No Christmas Miracles in Sight

Dec. 20th 2012


Well, short of a Christmas miracle, it doesn’t look like we are going to make our deadline for the Zoning Package submission.  There was one government agency that we needed to get their notes on the site plan from, but they didn’t give their notes to our surveyor yet. From what Brett heard from them, it is doubtful we will get their notes before the first of the year.

So what does this mean for us? Well, this means that the dates will have to be moved forward by one month. We will now have until January 19th to get our Zoning Package submitted to the County for them to place on their agenda for February. Then the first public meeting with the Planning Commission will be on February 12th. If we get the approval from the Planning Commission on February 12th, then we have to go to the Board of Supervisors and have a public meeting with them on March 19th. If they approve us, then we can get started and get our business license.

Sadly this means that we will not make our goal of having at least a “Soft Opening” on March 16th, James Madison’s Birthday. And that means we will not open on April 1st as we had hope. It looks like we won’t be able to open until May 1st.

Of course this makes us a little sad. We had hoped that we would have been a lot farther along by now, but when you have to work with others, not everyone has that sense of urgency you do. It’s just the nature of doing business. The number one rule for all business owners is to be FLEXIBLE.

So we could have a meltdown or let this ruin our weekend and holiday to come. But it is what it is. We can’t change it and there is no use in wasting energy on something we can’t change. We have been at this now for 526 days. We had to learn to be patient and flexible through this whole journey. I can’t say I haven’t shedded a tear or two. If I said that I would be lying. I have shedded many tears over this business, but in the end, it was only because we have wanted this so much.

I have known from the beginning that this was meant to be. I have seen the impossible happen as if it were confirmation of what we are doing.  Every time I cross that bridge and catch the first sight of Belle Grove, I know that we are supposed to be there. I feel that electric charge every time, just like it was the first day we saw it. I can’t explain why, but it was meant to be.

So we have another detour and it will keep us from opening as we had hoped. But it’s not going to keep us from finishing this journey. It will only slow us down a little. And what I have found out is that when these little detours happen, there is a reason for it. Somewhere down the line, we will find out that it was a good thing we were delayed. We just have to be patient and see what the next bend in the road has in store for us.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 50 Comments »

Its a Mad Rush!

Dec. 17th 2012


Two weeks ago, Brett met with the Zoning Director. At that time, he gave us some additions that he was going to need for our Zoning Package. These additions need to be submitted by December 20th. So over these last two weeks, we have been working with our surveyor, with Virginia Department of Transportation and the owner of Belle Grove to get those additions done and ready to be submitted. Today, I contacted Commonwealth Architects out of Richmond, Virginia. They completed the restoration work on Belle Grove between 1997 to 2003. One of the things we are going to is a letter from them that states the house was completed in a historic manner. We should have the letter tomorrow. Check one more off the list. But there are still just a few more things that need to come together for us to submit this one time.

Cross your fingers and say a prayer for us!

Curved Carriage side Porches

Curved Carriage side Porches

Once we submit this package on the 20th, we have some steps we will need to go through before zoning is done. On the 20th of December, the package will be delivered to the Board of Directors for the County. They will send the package to the Planning Commission from there. Once the Planning Commission gets it, they will hold a meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of January (which is January 8th) for the public. During this meeting the public is invited to come and give their views on the bed and breakfast. We will be present at this meeting too. We will have an opportunity to speak as well. If the Planning Commission approves it, then it will go back to the Board of Directors. They will hold a meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of February (which is February 19th) for the public. Again the public will be invited to come and give their views on the bed and breakfast. If the Board of Directors approves us, then we have our zoning approved.



All while this is going on, we are going to get busy with the improvements needed on the grounds and in the house. The house has been completely restored, but since it hasn’t had a residence since the restoration, all the systems will need to be tested. That includes the elevator. Yes, we have an elevator. We will also need to install the parking area and upgrade the driveway. Then there is the landscaping and hardscapes such as the sidewalks and such. We are hoping to get a lot of this started so we can jump quickly once the approval is done.

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

If we get the approval done, we are hoping to do a “soft opening” on March 16, 2013. This will be James Madison’s Birthday. What better day to do our first “opening” than on his birthday. We are hoping to have a wonderful open house that day with possibly James and Dolley in attendance. And maybe a few more surprises.

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

Then if we can get things completed on time we would like to have the Grand Opening on April 1st. This is going to be a lot of work and we are going to have to push hard, but I believe it can be done. That is if we don’t run into issues with the approval of the zoning. If we do, it could delay us a month or so. But I am going to stay positive and keep our nose to the grindstone.

The Scots holding their young king's nose to the grindstone

The Scots holding their young king’s nose to the grindstone 1651

By the way, did you ever wonder where that phrase came from?

Keep your nose to the grindstone” means applying yourself conscientiously to your work. There are two possible explanations as to where it came from.

One is that it comes from millers who check that the stone used for grinding wheat wasn’t overheating and burning the flour. They would do this by putting their nose to the stone in order to smell for any burning. The other is that it comes from when knife grinders would sharpening blades. They would bend over the stone or even lie flat on their fronts with their faces near the grindstone in order to hold the blade against the stone.

The first is likely not true. The stone used by millers were commonly called millstones, not grindstones. The two terms can be interchangeable but the distinction between the two was made at least as early as 1400. In a line from Turnament Toenham “Ther was gryndulstones in gravy, And mylstones in mawmany.”

While Middle English language is difficult to interpret it certainly shows that grindstones and millstones are distinct from each other. If the phrase came from milling you would expect the phrase to be “nose to the millstone“.

The second is be most likely correct. This is more in keeping with the notion of the continuous hard labor in being strapped to one’s bench.

The first known citation in 1532 is John Frith’s A mirrour or glasse to know thyselfe: “This Text holdeth their noses so hard to the grindstone, that it clean disfigureth their faces.”

Another thought too is that it refers to holding someone’s nose to the grindstone as a form of punishment. It is a cartoon from 1651 showing Charles II being lectured by his Scots subjects.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 44 Comments »

In Search of….

Dec. 15th 2012
The "Evening Show" on the Riverside Balcony at Belle Grove Plantation

The “Evening Show” on the Riverside Balcony at Belle Grove Plantation

As we start working towards our opening date with zoning, we also have to start thinking about who we will be using for different products and services we might need at the plantation. Yes, it’s time to start looking into vendors.

Besides the bed and breakfast side of the business, we are looking at doing events at the plantation too. The events will start out small at first to give us time to get on our feet and see what works and what doesn’t. But it is our hope to increase the size and scope of the events as we progress through. One of the biggest events we will be doing at the plantation will be weddings.

Jennifer Lay Bowden 09-12 1

For anyone that has ever planned or be involved in planning a wedding, you know it is no easy task. On top of that is finding the right business to handle each part that would need to be delegated out. That is where we hope to help the brides and their families. By working with a select group of key businesses, we want to be a “One Stop Shop Experience” for brides.

So now comes the fun part…

During the last year, Brett and I have been looking around and talking to different people to see who they would recommend. We have also met with some businesses to discuss the possibility in being a selected vendor with Belle Grove Plantation. Armed with the word of mouth we have received and doing some of our own research, we are already gearing up for the selection process.

What we are looking for…

In selecting a business to be one of our vendors at Belle Grove Plantation, we are looking for is a business that understands who we are and what our goals are for each event. The one thing we have said over and over in planning our bed and breakfast business is that we want each guest that visits the plantation to come away with a “Wow Virginia Experience”. That experience would start the moment you contact the plantation. From the experience of making reservations to pulling into the long driveway to leaving after a relaxing stay to following up after the visit; it’s all important to us. I guess the best way to say it is “Details Matter”. So when looking for someone to represent us, we want them to have that same philosophy.

We also want to use as much local, small businesses as we can. We believe that America was built by small businesses and we want to support them. We would prefer to use local, Virginia based businesses that will provide a product or service that we can showcase and include in our plantation. This is not to say that other small businesses that are outside of Virginia are off the plate. We know that we may have to go outside the area to find the best product or service. We want to make sure that the product or service and the business lives up to our standards. We want only the best for our guests.

Meeting with Businesses…

Just recently we had the opportunity to meet one with a local florist and graphic design business who is interested in being a part of Belle Grove’s “Wow Virginia Experience”. It happened just last Saturday. They came to us by word of mouth from another plantation in the area. They had contacted us through Facebook and requested a meeting with us. You have to love Social Networking!

The company is called “ChikPea”. This Graphic Design / Florist company is based out of Culpepper, Virginia. This mother and daughter team has been in business for six years now.

Raygan Ketterer

Raygan Ketterer

Raygan Ketterer, the daughter side of the business and the acting “El Presidente” graduated from Lynchburg College with a degree in Studio Art & Graphic Design. She has worked in the graphics industry since 2002. She has worked with offset printing, screenprinting and embroidery. Her longest run was with a high end sign shop for over six years. It was during those six years that Raygan developed a passion for creating and constructing every detail with her own hands and materials.

Brigitte Morrow

Brigitte Morrow

Brigitte Morrow, the mother side of the business and acting “Flower Guru” has been a florist for over 30 years. Through her wealth of experience, Brigitte is able to create beautiful masterpieces in mere minutes. She showed us her ability this past Saturday. Just before coming to see us at Belle Grove Plantation, Brigitte and Raygan stopped by a neighboring plantation they currently do work for. There Bridgette asked to make some cuttings from their greenery on their grounds. With this greenery, she created a very beautiful and very accurate Colonial wreath for us at Belle Grove!

