New Arrival Donation

Jun. 25th 2014

We are so excited to announce that we will be receiving one of the most amazing donations to date from the James Madison Museum in Orange, Virginia.

Piano forte 1

The Board of Directors have donated an American, Sheraton style, square pianoforte. This amazing pianoforte was made by Loud & Brothers of Philadelphia. It has beautiful gold script above the keyboard which reads:

Piano forte 4

“Loud & Brothers Cabinet and Square Pianoforte Manufacturers Philadelphia”

Piano forte 2

It is made of mahogany and treated to look like rosewood. There are engravings inside on the upper right panel as you open the lid, which date back to 1832/33 for repairs and one from 1941 when it was scripted as “rebuilt”. However. much of the internal and external piece are original. It appears that the note pads (pieces of wood with felt) are younger than the 1800’s. The green painted “cover” for the strings are original. It had all of its legs at the time of the donation to the James Madison Museum in 1983, but is now missing one of the legs. There are no records of what happened and no one on the current Board of Directors has been around beyond 5 or 6 years. The pianoforte is in need of repair for both the missing leg and for the instrument. It currently does not play.

Piano forte 3

This pianoforte was given as a gift to the James Madison Museum by Mrs. Audette Kimball on February 1, 1983 and has been residing at the museum since that time. It was appraised at $3,000 by Lionbridge Antiques and Fine Arts of Charlottesville on January 31, 1983.

The pianoforte is currently at the James Madison Museum at 129 Caroline Street, Orange, Virginia 22960. If you would like to see it before it is moved to Belle Grove Plantation, please stop in and ask Bethany, the Museum Administrator to show it to you. While you are there, make sure you view all the wonderful exhibitions they have there! This is a museum that is seriously overlooked when people are traveling through. With Montpelier just down the road, most miss the opportunity to see the wonderful collection of James and Dolley Madison’s personal items as well as many other wonderful collection pieces. We have written about this many times and love going there as often as we can. Please make sure you tell Bethany that Belle Grove sent you!

We would also like to ask for any volunteers to help us move this amazing piece to Belle Grove Plantation. We do not have the means to do so and would very much appreciate any assistance we could get. This piece is very heavy and will require the legs to be removed while in route to Belle Grove.

We would like to extend a warm and much appreciated thank you to the Board of Directors and the James Madison Museum for such a generous donation. It will grace Belle Grove and be loved for years to come!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on New Arrival Donation

Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Jun. 25th 2014


Belle Grove’s July 4 event supports effort to restore outbuildings


Cathy Dyson

June 25th, 2014


Belle Grove Plantation is hosting a July 4th picnic and concert on the lawn to celebrate Independence Day and to begin raising money to restore three historic outbuildings.

Belle Grove is the birthplace of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. It was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River as a tobacco plantation.

The property fell into disrepair over time. The mansion was restored in 1997, and Brett and Michelle Darnell opened a bed and breakfast on the property last year.


Slaves once lived in half of the summer kitchen,

which has slid off its foundation and needs considerable work.

Now, the two are turning their focus to the oldest structures there: the summer kitchen, ice house and smokehouse. The three were built between 1720 and 1750 and were in use when Madison was born there in 1751.

The kitchen, half of which was used as slave quarters, is falling off its foundation, and portions of the inner wall have fallen away. The fireplace on the kitchen side still has the iron rod on the back fire wall, along with the rods that hung down and held pots.

“It really blows my mind to think what meals would have been prepared there and who they served,” said Michelle Darnell in an email.

The condition of the smokehouse is just as bad. Two walls already have fallen away. The icehouse is in the best condition, but its bricks have come loose and fallen around the window and back wall. Along with the kitchen, it’s suffered damage from animals making their dens there as well as from the weather.

The Darnells want to raise money to restore the buildings and to create a living museum where visitors could experience life on a plantation. Any artifacts found in the restoration would be placed in the summer kitchen, along with a memorial, naming those who were enslaved at Belle Grove over the years.

The Darnells have enlisted the help of a volunteer intern, Lauren Souza, to head up the restoration and preservation project. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation and has worked at Mount Vernon and Montpelier as a restoration specialist.

Initial estimates suggest the work will cost between $50,000 and $75,000, the Darnells said.

“It is killing us to stand by and watch as the board start popping [and] bricks start dropping away,” Michelle Darnell said. “The only thing stopping us from rescuing these historic treasures is funding.”

Belle Grove will begin the drive to raise money with its “Red, White and Blues” concert and picnic under the stars on July 4. The concert begins at 6 p.m. with Mike Mallick of Maryland and his old-school rock band. They’ll be followed by the Alexis Suter blues band from New York City.

Through Friday, tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. After that day, the prices go up to $25 for adults and $15 for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Tickets are available on Belle Grove Plantation’s website, by calling 540/621-7340 and at the event.

Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.

To see the online article and to leave comments, please visit:

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Meet the Volunteers!

Jun. 24th 2014

We put out call for some volunteer help at the plantation and the call was answered!

We would like to introduce you to some very wonderful people!

Carol - Master Gardener

Meet Carol

Master Garden Volunteer

Carol has been volunteering with Belle Grove Plantation for over two months! She started in the spring helping us get our flower beds and grounds into shape. Each Monday, Carol can be found weeding, raking, trimming, shoveling or planting in and around the mansion. When Dominion Power sent people over to the entrance to cut back the branches around the power lines, Carol and her husband took two weeks to clean up the mess they left behind. It required a lot of wood cutting and even a control burn to clean up the mess! But today, you can see better as you pull away from the entrance and it doesn’t look like a war zone. Carol helps Brett and I understand the needs of our landscape and what we need to get to improve on it. We are very glad that she has stepped up to help us and appreciate her hard work in helping us keep this historic landmark beautiful.


Meet Lauren


Lauren started working with us just a few weeks ago and came from one of our preferred vendors. Lauren has a masters degree in Architectural Preservation and has worked as an assistant at Mount Vernon and Montpelier. We will be using Lauren’s experience and expertise in preservation as we start our restoration and preservation of our three priceless outbuildings. The Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are her main focus and she will lead the project through each of the steps needed to bring them back to their 1720 time period. While she is working on this project, she will also be helping us as an assistant to Michelle during the week. We are excited that Lauren has come to the plantation and look forward to her helping us preserve the past here at Belle Grove Plantation!


Meet John


John came to us through our Easter Dinner, when his family joined us for a wonderful meal and tour. During the meal, we discovered John love of history and architecture. It wasn’t hard for us to see that he would be a great asset as a Summer Docent. John received our history and script just a couple of weeks ago. He did his first “tour” with Michelle last Thursday. John was so impressive that we turned over the tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to him as the lead docent. After just one day, Brett and Michelle have already decided to make John a trainer for any new docents that may come aboard! But docent work is not all of John’s talents! He is also a wonderful artist and will be working on a drawing of Belle Grove Plantation for us! Be on the look out for his work!


Meet Rachel


Rachel has been with Belle Grove Plantation from the very beginning! In July, 2013, Belle Grove opened its doors for a July 4th Open House. Not truly advertised expect on Facebook, Brett and Michelle didn’t truly expect too many people to come. But to be on the safe side, asked Rachel and her mother to come as greeters. Boy we are so glad we did! We ended up with over 100 people showing for the tour! But Rachel handled it like a pro. Since then, Rachel has been available for any volunteer job we have  needed. From wait-staff at dinners to door greeter at Christmas, we have been able to relay on her to back us up. We are excited that she will be joining us for the summer as a docent! She will be truly appreciated here!

We would like to thank each of our volunteer for giving of their time and talents! We have been so truly blessed not only by these volunteers, but by so many that have come to our aid in the past! We couldn’t have done it without you! You are truly appreciated!

If you would like to volunteer with us, please check out our Careers page on our website at:

We would love to have you join us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Meet the Volunteers!

A Very Special Thank You!

