Drum Roll Please . . .


Just last year, we received an email from the Virginia Center for Architecture that we had been nominated by the Virginia Architects Association and the Center as one of the top 250 architecturally significant structures in the Virginia. We were just so surprised and honored. To be counted among such places as Montpelier, Monticello and Mount Vernon. We were informed that December, 2013, there would be a public vote to select the top 100 for an exhibition at the Center.

December arrived and we called on all our supporter to vote and to help spread the word. We worked through our social media and reached out through our blog. At the end of December, when the voting polls were closed, we were informed that we were selected as one of the top 100! We were just so excited! Of course our first question was, “Where did we rank?”. But this question would have to wait for an answer until April 10th, the opening of the exhibition. The wait was long and the question would creep into my mind as I spoke with pride of being one of the top 100.

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The day finally arrived yesterday and we were eager to answer the question. To our surprise, we did very well . . .

The votes are in and the people have spoken.

The Virginia Center for Architecture announced that Sweet Briar House at Sweet Briar College came out on top in a public poll to identify Virginia’s Favorite Architecture. The survey, which garnered nearly 30,000 votes, found that Virginians chose buildings that evoke powerful emotions and memories as their favorites. Universities and Thomas Jefferson claim most of the top 10, with an historic church and an iconic airport thrown into the mix.
“Keeping in mind that favorite doesn’t necessarily mean best, the results make it clear that we forge deep personal connections to architecture,” says Virginia Center for Architecture Executive Director Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA; “Buildings that hold sentimental value for us are just as meaningful as those that are considered to hold great architectural or historical significance.”

An exhibition titled Virginia’s Favorite Architecture opened on Thursday, April 10 at the Virginia Center for Architecture and highlights each of the 100 structures identified as Virginia’s most beloved pieces of architecture. The exhibition runs through Oct. 19.

So where did Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison fall?

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Through the wonderful support, Belle Grove Plantation came in 29th!

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We just can’t believe it and are just so honored to be included with such wonderful places in Virginia!

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Below you can see where some of your other favorites fell. You can also view the list and see more about the location on the Virginia Center for Architecture’s website at


Virginia’s Favorite Architecture: By the Numbers

*  Thomas Jefferson is the architect appearing most frequently on the list, with 6 structures

*  There are 7 places of worship on the list

*  Schools and universities own or operate 12 structures on the list

*  1 structure hasn’t even been built yet: The VCU Institute for Contemporary Art

*  Nearly all of the structures are cultural destinations: either museums, historic homes, memorials or entertainment venues

*  The Richmond region boasts the most structures on the list with 32; the Blue Ridge region claims 23 (with 6 in the top 10); Northern Virginia has 18; the Hampton region has 16; and Central Virginia holds 11

About the Poll
At the end of 2013, the Virginia Center for Architecture and the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects conducted a public survey to determine Virginia’s most beloved pieces of architecture. Visitors to vacelebrates.org were invited to choose their favorites from among 250 buildings, bridges, monuments, and memorials. The structures were nominated by architects to represent Virginia’s rich architectural heritage.  The “people’s choice” poll was not scientific. “Social media and alumni networks can have a measurable effect on public polls like this one,” says Rhea George, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Virginia Center for Architecture. “We tried to even the playing field a bit by allowing only one set of votes per IP address.”

About the Exhibition
An exhibition titled Virginia’s Favorite Architecture opens on Thursday, April 10 at the Virginia Center for Architecture and highlights each of the 100 structures identified as Virginia’s most beloved pieces of architecture. It is on view at the Virginia Center for Architecture through Oct. 19, 2014. The exhibition was designed by Roberto Ventura with curatorial support from Lauren Bell and Julie Pence.

About the Guest Curator
Roberto L. Ventura has practiced and taught modern and sustainable design in Virginia and North Carolina for 15 years. A member of a number of local teams earning design awards from AIA Richmond and the James River Green Building Council, his work has also been exhibited nationally through the HOME House Project sponsored by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. For the international light art exhibit InLight Richmond 2009, he collaborated with poet Joshua Poteat on the installation “for gabriel,” winning Best in Show.

While maintaining his practice, roberto ventura design studio, Ventura is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Interior Design in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has also taught Interior Architecture at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and has lectured at the University of Oulu, in Oulu, Finland. Ventura holds a Master’s in Architecture from Miami University and a B.A. in Math and Physics from Albion College. He earned his LEED AP accreditation in 2008 and his NCIDQ certification in 2012.

About Virginia Celebrates Architecture
The Virginia’s Favorite Architecture exhibition is part of a year-long observance called Virginia Celebrates Architecture recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects. Throughout the year, members of the American Institute of Architects in Virginia will join their neighbors and the Virginia Center for Architecture in community exercises intended to instill a greater appreciation for proper stewardship of the Commonwealth’s built and natural environment.

About the Virginia Center for Architecture
The Virginia Center for Architecture is located in the Branch House at 2501 Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Fan District. The Center is dedicated to developing the understanding of the power and importance of architecture through programs, exhibitions, and its stewardship of an historic landmark. The Center is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Learn more at www.architectureva.org.

About the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects
The Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects is a professional association representing nearly 2,500 members. Founded by 5 architects in 1914, the Virginia Society AIA has represented the professional interests of architects and allied professionals in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 100 years. For more information, contact the Virginia Society at (804) 644-3041 or visit www.aiava.org.


The List

Sweet Briar House

1.  Sweet Briar House, