The Details Matter

Oct. 26th 2013

On Friday, we took deliver of two canopies for the Hipkins-Bernard and Conway Junior Suite as well as the valances for the Turner Master Suite. We are almost done with all the curtains for the bedrooms! We just need to wait for the finally curtains for the Turner Master Suite as well as the half canopy. Then we just have to get the curtains for the Parlor, Formal Dining Room, Small Dining Room, Library, Common Room and the Foyer Room. But the ones we have gotten is a huge step towards finishing!

Not only does it help us cover the windows, but with them in place, we can better able to see what kind of decor we want or need for the room. Knowing that, we can find those pieces and complete the room. The Madison Master Suite, which got its curtains and canopy first is almost done. We just need to find a few portraits of James and Dolley Madison as well as some smaller decor and we can call it done!

Enjoy the pictures of the new arrivals!

Here is the “Before” of the Hipkins-Bernard Junior Suite

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Here it is now!

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Here is the “Before” of the Conway Junior Suite

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Here it is now!

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Here are the Valances for the Turner Master Suite

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

(This is the window with Carrie Turner’s etching in it)

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

This is the Turner Master Suite Bathroom Valance

Decorating Our Suites at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in King George, Virginia, Birthplace of James Madison

Who says the details don’t matter??

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 2 Comments »

Ghost Story Anyone?

Oct. 25th 2013

As we prepare for our busy weekend of ghost hunting, we thought it would be fun to share some of the spooky happenings in and round Belle Grove Plantation. Just to get you in the mood for some chilling and thrilling fun we have in store for you tonight!

Make sure you watch your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates through the day and night as we share in all the fun!

Haunted Lambs Creek Church in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Lamb’s Creek Church – King George, Virginia

This story is taken from “Virginia Ghosts” by Jenny Lee, Marguerite du Pont Lee

In King George County on the King’s Highway about thirteen miles from Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River side, an interesting Colonial building may be found called Lamb’s Creek Church. Erected in 1769 it is now six miles from a lone gravestone on Muddy Creek marking the site of the Mother Church in use as early as 1710.

In Brunswick parish extending up to Stafford County, in days almost forgotten, far beyond the tide of the years in which we live, Sunday mornings the coaches of the aristocracy rolled from far distant points and over rough roads to the door of Lamb’s Creek Church.

In the company of family and friends and surrounded by retainers a large congregation listed to the delights of paradise glowingly painted, and hell pictured as very real and very hot! The lessons were read from the priceless old ‘Vinegar Bible’, so called owing to a typographical error in the edition, the heading of the Parable of the Vineyard made to read ‘Parable of the Vinegar.’ This Bible was given to Muddy Creek Church about 1716. Stolen after the Civil War, by great good fortune it has been recovered and is in use one each year when a service is held in the church. The old prayer book, also inherited from the Mother Church was printed in 1739 when George II was King.

The devastating War of the Revolution scatted the faithful an altered the lives and fortunes of the people. For fifty years the church doors were closed.

Not until the Civil War did man’s hand shatter and desecrate this relic of a civilization of which the despoiler did not even dream, and could not possibly appreciate. The woodwork was pulled out, the windows and doors broken, and the church used for a stable.

In a bend of the road this large country church may be seen from quite a distance. A vital need in the lives of a generation long passed away, it stands in an isolated spot abandoned and by the world forgot-a mute witness to the  transitoriness of all human religious expression.

Just prior to the desecration of this house of worship by Federal soldiers two Confederate officers, one named Hunter, are said to have entered the church one night seeking refuge from a heavy thunder storm. The flashes of lightning were very vivid, and the thunder deafening. Running in they seated themselves at the door facing the chancel. Presently, for one brief moment the inky darkness was relieved by a great flash of lightning. The two men were dunfound to see kneeling at the chancel rail as if in prayer a woman dressed in white! In pitchy darkness, silently and breathlessly they awaited the next flash. There still kneeled the woman! A third view of the figure was sufficient and both soldiers made a hasty exit into the teeth of the furious storm!

Mr. Thomas Lomax Hunter, a lawyer of King George County, very courteously makes rely to my letter of inqury as follows:

‘My father and uncle were the only Hunters in the Civil War from this county, but I have never heard the story you relate of them and Lamb’s Creek Church.

Lamb’s Creek Church has however been long looked upon by the natives here as haunted, and while I cannot recite any detailed story about it I have no doubt that reputable witnesses of its neighborhood could be put upon the witness stand to prove its ghostly character.’

(One note – Thomas Lomax Hunter was the son of Frederick Hunter and his wife Rose Turner Hunter. Rose was the daughter of Carolinus and Susan Turner, owners of Belle Grove Plantation from 1839 to 1894.)

There are a couple more stories about Lamb’s Creek Church.

It is said that two civil war soldiers can be seen resting on a rainy night. This usually happens on rainy nights and that the church’s windows glow from the inside around the 27th of October. There is also a ghost of a young girl who died of pneumonia. You can see a strange blue light and an apparition of the girl running and playing.

Haunted Marimon in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Marmion – King George County, Virginia

This  story is taken from “Virginia Ghosts” by Jenny Lee, Marguerite du Pont Lee

“Marmion, in King George County, Virginia, has been in the family of Mrs. Lucy Lewis Grymes for more than 150 years. Lord Marmion was the last of the title in England, and in his honor William Fitzhugh, emigrated to the Colonies in 1670, named this portion of his vast estate, erecting in 1674, between two splendid springs flowing in the primeval forest, the mansion still standing. One finds to the north the little house from the depths of which countless juleps were cooled; not far distant the old kitchen to which, from smokehouse and dairy, still standing, bacon, butter and cream flowed in a constant stream throughout the generations.

Behind the house the lovely old office stands in a garden, carpeted in spring with single blue hyacinths and yellow primroses, hardly descendants of flowers brought from England long ago. In the attic of this office quite recently Mrs. Grymes found a roll of Colonial money, signed by her husband’s ancestor, Robert Carter Nicholas.

In 1719 John Fitzhugh took unto himself a wife, and Marmion was their home. A grove of pecans, walnuts and maples stand close to this sturdy and picturesque relic of a bygone age; its two secret rooms, one built in the huge chimney about the other, speaking to us of turbulence and of dangers unknown to our generation.

Marmion in 1785 became the property of Major George Lewis, son of Col. Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington. Their great granddaughter, Mrs. Lucy Lewis Grymes, is the fortunate owner today. A mile and a half beyond flows the Potomac River, and in 1782 Philip Fitzhugh, the last of his name at Marmion, is said to have brought to his home, one day, one of those accomplished artisans, contributing by their skill to some of the most beautiful decorations remaining with us from their day. This Hessian soldier was in a dying condition when found by Philip Fitzhugh on the banks of the river. Recovering his health in course of time, the stranger was then desirous of contributing evidence of his skill in return for the kindness shown him. He decorated the walls of the parlor in lovely landscapes and cornucopias filled with flowers, making from Virginia clay and plants the paints he used – clear and beautiful after the passing of 150 years! Owing to Mrs. Gymes’ willingness to share with countless others her treasures, the superb paneling, decorations and mirror in this beautiful parlor at Marmion were transferred into the keeping of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

In the long age when dangers threatened, before cannon balls from two wars were left embedded as relics in the brick walks leading from the mansion, a chest of valuables was buried. Whether discovered and carried off nobody knows. But Marmion possesses a charming ghost; thieves cannot break in and steal.

