappahannock during the war.

J T Hearn on steps of Belle Grove 1920s

J T Hearn on steps of Belle Grove 1920s

After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and John Wilkes Booth used the Port Conway ferry in his ill-fated attempt to escape, Union soldiers in pursuit of Booth rested and ate at Belle Grove before crossing the river to trap Booth in the Garrett family barn near Port Royal.

Over the next century, Belle Grove would have a series of owners and overseers. But in 1987, the Fraz Haas Corporation bought the property and embarked on its historical restoration. The Darnells signed their lease on the property in 2012 with their dream of turning it into a bed and breakfast.

Smokehouse and Summer Kitchen Outbuildings

Smokehouse and Summer Kitchen Outbuildings

Among other things, they want to restore three plantation outbuildings, an ice house, a smokehouse and a summer kitchen. “Our hope is to turn the summer kitchen into a small museum to house all the artifacts we have found and tell the family and plantation history,” Michelle said. Part of the summer kitchen was used as a slave quarters and the Darnells plan to use that space to tell the story of the slaves who worked, lived and died at Belle Grove.

To turn the elegant and historic plantation into a successful bed and breakfast, and a event and wedding venue, will required a lot of hard work by the Darnells and even more of their time and money. But they are excited by the prospect of returning Belle Grove to glory. “It’s a living piece of history,” Michelle Darnell said. “We want to honor it.”

Postcard of Belle Grove1950s

Postcard of Belle Grove

Don’t forget to get  your Cookie Recipes in!


Our deadline is coming on March 31st

Click on James Madison below to see how you can enter and become

“The Official Cookie of Belle Grove”

Cookie Contest Image

No Entry Fee

But please consider making a donation to our “Restoration Fund” to save our priceless outbuildings!

Just a few dollars can make a big difference!


Check Facebook for your chance to help us

with your thoughts and suggestions to our biggest questions!

Facebook Link

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 26 Comments »