Jul. 31st 2013

AA-Thank you

As we draw close to the finish line and get ready to open our doors, we want to take a moment to thank everyone for all the support, love, and encouragement that we have received. We have had those who have supported us from as far away as Australia and as close as just across the road here in King George. We have been truly blessed by so many. And I have to say that we could have never gotten this far without you!

But of all the volunteers that have stepped up, I wanted to send out a very special thank you to one.

Back on July 4th, during our 4th of July Open House; I was approached by one of our guests. She was a young lady who has just recently graduated from college. As we were walking through the house on the tour, she came to me and told me that she was in town until the first part of August. She said that she was pretty much just sitting around waiting to leave to go to her new job and was bored to tears.

Could I use her help on anything…. just anything?

I don’t think she was prepared for my “anythings”.

We had just received our landscaping and had some wonderful volunteers turn out to help us unload the semi-truck (yes semi-truck) of plants and started planting our beds. People worked hard through some of the hottest days of the recent heat wave we had. We are talking over 100 degrees with humidity so high that just walked from the house to the car, you became soaking wet with sweat.



The planting slowed down due the heat wave. Brett spent three weekends digging holes, planting and watering. But he just couldn’t get it all done fast enough over the weekend. So we asked Anna if she wanted to help.

I don’t think I was prepared for Anna’s abilities.


We had 59 Leyland Cypress trees that needed to be planted. When Anna arrived, we had 36 more to go. In just two days, she planted all 36 trees! I was shocked and very grateful!

Over the last three weeks, working two or three days a week, Anna has:

  • Planted 36 Leyland Cypress Trees
  • Planted 86 English Boxwoods
  • Placed newspaper in all the beds to prevent weeds and mulched four major beds and 86 boxwoods, 6 Crepe Myrtles, and 10 Gardenias.
  • Set up soaking hoses on the boxwoods

Never did she complain and quit. Never did she ask for payment. She was arriving, sometimes while I was out running errands and quietly going about her work and slipping away unnoticed.

So I want to thank Anna for giving so freely of her time and working so for us. We could have never completed this project without her. We can’t begin to say how much we have appreciated her.

We want to wish her all the good fortune in the new chapter of her life. She is always welcomed here at the plantation. We promise that we will work hard to keep these plants beautiful for her to enjoy when she returns for visit.

To see what we are up to at the Plantation

Please visit us on Facebook!

Facebook Link

We are Open and Accepting Reservations!


Email us at


Call Us at 540-621-7340

to make your reservation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 17 Comments »

Belle Grove Plantation makes press!

Jul. 1st 2013



                By Cathy Dyson

                  June 25th, 2013, 3:45 pm

Belle Grove gets some helping hands

Photo by Clara Brabo

Members of the King George Community helped do some landscaping around Belle Grove Plantation on Saturday.

Michelle and Darnell are opening a bed-and-breakfast at Belle Grove, the birthplace of President James Madison. They had a truckload of items coming Saturday morning and needed help with the planting.

Supervisor Ruby Brabo put out a Facebook request on Friday asking for help. On Saturday, 17 residents, including some from Richmond and Chesapeake, showed up to unload the flatbed, then begin the chore of planting cherry trees and hydrangea bushes, roses and peonies.

“We are just so overwhelmed with the turnout,” Michelle Darnell said. “It only makes us more excited to be here and to be opening this beautiful Southern plantation to the public again.”

After the truck was unloaded, Brabo said Michelle Darnell “rewarded the group” with a tour of the house.

The Darnells had purchased hundreds of shrubs, plants and bushes as part of their primary landscaping. They got about a third of the plants and trees in the ground, with the help of the volunteers.

The Darnells had hoped to open their B&B, which is off U.S. 301 near the Port Royal bridge, in March in time for Madison’s birthday. But they were delayed in getting their special exception from the King George Board of Supervisors and have faced other delays as they’ve tried to get the 18th-century plantation ready for visitors.

They don’t own the property, but have a lease to operate from the owners, the Austrian company Franz Haas Machinery.

The Darnells are hoping to open the facility by mid-July. But even before then, Belle Grove plans to participate with the Fourth of July celebration at Port Royal, which is just over the bridge from Belle Grove.