Some of the old darkies whose forefathers lived in the ‘Quarters’ on the plantation claim today to have seen the ‘white lady’ walking among the roses and honeysuckle in the little cemetery.

Mrs. Grymes writes: ‘Since my childhood, every now and then guests have spoken of a lovely young girl they have seen from time to time in the house. Twice, I myself, when in the guest-room, have felt there was someone in the room, but have never seen the ghost. During the summer of 1928 Miss Edmonia Goode, an elderly lady from Chase City, Virginia, was staying at Marmion with a group of young people whom she had been chaperoning at a house party in Fredericksburg. It was in the afternoon of a bright sunny day. Miss Goode was lying down on her bed resting, when the door opened an a very beautiful young girl came in and started to open the wardrobe. Miss Goode sat up and exclaimed: ‘Why, how do you do? I did not know there was another guest in this house beside our party.’ The girl turned and looked squarely at her. The face of the Spirit, Miss Goode would recognize anywhere. She arose advancing towards the visitor in order to shake hands….”

(This is where the story ended in the book… sorry)

Haunted Stratford Hall in King George Virginia is haunted and story told by Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast for their Paranormal Workshop and Ghost Hunt Weekend

Stratford Hall – Home of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee

This story taken from

The Spirits of Stratford Hall 

Paranormal experts, if there are such things, are in general agreement that Virginia is one of the most haunted states, perhaps the most haunted, in the nation. And for good reason. It is the oldest colony in America and there are more surviving old houses here than anywhere else. Plus, since the experts contend that tragic and traumatic deaths are a leading cause for the existence of ghosts, if there are such things as ghosts, then Virginia surely ranks at the top of the list since there has been more blood shed here over the past 400 years dating from Indian attacks on the early settlers on up through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Accounts of lingering spirits blanket the entire map of the Old Dominion, from Winchester south to Bristol, and from Monterey east to Virginia Beach. The Northern Neck is not excluded from this questionable list and, arguably, one of the most haunted houses in this historic area is Stratford Hall. It was here, of course, that Robert E. Lee was born in 1807. The mansion itself dates to the late 1730s. Among its long-ago occupants are some of the most famous names in American history, including Richard Henry Lee, a leader of the Continental Congress, and Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War, and Robert’s father.

As with so many antique estates, there is ample justification for ghostly encounters at Stratford Hall, for along with its majestic eloquence, family members through the centuries have had their share of tragic events. If a visitor to the house today asks a tour guide about ghosts, he or she is told they are not part of the narrative. The guides are trained to “protect” the historical integrity of the site. The key to finding a more positive answer to such a provocative question is to query others. Find a maid, janitor, or better yet, a night security guard, and they may well reveal some of Stratford Hall’s most guarded secrets.

That is precisely what the author did some years ago, and the results were quite surprising. Here are some examples. A domestic worker walked into the library one day to clean it, and then promptly retreated. Her supervisor asked what happened and she replied that she didn’t want to disturb the gentleman inside. What gentleman the supervisor replied. The worker said she saw a figure in old fashioned clothes checking over some papers. The two women then reentered the library. There was no one there. The worker became very frightened and fled the house.

Once, a well known psychic visited. When she passed through the great hall on the second floor, she stopped and said she felt “so many good impressions.” She claimed to see the room full of Lees and that there was dancing, music and entertainment. She added that the Lees were pleased with how the house was being taken care of.

A hostess said her encounter came on a dismal, dark winter afternoon. During a tour, she saw a woman and a child in a room in colonial period costume. She thought it was another hostess but when she later asked the hostess about it she was told she hadn’t even been upstairs. Then she lifted her hand and covered her mouth and said that the first hostess “had finally seen them.” Who? She has seen Ann Lee, the distraught and broken hearted wife of Black Horse Harry Lee, and their little daughter, Margaret, who had died in the house at age two in 1820 after falling down the stairs! Others, including tourists, have reported hearing a phantom woman calling for a child, the sound of a child running, and then both of them laughing, as if they were playing together.

Security guards, too, have experienced various forms of psychic manifestations. One said a lot of mysterious things happen here, especially strange noises at night. Like what? “Loud racket,” he emphasized. “The sounds of heavy furniture being moved around when no one is in the room. Other times we heard rustling sounds, like petticoats and skirts rubbing against chairs and tables, but you never see anything.” One officer said he heard fiddle and harp music on occasion.

Another guard said one night he was sitting in a chair when something unseen grabbed his sleeve and lifted his arm straight up. Also, he added, when he was alone one night reading a book, he got up to make his rounds and when he came back the book had flatly disappeared. One guard told of a new man on the job. “He quit after one hour and wouldn’t even talk about what happened to him.”

Two officers said that on multiple occasions they had seen the apparition of a small boy, about three or four years old, wearing dark purple britches and a light colored purple shirt with ruffled sleeves. Each time they approached the figure, he evaporated before their eyes. One said, “I believe he was a spirit. If he wasn’t, where did he go?” Could it have been the ghost of Robert E. Lee, who moved out of Stratford Hall when he was just three and a half? Another clue suggests that it might be the son of Philip Ludwell Lee, himself the son of Thomas Lee, the founder of the house. According to family tradition, this boy fell down the stairs in the mansion one day in 1779. He was four years old!

Possibly the most terrifying encounters were experienced by J.R. “Butch” Myers, a leather craftsman who lives in Richmond. He travels about demonstrating how 18th century shoes are made. In June 1989, he was at an exhibition at Stratford Hall. He spent the night in a dependency building near the main house. Getting ready for bed, he lit six candles in stands, then heard approaching footsteps outside and assumed it was the security guard making his rounds.

Myers recalled: “I took a couple of steps toward the door when a sudden down draft of freezing cold air hit me, taking my breath away. It was like walking into a cold storage locker. I got goose bumps all over. Just as this happened, there was a thunderous noise in the chimney. It sounded like the whole building was going to collapse. I didn’t find this out until later but the chimney was sealed top and bottom. There was no way anything alive could be in it.”

“If this wasn’t scary enough, and believe me it was,” Myers continued, “I turned around just in time to see the candles go out. They didn’t go out at once, as if blown out by a down shaft of air. They went out one at a time, in sequence, as if someone was snuffing them out!” At first Myers thought someone was playing a joke on him, but then he realized he was alone in the room. He told a security guard what happened, and the man didn’t seem surprised. He just said, “Oh, you’ve just met our friend.”

Myers returned to his room and relit the candles. He said, “Now you can believe this or not, I don’t care, but the icy coldness hit me again, and the racket kicked up in the chimney, which really scared me now, because the guard had told me about it being sealed. Then, someone or something very methodically extinguished each candle again, this time in reverse order!”
“There definitely was something there, a presence or whatever you want to call it. It was enough for me. I said, “Listen, you can have the room. Just let me get my pillow and blanket and I will get out of here.” And I got out of there as quick as I could and went over to another dependency, where the guard was, and I told him I was spending the night with him!”

Myers went back to Stratford Hall five years later for another craft show on the grounds. He refused to stay in the dependency where he had been before, but one evening he walked over to it. “It was a nice gentle breeze blowing,” he says, “but when I got in front of the building, everything was deathly still. Nothing was stirring. It was an eerie feeling. I put my hand on the doorknob and it was like clutching an icicle. That’s as far as I got. I wouldn’t go back into that room. There was something in there that didn’t want me inside.”

“The guards told me it wouldn’t hurt me, but they hadn’t felt what I had in that room. I’m not saying definitely that it was something evil, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out. It had made its point with me. I’m not psychic or anything, but I believe there is something to ghosts and spirits and there’s a lot we don’t understand about all that yet. But I can say for sure that I am certain there is something other worldly at Stratford Hall. There was something unexplained in that room, and one experience with whatever it was, or is, was enough for me!”

If you are interested in seeing Stratford Hall at Halloween, they are hosting a “Spook-tacular Halloween” as part of their annual Halloween program. It will have something for everyone this year. L.B. Taylor, author of over 13 books on the Virginia paranormal, will present a talk on the ghosts of the Northern Neck in the duPont Library. There will be ghost tours, refreshments, craft making, palm and Tarot card readings. You can check their event out on their website at

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | Comments Off on Ghost Story Anyone?

Look who came to visit this morning at the plantation!

Oct. 16th 2013

This morning, I was up early to prepare breakfast for our overnight guests. As I was moving around the kitchen, I looked up as I always do to look out of our large window towards the river and the horizon. To my great surprise, there stood one of two twin deer. I ran from the kitchen to grab my camera. As I made it back to the kitchen, I noticed that she had moved over to the sun room just off the kitchen. There she stood just at my back door! It was as if she was thinking about coming in. It is the closest they have ever come to the mansion. It was just amazing!




She moved to the side of the mansion and joined her twin and grazed for a few minutes. I so much wanted a good shot of them as the grazed, so I quietly opened the door and stepped out. Just as I bent down to view them under the branches of the tree, I caught sight of their white tails as they bounded into the woods beside the house.


What a great start to the day!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Look who came to visit this morning at the plantation!

Something is Cooking up with Stratford Hall and Belle Grove Plantation!

Oct. 10th 2013


Stratford Hall, home of Robert E. Lee and the Lee Family works with Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

Stratford Hall, home of Robert E. Lee and the Lee Family will host a luncheon and lecture with

Farizia Lanza

on Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fabrizia Lanza to have lunch and lecture at Stratford Hall with discounted tickets for overnight guests from Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

Chef Fabrizia Lanza

Sicilian Chef and Proprietor of the Case Vecchie Cooking School

“Fabrizia Lanza was born in Palermo on 8 March 1961. Feeling asphyxiated on the island, she left Sicily at 18 years old. She wanted to make her life outside of a protected and sheltered nest. She graduated with a literature degree in Art History and worked for twenty years in the museum world. Fabrizia went on to organize exhibits and to write, directing, at the end of her career, two small town museums in Feltre, located within the province of Belluno. At 45 she ended her life as an art historian and decided to move back to Sicily. Anna needed help, and Fabrizia’s food-impassioned roots were calling! The first step was to support Anna in Travel: Fabrizia set off for Delhi, Malta, London, Paris, New York, Boston, Philadelphia. Anna introduced Fabrizia to her American audience in 2007 and before long Fabrizia found herself speaking about Sicilian ritualistic foods at a conference at Boston University. Fabrizia slowly took matters into her own hands, helping Anna at the school, with travel, with the set up of school programs, with creating new contacts. Meanwhile, she was still studying and researching — Sicily is a continent in terms of culinary traditions, and some are still amazingly intact.

Fabrizia then went on to produce two small video documentaries on food cooked for the feast of St. Joseph and that of Saint Lucia. Then, in the company of two friends and botanical anthropologists, she began to study the Aeolian processes and created the foundations for what will become an archive of videos focusing on the techniques of foods in danger of extinction. She has filmed those elderly cooks who still knot, fry and knead their dough. Fabrizia has since begun to travel independently to the United States to produce events focusing on Sicilian cuisine in the best restaurants on the East and West Coast. These have included Alice Water’s Chez Panisse and Mario Batali’s restaurant, to mention only the most famous. Nowadays, Fabrizia receives and teaches young talented chefs at the school, teaches annually at the Masters in Gastronomy at Boston University, and hosts interns who work for her at her cooking school. She has published her first book “Olive, A Global History” with Reaktion UK in 2011 and her first cookbook, “Coming Home to Sicily”. She is also following in her mother’s footsteps in curating a “vegetable garden” of citrus and antique roses.”

Chef Lanza will give a lecture at 11:00am on Saturday, November 16, 2013 in th DuPont Library at Stratford Hall. Symbolic hors d’eouvres and wine to be served. At 12:30, lunch will be served in the Dining Room and will be followed by a book signing at 2:30pm. If you wish to take a tour of the Grand House, tours will be offered after the book signing. Chef Lanza’s book will be available in the gift shop.

The Menu for this luncheon is:


Sfincione – Palerrmitan Pizza


Minestra di Cavoloe – Spinach and Potato Soup with Fresh Mint and Parsley


Spezzatino di Agnelllo alla Menta – Stewed Lamb with Fresh Mint

Pasta Con Broccoli Arriminati – Pasta with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts and Currants


Insalata Verdi con Parmigiani a Sacaglie


Cassata – Sponge Cake with Ricotta Cream, Marizipan and Candied Fruit

Exciting News!

If you stay at Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast, you will receive discounted tickets to this event!!

You can book on our website or call us to check for availability and book over the phone!

Call 540-621-7340

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History, Food and Recipes | Comments Off on Something is Cooking up with Stratford Hall and Belle Grove Plantation!

A Night to Remember

Feb. 13th 2013

After so many days, months, even years to get to this point, going into the Planning Commission Public Hearing, we still felt the passion we had from the first day we saw Belle Grove. We arrived about 30 minutes early to prepare ourselves.

As we stood in the hall outside the board room, we watched as people started to arrive. One of the first was Jean, President of the King George Historic Society. We had met her and her husband early on in the process. She and the King George Historic Society have been wonderful sources of information for the history of Belle Grove. They also have checked in with us throughout to show their support for us. We chatted with her until the meet going on before ours ended just before 7pm.

As we waited with Jean, a gentleman exited the board room and stopped to speak to Jean. We weren’t introduced, but later Brett told me it was one of the Board of Supervisors members. What caught my ear about this conversation was a comment he said about approving Belle Grove as a Bed and Breakfast. He said, “There are pros and cons, just like any other.” From all those we have spoken with from the local area, we had not really heard any negative comments towards doing it. And while this really isn’t a negative comment, it brought the thought into my mind that there could be someone that didn’t like the idea. And that thought scared me to the bone.