Colonial Style Wreath made by Chikpea.Contains pine, spruce, mistletoe, and magnolia leaves

Colonial Style Wreath made by Chikpea.
Contains pine, spruce, mistletoe, and magnolia leaves

Needless to say, we were very impressed! They brought with them a very professional portfolio with some of the most wonderful flowers pieces they have done for weddings in and around Culpepper. Raygan also brought us samples of her graphic skills which were well presented and of the highest quality. Needless to say, we will be talking more with them about being one of our partner vendors!

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers  and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

So What Now…

We start by making a list of products and services that we are going to need. Then we send out invitations to area businesses we want to talk to. Then we make appointments to view their products or services. After we have met with everyone, we narrow it down to those few that we found to be the best representation for Belle Grove Plantation. Sounds simple, right? Believe me; we are going to be looking very closely and hard at each of the businesses because we want to make sure when you come to see us at the plantation, you will only get the best!

If you are a business and are interested in working with us or if you know of a business, please feel free to contact us through our email at

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 48 Comments »

Support Small Business Saturday

Nov. 23rd 2012

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday!

Support your local community and Shop Small!

The History of Small Business in America

From the U.S. Department of State

“Americans have always believed they live in a land of opportunity, where anybody who has a good idea, determination, and a willingness to work hard can start a business and prosper. In practice, this belief in entrepreneurship has taken many forms, from the self-employed individual to the global conglomerate.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the public extolled the pioneer who overcame great hardships to carve a home and a way of life out of the wilderness. In 19th-century America, as small agricultural enterprises rapidly spread across the vast expanse of the American frontier, the homesteading farmer embodied many of the ideals of the economic individualist. But as the nation’s population grew and cities assumed increased economic importance, the dream of being in business for oneself evolved to include small merchants, independent craftsmen, and self-reliant professionals as well.

The 20th century, continuing a trend that began in the latter part of the 19th century, brought an enormous leap in the scale and complexity of economic activity. In many industries, small enterprises had trouble raising sufficient funds and operating on a scale large enough to produce most efficiently all of the goods demanded by an increasingly sophisticated and affluent population. In this environment, the modern corporation, often employing hundreds or even thousands of workers, assumed increased importance.

Today, the American economy boasts a wide array of enterprises, ranging from one-person sole proprietorships to some of the world’s largest corporations. In 1995, there were 16.4 million non-farm, sole proprietorships, 1.6 million partnerships, and 4.5 million corporations in the United States — a total of 22.5 million independent enterprises.”

After you shop tomorrow-

Leave a comment and let us know what small business you supported on Saturday and what wonderful things you bought!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 30 Comments »

See Belle Grove Video!

Jul. 11th 2012

Check out our Belle Grove Plantation Video!

See what it looks like as you drive up to the Manor today. Watch for our resident osprey to fly over the house as you approach the front door. See the grounds as they are today, before we start the landscaping. Get a close look at the Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse.

Experience Living History that spans 221 years!

Our Indiegogo campaign is 12 days from ending. We ask that you please consider making a small contribution to help us save our three dependencies.

What can $5.oo buy you today?

Depending on where you are, maybe a gallon of gas, or an expensive cup of coffee or even a $5 foot long sub!

But what would $5 alone do for our dependencies? Alone not much, but together with many it can:

  • Remove the remodel damage that the previous owner has done to the Summer Kitchen.
  • Repair the foundations, walls and floors.
  • Replace the walls of the Smokehouse that are now exposed and are only just framing.
  • Repair the chimney and replace the mortar between the bricks that has worn away
  • Uncover the Ice Pit in the Ice House
  • Can fund Archaeological Digs around the dependencies to ensure that past artifacts can be preserved
  • Create a learning environment that will teach children and adults about the lives of our Founding Fathers as well as those families and slaves that came after.
  • Will ensure that we won’t lose these important living examples of our American history.

Won’t you please go to our Indiegogo site and give just $5.oo (or more, if you can)? A $5.00 foot long sub once eaten is gone. But a contribution to our campaign will live on for generations. Please Help Us Save our History today!

Yesterday we had some technical issues with our Indiegogo site. We were informed that we are not able to offer lottery or raffle tickets on the campaign. We have had to adjust the perks to reflect this change. However, we will honor our perks and still offer the following if you chose to make a contribution.

  • $10.00:     Preserve History Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 2 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway
  • $25.00:     Plantation Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 5 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.
  • $50.00:     James Madison Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 10 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.
  • $100.00:   Colonial Supporter – A Personalized Thank you Card and 20 raffle tickets for the Free Weekend Giveaway.