The plantation will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. for guided tours. There is no charge, but donations will benefit the restoration of the 18th-century summer kitchen, ice house and smoke house.

Those interested in tours may advance register by emailing the Darnells at Walk ins Welcome on July 4th.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 10 Comments »

The Landscaping, Sidewalk, Hurley and an Incredible Find have arrived!

Jun. 24th 2013


Saturday morning at 10am, a huge red Kenworth truck pulled into Belle Grove Plantation bearing lots of beautiful new plants! We also had 17 wonderful volunteers who gave of their time and worked hard in the heat to help us unload and plant 1/3 of the plants! We can’t begin to tell you how much we appreciate all our volunteers! We could have never done this alone!


Thank you to the following:

Mr. and Mrs. Hudson

Mr. and Mrs. Moore

King George Board of Supervisors Ruby Brabo and her daughter Clara

Mrs. Veazey and her son Warren

Mrs. Durrette and her daughter Rachel

Mr. and Mrs. Crosson

Mrs. DeGroat from Chesapeake

Mrs. Barnett from Chesapeake

Mrs. Goodall and her friend Alex from Richmond

We had the following plants to arrive:

Blaauw’s Pink Azalea – Delaware Valley White Azalea – Girard’s Renee Michelle  Azalea – Karen Azalea – Milky Way Dogwoods – Old English boxwoods – Golden Mop Cypress – Pink Velour Crepe Myrtles – Monarda Petite Delight – Karl Rosenfeld Peony – Okame Japanese Cherry Trees – Double Red Knockout Roses – Double Pink Knockout Roses – Crown Jewel Gardenia – Leyland Cypress – Twist and Shout Hydrangea – Limelight Hydrangea – Charles Joly Hydrangea – Sunny Yellow Knockout Roses

Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cypress

Double Red Knockout Roses

Double Red Knockout Roses

Pink Velour Crepe Myrtles

Pink Velour Crepe Myrtles

Crown Jewel Gardenia

Crown Jewel Gardenia

Old English Boxwood

Old English Boxwood

Golden Mop Cypress already planted

Golden Mop Cypress already planted

One bed almost complete

One bed almost complete

As we were digging holes, we were finding more artifacts! One find was more than we could have hoped for! Alex found two parts of a white plate and two pieces of green glass. As soon as I saw the green glass I knew it was from an old wine bottle. But you just couldn’t date it because it lacked markings. But the white plate looked really interesting! I held my breath and hoped until today. I ran to Ferry Farm to get it dated! Mara confirmed my wildest dream! It dates from 1740 to 1755! It is now the oldest pieces we have found on Belle Grove! And the date would have been when James Madison’s Grandmother was still here! Can you believe it?! James Madison’s Grandmother, Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore and his mother, Nelly Conway Madison could have held this plate!! It just blows your mind!

White Plate (1740 to 1755)

White Plate (1740 to 1755)

Green Glass from a Wine Bottle. Found in the same hole believed to be the same dates

Green Glass from a Wine Bottle. Found in the same hole believed to be the same dates

While we were hard at work on the landscaping, we had a crew of hard working masons from Betts Masonry working hard on our sidewalks. You know that we have been pulling our brick from the Riverside to move to the front. Well Saturday we started seeing the fruit of our labors! We love this sidewalk! It should be done by Friday if we don’t get delayed by the weather!

Getting Started on the Sidewalk

Getting Started on the Sidewalk

Getting Started on the Sidewalk

Getting Started on the Sidewalk




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And I know we haven’t talked much about Hurley , our Official Plantation dog, because I have been at Belle Grove and he and Brett have been in Chesapeake. Well Hurley has arrived back at Belle Grove Plantation! He has a photo shoot on Tuesday with a soon to be bride.


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Just like me, he is discovering lots of new things, like this fake owl on the porch! I don’t think he cares for it.





After all the hard work, the end of the day gave us a wonderful sunset!


Just another great day at Belle Grove Plantation!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Hurley | 16 Comments »