We made our way into the room. At the front was a panel with board members seated. To the right of the panel was a small table with two ladies. One of the two was Heather, a staff member of the Zoning Department of King George. We had met Heather during our meeting at Belle Grove just weeks earlier. When I looked over at her, she gave me a warm smile and waved. That gave me some peace in knowing that there was someone in the room I knew approved. And it was nice to see a smiling face.

People filtered in and took their seats. The property manager for the owner arrived and sat behind us. All told there were about ten to fifteen people in the audience of the board room. I knew at least five of them by name. So that left another five to ten that I didn’t know; ones I didn’t know how they were going to lean. Worry creped in again.

Just as we got ready to go, in came the Zoning Director, Jack. Brett had been working with Jack to get all the required items done and on paper before this meeting. If it hadn’t been for Jack’s continued help and source of endless answers to our many questions, I don’t think we would have gotten this done so fast. Jack came in and turned on his projector and took his seat at the table before the panel. In the back of my mind as Jack sat down, I thought of how people go before Congress to answer questions about one thing or another. I thought of the “grilling” that the members of Congress are known to give to individuals before them and panic slipped in. Would they “grill” us?

The Chairman of the Board called the meeting to order. I stopped breathing. My first thought was, “This is either going to be the best meeting ever or its going to end my dream.” The Chairman called on one of the board members to lead us in the pledge of allegiance. After the pledge, the Chairman called on another board member to lead us in the invocation. We took our seats and it began.

The Chairman went through the required reading of past meetings minutes over December and January and held the vote to approve the minutes. During this time, I started watching each member. I wanted to watch their reactions to hopefully gage their feelings later. After the approval of the previous minutes, they move to our case.

Jack opened our case by explaining what we were there for. First he told how our plantation is zoned as “A1”, which mean agricultural. Our application is asking for a Special Exception to use the plantation as a Bed and Breakfast. He also explained that we could seek either a Bed and Breakfast Exception or a Bed and Breakfast Inn Exception. To get just the Bed and Breakfast Exception would mean we would run the Bed and Breakfast with overnight guests only. The Bed and Breakfast Inn Exception would allow us to do the Bed and Breakfast with overnight guests and have catered events such as weddings. So of course we are seeking the latter.

Jack also explained that we were seeking approval to use gravel on the driveway and parking areas instead of asphalt. He told the board that we had asked for this special exception in order to maintain the historic integrate of the property. He showed what County Ordinances allowed us to ask for both exceptions.

As Jack was going through his explanations and showing different slides, I again found myself watching the board members out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want them to see me looking them over so I tried to watch the slides as Jack spoke. Each time a picture of Belle Grove would come up, I felt a smile come over my face and the thought, “Look how beautiful.” would creep into my mind. It just gave me chills seeing them up on the screen. As for the members, I had a hard time “reading” them. No one gave me an approving look nor did they show their feeling of displeasure. My thought was, “This is going to be a hard night.”

Once Jack finished with his presentation, board members asked several questions. The first question was about the gravel. One member asked if using pavers instead of gravel would be better. For one the pavers would keep us from having to create a storm run-off area. Jack explained that we could use pavers or gravel, but due to cost he felt we had selected gravel. He also explained that if we wished to change it to pavers we could without having to make any changes to the plan or having to come back in front of the board for approval. Brett and I would later talk about this possible change. We are going to consult with our landscaping contractor, Arrowood Designs of Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg Paving to see which would be more cost effective. If we have to create storm run-off and have to pay an engineer to design it, the cost may come close to just using pavers. And we also thought that if we used pavers instead of gravel, later if we decided to move the parking, we could just remove the pavers and repurpose them somewhere else.

The next question was around what would happen to the other acres that we weren’t using. The member that asked this question looked as if he wasn’t leaning our way or at least that what I “read” in his look as he asked about the acres. Jack explained that we didn’t know what the corporation was going to do with the other acres and that it had no bearing on this application. I started to worry more. Was there going to be someone that would disapprove this application because of the other acres not being placed in historic easement?

After that, Jack took his seat with no more questions from the board. The Chairman then called Brett to speak for the applicants and owners. My heart jumped. Brett confidently stood up and approached the stand. He first introduced us to the members and told a little about our background. How we had been married for 26 years and had a daughter, who was 24 years and a son, who was 21 years and a dog named Hurley who was 8 years. We got a snicker or two from that one. Brett told of our military background, he being a retired Naval Corpsman and my being in the Marine Corps. He talked about our current positions and about my past culinary positions. He spoke about my catering business that we had several years ago with the kids were still very young.

Then Brett explained how we decided five years ago to start actively looking for a home to start a bed and breakfast. He explained how we had always wanted to open one and how we knew it would have to be historically significant. He told how we came across the first Belle Grove in Middletown, Virginia, the home of Isaac and Nelly Madison Hite, sister of James Madison. How we later visited Montpelier, James Madison’s home and fell in love with the Madison History. How we came across an ad on the internet for our Belle Grove and saw it for the first time two days later. He told of our endless hours of research into the history of Belle Grove using the internet and visiting the Virginia Historic Society, The Library of Virginia, the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary and even finding information at the Seaver Center at the Natural Museum in Los Angeles County, California.

He told how through our blog we had been able to connect to past families that lived at Belle Grove and retrieved history that could have been lost to time. He told how we had started our blog in May, 2011 and that we were just sly of 100,000 hits in just nine months, been viewed in 146 countries and have around 3800 followers. He told how we had a Facebook Fan Page that at that time had 906 Likes. He told of our presents on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. He explained how we connected with area historic sites such as Montpelier, The James Madison Museum and Stratford Hall and set up to cross promote each other. How we were added as a Virginia Historic Home in the Governor of Virginia’s “Year of the Virginia Historical Homes” Campaign. How we have been reaching out to local farmers and vineyards to serve local Virginia products at Belle Grove.

As Brett finished up, I looked over the members of the board. I looked for expressions of emotion and got none. Brett did a great job. I was so proud of him. He took his seat and the Chairman opened the floor for comments from the audience. I held my breath again.

First up was a gentleman named Jim from Port Royal, Virginia, which is just across the river from Belle Grove. We met Jim first on Facebook and then at a local event. We invited him and his wife to come to the plantation to tour it several months ago. As he spoke, he told the board that he was a member of the Board of Supervisors for Port Royal and there as a representative of Port Royal. He talked about how important it was that Belle Grove be opened and occupied instead of standing empty as it has been since 1987. He told how he felt that we would be good stewards of the property and how it would be a benefit for King George County as well as Port Royal.

The next up was a gentleman named Ed from King George, Virginia. We had met Ed through the King George Historic Society and had also given him and his wife a tour of Belle Grove several months ago. Ed is a former Naval Officer and served on the James Madison submarine. He spoke about the importance of Belle Grove and how this would be a benefit to the local community. He also said, “This couple is the embodiment of the Navy-Marine Corps team. This couple has attacked this project with the strategic planning of an amphibious assault.” I have to say that was our favorite comment of the night.

The next up was a gentleman from a plantation next door to Belle Grove named Andrew. We met him and his wife early on as we research the area. They are wonderful people and even gave us a tour of their plantation home. He spoke about the fear they have had with other possible projects for Belle Grove. But through this, they felt that Belle Grove would be best used.