For each level, you will also have your name, state or county, and your blog listed on our Patron page under your level of support.

Thank you for your support in Saving our Living History!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 10 Comments »

Berry Hill Plantation

May. 24th 2012

In researching other plantations, we wanted to make sure that we looked within our own state of Virginia. We searched for a plantation that was being used as a bed and breakfast so we could take notes of things we want to do, things we don’t want to do and things that we never thought of. This brought us to the Berry Hill Plantation in South Boston, Virginia.

This plantation sits on 650 acres and is one of the largest plantations in Virginia. The main house was built in 1842 by James Coles Bruce, a Virginia delegate ad landowner. The main house was modeled after the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia and is a great example of Greek Revival architecture.

When you arrive, you drive along a long tree lined drive way that rolls pass fields that are dotted with old stone slaves quarters. In the distances you see on a small hill, what looks like a Parthenon style home with a circular drive. On either side are two smaller versions of the main house.

As you enter the main foyer, you are greeted by a sweeping floating staircase that is a copy of the same staircase in the Second Bank of the United States.

On the left side of the home, you have the formal parlor and library rooms.

Just behind the library are windows that look out into the conservatory and back court yard.

On the right side of the home are rooms that have been turned into a small restaurant called the Carrington. These rooms are filled with family photos and are decorated in period style.

The back courtyard has two wings extending off the back. One is the newer Reception Hall, the other is the older Kitchen.

The main house has two bedrooms suites, both upstairs. They include a full bathroom and a separate sitting room.

Berry Hill has been turned into a conference center as well. You wouldn’t know it coming up to the main house, but behind a small hill is a 92 room hotel and conference center. It offers an indoor pool, spa, exercise room, his / her saunas and tennis court. They also offer guided historic tours of the main house. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Reception Hall opens to the public for brunch. On our visit here, we had the chance to meet the owner, who lives in Baltimore and had a chance to discuss the ins and outs of his B&B. Their main focus is on Business Conferences and Weddings.

The one thing that struck us about Berry Hill was the architectural detail the main house had as well as the historic significance of the home and grounds. Below are some of the details that caught our eye.

Formal Parlor Fireplace Detail

Front Column

View down stairs

Former Call Bells

Gable Detail

Formal Parlor Ceiling Detail

Formal Parlor Chandelier


Front Hall Chandelier

Stone Slave Cabin Ruins

Library window shutters

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 45 Comments »

The Journey Begins

May. 12th 2012

So we begin. Not just a new blog, but a new chapter in our lives. About three years ago, we decided that we wanted to pursue our dream of owning and operating a bed and breakfast. We knew that we didn’t want just any house; it had to have some historic significance. We both love history and have always wanted to preserve it. We started by taking small weekend trips to different parts of Virginia and visiting historic sites and bed and breakfast homes. After about one year, a pattern started to emerge. That’s when we started narrowing our search area.

After another year of looking, we seemed to be hitting a wall. We visited some beautiful homes. But when we pulled in, we always seem to find something that didn’t click. Either it had too much repair work that needed to be done, or it didn’t have a large enough area for events like weddings. Or it was too far from anything. Or one of us would like it, but the other just couldn’t see us there. It got frustrating very quickly.

Then one day, while I was searching the internet for a bed and breakfast for sale, I came across an ad for a historic home. It would have been easy to miss it if I had not been paying attention. But as soon as I saw it, I knew it was right. I quickly got on the phone and we made an appointment to see it two days later. That was July 12, 2011.

When we drove into the driveway, I could feel my heart racing. I had seen extra pictures of the home that the property manager sent via email. I was just hoping it would be everything we had hoped for. Boy we were in for a huge surprise. It was everything and more. As we walked the floors and viewed the rooms, I could already see us there, entertaining guests and greeting visitors. It has been pain stakingly restored and the history spans from the late 1600s. And it is a plantation. This was the one.

And so the journey began. We have been working over the last ten months to put together a business plan that would reach the standards of this house. We have spent countless hours researching other bed and breakfast businesses, researching the history of the home and area (which there is a ton of), visiting local businesses and planning out what we wanted for our bed and breakfast. We are now in the final stage of preparing to sign contracts and taking a giant leap into business ownership. We know that once we sign the contract, all the work and waiting will seem like nothing compared to the mad rush that will follow. But we are ready for it. We know we are heading in the right direction and have many family and friends that have been and will continue to support and encourage us.

So this blog is to document our journey. During our research into the history of this home, we have learned documentation is very import to preserve the past. That is what this is all about. At this point, we are not able to reveal the name of the property or its location until everything is signed. But believe us; you will be amazed at this home, property and its important place in history. We can’t wait to share it with you!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 386 Comments »