The next up was Jean, the President of the King George Historic Society. She talked about the historic importance of Belle Grove and through the Bed and Breakfast how it would be a benefit to the community.

She was followed by three more individuals. Each spoke of the same historic importance of Belle Grove and how the use as a bed and breakfast would benefit the community. One was even from the Northern Neck Tourism Department.

After they spoke, the Chairman called for any more comments. When no one came forward, he closed the floor. I could feel my muscles tensing, bracing for the impact from the board. The Chairman opened the board for comment. The first to speak was a gentleman I had been keeping my eye on all night. Of all of them, he looked like he might not like the idea. He was also the one that was concern about the rest of the acres. At first he reminded the board of the misgivings he had had with the last project that the owner had presented, one that had be rejected by the Planning Commission. But then he said that this project was different. He felt that this project was a slam dunk. He even started to give a motion to accept the applications until the Chairman stopped him to allow others to speak.

There was one other member that spoke. He too agreed that it was a slam dunk and thought it would be a benefit to the area. With that the Chairman closed the comments. Then the first gentleman put a motion on the floor to accept the two applications. The second gentleman seconded the motion. With that the Chairman put the motion to a vote.

The vote was unanimous….

The Motion was passed to approve the applications to be moved forward to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The meeting with the Board of Supervisors will be on March 19, 2013.

If approved, we will have our Zoning Permit. At that point, we will get our business license and could start having guest the next day. Of course we can’t do that because, well, we don’t want our guest sleeping on the floor or eating on paper plates! We have to get the mansion filled and get the ground started. Once we have the parking and driveways complete, we have to have one on site approval and the Zoning process will be complete. At least until we want to expand!

I have to say when the vote came and we were approved, I fought back tears of joy. How far we have come! I can’t tell you how many “pot holes” we have encountered on this journey; ones that would have easily stopped us. But it has been through support of all our many blog and Facebook friends, our families, our friends in Chesapeake, King George, Fredericksburg and other parts of Virginia that has helped us around those “pot holes” and on to smoother road. We thank each of you with all our hearts.

We have taken the path less traveled and have blazed a path that has led us here. Our strength has come from those that loved and cared for us. Our determination from those that came before us. And our passion that came from the One and Only.

Thank you!

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 77 Comments »


Oct. 31st 2012

With today being Halloween, I thought I would share some ghost stories about some of the places we have talked about in the blog.

So gather around for some stories I found from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg.

If you dare….


(From our blog: This was the location of the dual between cousins – Posting Family Feud – published in June)

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Chatham was built in 1771 by William Fitzhugh and named after his classmate, Sir William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. The Georgian mansion became noted for its owner’s hospitality during colonial times, but played an even more significant role during the Civil War when it served as a Union headquarters. Walt Whitman and Clara Barton nursed the Union wounded there.

High on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River and the city of Fredericksburg stands Chatham. The mansion has hosted many important people, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The spectral apparition haunting the estate is none of these illustrious figures, however. The ghost of Chatham is an English girl who returns in memory of a lost love. Dressed all in white, she walks upon her favorite path at the estate in fulfillment of a deathbed vow.

She was brought to Chatham by her father, who wished to sever the young woman’s romance with an English drysalter. Despite the enjoyable social life of the Virginia estate, the girl pined for her lover. The young drysalter followed her to America, however, and the lovers secretly planned their elopement. Finally the chosen night arrived. The young man silently moored a boat on the Rappahannock and cautiously placed a ladder against his love’s window. But instead of climbing down into the arms of her beloved, the young woman found herself enveloped by General George Washington. A guest at Chatham at the time, the general was informed of the elopement plans by a servant.

Washington had the drysalter arrested on that fateful night, and returned the girl to her father’s custody. Taken back to England by her father, the girl ultimately married someone of a more suitable social standing. But she never forgot her true love or the events at Chatham, and vowed to walk her favorite path on the anniversary of her death.

Several visitors and residents of Chatham have watched the English woman as she makes her anniversary journey on the path now known as Ghost Walk. Always seen between noon and midnight, the lady in white has visited Chatham once every seven years since her death on June 21, 1790.


(From our blog: This is one of the Historic Homes we have visited – Posting Kenmore Plantation – published in September)

Kenmore Plantation

Kenmore was built in 1752 by Col. Fielding Lewis for his bride, Betty Washington Lewis, only sister of George Washington. One of the most successful planters in Fredericksburg, Lewis lost part of his fortune when Virginia’s government failed to reimburse him for financing the Fredericksburg Arms Manufactory during the Revolutionary War. Lewis died in 1782 and the estate was eventually sold out of the family. The Georgian mansion and gardens are now restored to their colonial splendor, and one of its rooms is considered to be among “The 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America”.

Betty Washington Lewis
sister of George Washington

Some people say the ghost of Fielding Lewis is haunted by his financial problems. Other theorize he returns to Kenmore simply because he cannot bear to leave his beautiful plantation – even in death.

Fielding Lewis

No one can be sure why Col. Lewis haunts his 18th century estate, but that he often returns cannot be denied. From the sound of heavy footsteps echoing through empty halls to fireplace andirons mysteriously crashing to the floor, Lewis has made his ghostly presence known to many visitors to the mansion. And Kenmore’s former master has been seen as well as heard.

His apparition usually appears in an upstairs bedchamber where Lewis attended to business matters. There the ghostly Lewis, attired in Revolutionary clothes, has been seen standing and reading a document he holds in his hands. The Colonel has also been seen in the same room, busily studying his accounts, with a look of deep concern in his eyes.
A man who sacrificed his fortune to the cause of American independence, Col. Fielding Lewis may still be troubled by his financial difficulties, as he wanders the rooms of his beloved estate.


(From our blog: This is the plantation that William Bernard took his new wife and children to after the death of Fannie Hipkins-Bernard- Posting A Father’s Love – published in June)

Mannsfield Plantation
in ruins after the Civil War

This 18th century stone mansion survived more than a century o f American change and turmoil until it was burned accidentally by Confederate forces during the Civil War. It was built in 1749 by Mann Page, a delegate to the House of Burgesses. The Mannsfield property adjoins the Fredericksburg Country Club, which is not open to the public.

“The South Will Rise Again,” is a familiar saying. But for the Confederate soldiers who haunt Mannsfield, the South never died. During the Civil War, Mannsfield was occupied by both Union and Confederate forces. The estate served as hospital and headquarters for both armies at different times. But it is the ghostly men in gray who return to haunt Mannsfield. Several nearby residents have sighted the apparitions of the Confederate soldiers as they congregate beneath the estate’s large trees.

The greatest number of ghostly visits occurred, however, while a clairvoyant woman was living in a nearby home. Regularly, the woman saw the uniformed men as they stood guard, tended to their horses, or cared for wounded soldiers. Perhaps these spectral Confederates who still haunt Mannsfield are awaiting the resurrection of the South.


(From our blog: This is the tavern across the street from the Schooler House B&B – Posting Weekend at the Plantation – published in August)

The Rising Sun Tavern

The Rising Sun Tavern recreates tavern life of the 18th century, when a tavern was the center of colonial life. Built in 1760 by George Washington’s brother, Charles, as a home, the building began its role of a tavern in 1792. It served as the city’s post office and stage coach stop. Originally known as the Eagle Tavern among the most patriotic symbols of early America, the tavern continued to operate under several keepers until 1827, when its liquor license was revoked.

Charles Washington
Brother of George Washington

Although its days of challenging and lively political discussions and games of cards and chess over pints of ale are past, the Rising Sun Tavern is still a lively historic attraction and its ghostly inhabitant maintains the spirit of cheer and mischief that once thrived at the tavern. For instance, one tavern guide found that the ghost delighted in unplugging the lights in an upstairs room. Tired of having to replug the cords, she finally cried, “Come on now, stop it!” As she turned to leave the room, the guide suddenly felt herself slipping to the floor as the tavern ghost pulled the rug out from under her. The lights remained plugged in the rest of the day, however.

Another hostess was coming down the stairs early one morning when she felt something tugging at the hem of her dress. She looked to see if her colonial gown was caught on something, but found nothing amiss. As she tried to proceed down the steps, however, she felt herself held tightly in place. Long a believer that the tavern’s ghost was its last owner, John Frazier, she exclaimed, “All right, John, let go!” Immediately she felt herself freed as the ghost let go of her dress hem.

Evidently the ghost is a playful apparition, for he delights in pulling the mob caps from the tavern hostesses’ heads. He also moves objects, such as candles, from their regular storage places. The tavern ghost may also be filled with the Christmas spirit since he delights in pulling his pranks during the holiday season.

Stratford Hall

Stratford Plantation
Historic Haunts

This is the family plantation of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee. Last weekend I attended their Historic Haunts event on Saturday. It was open to people of all ages. With spooky games for the kids, food and drink and a ghost tour of the Great House, fun was to be had by all.

I was on the first ghost tour at twilight. Our tour guide was a kind gentleman dressed in colonial wear. He guided us around the grounds of the Great House and through it with our flashlights as the only source of light. Along the way we met up with other staff dressed in either colonial wear or costumes that wouldn’t be too scary for the young ones.

The stories we heard told of ghostly appearances of men, women and children that called this grand plantation home. After a walk through the Great House and boxwood garden, our tour ended at the family cemetery vault, which no longer has remains in it. It was a great time hearing the stories and seeing the plantation as the sun disappeared.

Once I returned to Belle Grove Plantation, I had a surprise waiting for me on my cell phone. During the first story, just before entering the house, I decided to video tape the guide telling the story of the ghostly visitors of Stratford Hall. Brett had not been able to attend and I wanted him to see what I got to see.

When I played the video on my phone, the tape started out fine. It was nice and clear, in full color. As the story moved along, the color of the video seemed to go to a gray color. It started out light at first. Then all of a sudden it when completely gray. But what was surprising was that the video started jumping around as if something was cause some kind of electrical disturbance. As suddenly as it came, it left.

So what could it have been?

Did one of the ghostly visitors walk in front of my cell phone as I taped the guide?

Who knows. But it does make you wonder.

We are just days away from the Silent Auction deadline!

Get your bids in soon!

Deadline is Friday, November 2nd at 11:59pm Eastern

Get your piece of Virginia History and help us preserve the history at Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 46 Comments »

Weathering the Storm

Oct. 28th 2012

We are back from the plantation and at our current home in Chesapeake. With Hurricane Sandy coming in from the Atlantic, we needed to get prepared for what is to come. As for Chesapeake, we should have some high winds and rain, but nothing that we haven’t seen before. When we arrived this afternoon, we found that most schools and some businesses had already closed for Monday. Because of where my current office is I may not be going in either. I work out of an attic office in a local branch. It is an older building, which most of the times I love. But for this situation, I need to be more cautious. The roof doesn’t have much between the outside and me. And with tall Southern Pines that are prone to snapping off easily, I don’t think I want to brave 30 to 60 mile per hour winds in that space.

Walnut Tree

As we left the plantation today, I felt kind of sad and concern. Belle Grove Plantation has seen some hard storms over the last year. We have lost three major trees in and around our bowling green. We have also lost two large branches on one of the oldest trees, a walnut just to the left of the entry gate. Because of this loss, the walnut, which I would estimate being between 200 to 300 years, has left it exposed and weak. As we pulled out, I wondered if it would survive the winds of Sandy tomorrow and Tuesday. We are due to go back on Wednesday so time will tell.

To all that are in the path of this storm,

please stay safe!

Hickory Tree

Fall has definitely come to Belle Grove Plantation! As we pulled in, we were greeted by a large pile of leaves from a hickory and gum tree near the house. The leaves on most of the trees have turned now and have begun to fall off. The trees across the river don’t look as bright as they had been last weekend. Our two crepe myrtles on the river side has started turning. But I expect after the high winds and rain over the next two days, there won’t be much left to see in the way of leaves.

Crepe Myrtles

River view

In the meantime…..

We still have a couple more posting from our “working vacation” last week. So be on the lookout for them over the next few days. With the possibility of me being home tomorrow, if we have power, I should be able to prepare them for you. I also have some cool stories to tell from my visit to Stratford Hall on Saturday!

Lot 15
Denton Bone China – 6″ in height
Antique – Age unknown
value est. $45.00

Thank you to all who have placed bids on our Silent Vintage and Antiques Auction. We appreciate the support in raising funds to turn our little 1790s Summer Kitchen into a museum to house all the artifact and history of Belle Grove. If you haven’t places a bid, check out our Silent Auction page by clicking the link below!

The current bid is listed there under the item. If you find an item you would like to bid on, email your bid to us at We will be accepting bids until Friday, November 2nd at 11:59pm Eastern Time. There are some really wonderful items that were donated by most of the antique stores I have written about in our blog! Here is your chance to help us and win a piece of Virginia history!

Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook too!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 85 Comments »

Working Vacation

Oct. 16th 2012

Belle Grove

This weekend was the start for our week long vacation. We decided to start it off by spending Saturday and Sunday at the plantation. After a restful night’s sleep, I rose for a walk around the plantation. This time I ventured farther into the farm fields. The farmer that leases the fields planted corn and soybean this year. He has harvested the corn and I am sure will be harvesting the soy bean soon. I walked along the road way that once lead to the barns. The barns are long gone and all we have left are three silos. From what I understand, those will be coming down some time this winter to improve the view of the farm. After passing the silos, I walked along the wooded area between the farm field and the river. I could hear several birds calling to each other. I am not really good at identifying birds at the plantation with the exception of the osprey, eagles and buzzards that we see so often flying overhead. But I am sure as I spend more time there, I will be able to identify them better.

Just a little ways into the fields, I made a turn onto a farm road that headed towards the middle of the field. From what I understand, these dirt road ways are as old as the plantation and were used by the slaves and later the field hands as they worked the fields. I was told that there was a slave quarters that use to be located in the middle of the fields for the slaves that worked the fields. I haven’t been able to confirm it yet.

As I reached the road way that lead to the front gate, I could see the manor house and caretaker’s house in the distance. Suddenly above me I could hear the screaming of eagles. I looked up to see two bald eagles flying over at a very high distance. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of them, but you could see them riding the wind currents. It was just amazing.

Front Entry Gate

I made my way back to the front gate and stood in the shade of one of the trees located there. As I looked at it, I tried to image who may have sat under this very shade and what they may have been thinking. I looked towards the manor house and at the trees around the bowling green. One thing about this plantation is the beauty of its trees. I image that when John Moore, step-grandfather of James Madison named it Belle Grove, he must have had the same feeling.

Our trees haven’t really started to turn yet for fall, with the exception of one. But I am sure they will soon. I thought about that change and about when they would be green again. I could feel my heart jump as I realized the next time they were green again, we would be open for business. What a great way to start!

I made my way around through the house and stopped at the dining room window to see we had a “visitor” on the riverside of the house. A small groundhog was enjoying his morning salad of dandelions. Our yard is filled with them. Too bad our little “gardener” couldn’t eat more. One day, we will have a beautiful yard of green grass and our guest will have to find another location for breakfast. But for the time being, we are glad to see that we can provide him a hearty meal.

View from the Riverside Porch

Rappahannock River

After he scampered off, I walked out on to the riverside porch and sat down on the craved stone steps. The sun was bright and warm and it danced off the Rappahannock River as it passed by the plantation. The sun’s light was like thousands of little diamonds sparkling on the surface. The warmth of the light was just so relaxing. I tilled my head back and just sat there absorbing the light and feeling the rush of my busy life just melting away.

School House Bed and Breakfast

After spending another wonderful night at the plantation, we headed out on Sunday morning to Fredericksburg. We wanted to spend a night at our favorite Fredericksburg bed and breakfast, Schooler House in the Historic Downtown. Andi, the innkeeper and her trusted side kick, Enzo makes staying there great joy. Enzo has been to “puppy boot camp” and had just returned over the last week so we wanted to welcome him home.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg

After we arrived, Brett crashed in the room to watch some football and nap while I head to a book sale I saw as we drove in. This sale had been going on over the weekend, so I was sure I missed some of the good books, but I was delighted to see that there were still some very nice selections still to be had. We have a library at Belle Grove that I will need to fill so book sales are always good. I was able to find fourteen books that covered literature and one autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Most were printed in the 1940s and were in wonderful shape.

Eileen’s Bakery
Fredericksburg Virginia

After my purchase, I made a stop at a local bakery called Eileen’s Bakery. Andi had told me that it was one of the places we needed to stop at when we returned last time. I was so glad I did! The bakery is in an old church and has such a wonderful atmosphere. It serves both bakery items and has a small deli counter. I wanted to get a little something for Brett and me to have after our dinner, but when I arrived at the bakery case, I found it impossible to select just two. So I just ordered one of everything they had! When I got them back, I showed Brett the selections. He said we should just skip dinner and eat dessert.

Apricot Jam Bars
Eileen’s Bakery

Maple and Vanilla Shortbread
Eileen’s Bakery

Lemon Crinkle
Eileen’s Bakery

Coconut Macaroon
Eileen’s Bakery

Citrus Shortbread
Eileen’s Bakery

Raspberry Shortbread Swirl
Eileen’s Bakery

Vanilla Cupcake with Butter Cream Frosting
Eileen’s Bakery

Molasses Soy Glazed Pumpkin Cake
Eileen’s Bakery

But we didn’t. We headed over to the Capital Ale House on Caroline Street and enjoyed a wonderful meal. You may remember us talking about this place in two past postings.

Capital Ale House

It is a wonderful restaurant with a large selection of beers and ales. We started our meal off with a warm giant pretzel and stone ground spicy and sweet grain mustard. If it wasn’t bad manners I think I could have licked the bowl once the mustard was gone. It was so good! Brett had a bowl of macaroni and cheese with spinach added. It was such a great combination. I had a plate of fried pierogies with sour cream. In case you don’t know what a pierogie is it’s a dumpling similar to ravioli filled with mashed potatoes, cheese and sometimes onions. It is boiling to cook the dumplings then fried. I generally serve it with sautéed onions and real bacon bits. I didn’t get pictures of the dishes (sorry) because we started eating as soon as we got it. But take my word, it was awesome!

Stratford Hall
Montross, Virginia

Robert E. Lee
Stratford Hall

This morning, Brett and I got up and headed to the first of several meetings we have set up on our vacation. I know, it’s a vacation, but it these meetings are important too and it helps being able to do them during the week while we are off. The first meeting was at Stratford Hall with Jim. Stratford Hall is the home of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee. It is located just 29 miles from Belle Grove. We talked with Jim about how we could work together with Stratford Hall and how we could be of benefit to each other. After our meeting Jim was gracious in showing us the gardens of Stratford Hall. I have been viewing gardens at different locations to get ideas for our landscaping and walking gardens at Belle Grove. We viewed three gardens today at Stratford. The first was the east gardens which were the formal boxwood walking garden and the cutting garden. Then we walked over to the west garden which is more of the working garden for the kitchen. I got a lot of really good ideas for our kitchen garden there.

View of the Boxwood Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Boxwood Garden Gate
Stratford Hall

View of the Slave Quarters just inside the Cutting Garden
Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

View of the Working Kitchen Garden
Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall

After our meeting at Stratford Hall, we headed over to Westmoreland Berry Farm to get more details on their vendor service for the local fruits, vegetables, jams, preserves and sauces they have. It is our goal at Belle Grove to use as much locally grown produce in our dishes as possible. We want our guest to be able to experience all that Virginia has to offer. We tried one of their samples they had on display, Apple Salsa. It was very spicy, but yet had a sweet under tone to it. It was very good.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Westmoreland Berry Farm

From here, we headed back to Chesapeake to regroup and get ready for our trip and meetings in Richmond and Charlottesville on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Thursday we will celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary as well. Then it will be back to Belle Grove for the end of our glorious vacation on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It may be something of a working vacation for us this year, but what a wonderful “job” it will become!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 101 Comments »

Week to Come

Oct. 11th 2012

Just 7 more hours of work and Brett and I will officially on vacation!


So what do we have plan for our week off?

Friday, Saturday and Sunday – The Plantation!

Monday – Meeting with Stratford Hall, Home of Robert E. Lee and his Family / Possible a Meeting with a Local Winery

Stratford Hall

Tuesday – Back to the house to regroup

Wednesday – Off to Richmond! We are going to the Historic Society of Virginia to view some of the Families Pictures and Portraits. Then we are going to tour Virginia House in Richmond. This is a historic home and gardens. We are going to see it with our dear friend Terri.

Virginia Historic Society

Virginia House

Thursday – We are going to the Virginia Executive Mansion! We have wanted to see it for a long time! Then it is off to Charlottesville to see our favorite lawyer, Brian. We could never have gotten through the contract without him! Then dinner out for our 26th Wedding Anniversary. Last year for our 25th we went to Louisiana and New Orleans to see 11 Southern Plantation! We are going to end the evening at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast in Orange, Virginia.

Virginia Executive Mansion

Friday – We are off to meet with the wonderful people at James Madison Museum in Orange, Virginia. Afterward we will be going to a meeting at Montpelier, James Madison home and where we fell in love with the history of James and Dolley Madison. After our meeting we are heading back to the Plantation!

James Madison Museum
Orange, Virginia


Saturday – We have another meeting with one of our other Wineries.

Sunday – Back home to Chesapeake.

It is going to be a very exciting week! We can’t wait to share our adventure and the tons of pictures I know I will be taking! We are going to try to get online throughout the week! So check back for updates!

Don’t forget to check out our Facebook page! We will be updating our status throughout our travels! If you haven’t “Liked” us on Facebook, please do! If you have, please consider sharing us with your friend!

We look forward to sharing! Thank you for all your support!

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

Whirlwind Weekend

Sep. 25th 2012

Well we survived the jam packed weekend at the plantation! What a time we had! There is so much I don’t even know where to begin! All I do know is that I cannot wait to be there full time working towards this wonderful dream!

Saturday was so much fun! We worked all day with the film crew, first showing them around the plantation and giving them the history of Belle Grove. While we were at the church showing them around the cemetery, we met a very nice couple from King George who was there looking around the tombstones. I am glad to know that I am not the only one who enjoys seeing them. But in our conversation with them, I found out that they had not been to Belle Grove yet. So I invited them to come with the families from Port Royal on Sunday at 1pm. After they left and as we were leaving, I noticed another person standing in front of the church taking pictures. I decided to walk over and say “Hi” as I was leaving. She told me that she was in Fredericksburg for her daughter’s wedding and wanted to stop and see the church. She was interested in it age and history. She came to the right person on that account! It really warmed my heart to know that so many are interested in this beautiful place!

Because we were working with the film crew most of the day on Saturday and into the night, Brett and I were not able to go to Stratford Hall on Saturday for the 6th Annual Wine Fest. It was just so much fun working with them. I can’t wait to reveal who they are and what they were filming. (That is coming soon)

Sunset over the River
View from the bluff at Belle Grove

Belle Grove at night is something to see! The only time I have ever been there during the evening or when it was dark was at twilight and just after. And even then there was a full moon so it was almost like daytime. But this time, the moon was about a half so the light was not as bright. But the sky at night!! How can I put it into words? I have always lived in the city so seeing a night sky limits the view of the stars. But here where the cities lights are miles away and there is nothing to stop your view, except a few trees and a passing cloud. It was just breath taking! I stood in front of the manor house and just couldn’t take my eyes off of it. The stars formed a beautiful backdrop with the manor as a dark silhouette. I just tried to image what it had been like to see it through all those years when there was no electric power. Can you image pulling up to the house with only a lantern as your light?

Stratford Hall
Great House

Sunday morning, we decided to run to Stratford Hall to the Wine Fest for about one hour. I know that isn’t a lot, but we wanted to experience it so we knew what to expect next year. We arrived shortly after they opened at 11am. We came in through the Visitor Center, but didn’t stop to really look through. We were on a mission! We were first greeted by a tent for Wine Stomping. They had a barrel with grapes for kids to stomp the grapes! Then we caught sight of a classic car show. There were some really cool classic cars. But we didn’t spend much time looking at them either.

Classic Cars

Our main focus was the vendors that had been stationed in the yard of the Great House. Most were wineries like Ingleside, Oakcrest, and even Trump Winery. Yes that would be Donald Trump’s winery in the Charlottesville area.

We also had a chance to meet a vendor from a local farm that specializes in cheese. Just what we were looking for! I really want to make sure that our guests have the full Virginia experience when visiting Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast! So when we serve our Virginia Wines and Mint Juleps for the Wine and Cheese Receptions each afternoon at 5pm, we want to serve local Virginia Cheese as well!

Marshall Farm

There were also several artists and craft vendors there. We are hoping to have artist retreats and arts and craft events at the plantation too.

Creighton’s Creations

Jen Donald

One vendor that I was most excited about was the “George Washington’s Friends”. This organization is dedicated to preserving the times and places of Colonial Virginia. Through interpretations of actual historic persons in Virginia, they bring to life those that most just read about. We are excited to find that there is a “James Madison” and “Dolley Madison” we can contact! Who knows, maybe you will have a chance to meet the Madisons at Belle Grove some day!

George Washington’s Friends

George Washington’s Friends

Another vendor that I was excited about was the “Northern Neck Master Gardeners”. As we start planning our landscape and gardens, we want to make sure that we are using accurate plants for our plantation. We have decided not to go 100% colonial in our plantings, but to have plants that represent the many generations that have lived at Belle Grove. This organization has had experience in working with a colonial garden too! They have a kitchen herb garden that they manage at George Washington’s birthplace, just 15 miles from Belle Grove. So I will be consulting them on questions as we get that part of our plan started.

Northern Neck Master Gardeners –

One and a half hours later (yes, I talk too much and we over stayed our time) we grabbed a quick lunch at one of the food vendors. It smelled so good! It was just like being at a carnival! You could smell the onions, peppers and Italian sausage cooking. So I grabbed a Philly Cheese Steak and Brett got two hot dogs.

Philly Cheese Steak

We made it back to Belle Grove just in time to greet the couple from King George at 1pm. Shortly after they arrived, the families from Port Royal arrived. I had already started showing the property to the King George couple and Brett picked up the Port Royal families. Just as I was finishing the second floor, the reporter for the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star arrived at 2pm. So Brett combined the group and finished showing them the property while I met with the reporter.

I had met Cathy Dyson of the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star while I was at a King George Historic Society Picnic in June of this year. The picnic was the one at Cleydael that I wrote about in a past post. Today she was here to talk to us about Belle Grove and the bed and breakfast. I walked her and the photographer around the property while telling them about the history. As usual, my history lesson ran way over. Brett has told me many times that I get too long winded when talking about the history of Belle Grove. But I find it hard to decide what not to talk about. The way I see it, all the history is important because it is what made Belle Grove what it is today. Cathy was more than accommodating and listened as I talked about this beautiful plantation. When I apologized for being too long winded, she was very sweet and said that it showed how passionate I was about this plantation and its history. It really was a great first interview and I really look forward to reading her piece and having her do more in the future.

Before I left, our caretaker had a little surprise for me. He had pulled out a tray of artifacts that he has found through the years. I was so surprised and in awe of the items! I now have to make an appointment to visit Ferry Farm to id and date all these new finds!

Looks like Burnt Wood

Leather pieces and heel of a shoe


Pieces of clay pipes

Animal Bones


Cup and Plate

Base of a Ceramic Pot (inside)

Base of a Ceramic Pot (outside)

Base of a Glass Bottle (inside)

Base of a Glass Bottle (outside)

Pieces of small bottles

Possible English Wine Bottle ?


Plate Shard

See more of the artifacts given to us by the Caretaker on Facebook!

Brett and I arrived home on Sunday evening around 7:00pm. After unpacking and cleaning up, I was in bed asleep by 7:45pm. I slept until 7:30am this morning! I didn’t realize how tired I was because I had been so excited through each part of the weekend! Now I just can’t wait until the next time we head back to the plantation. What wonderful surprises lay in wait of us? And what new experiences or new friends will we meet? Friday’s just don’t come fast enough anymore!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 40 Comments »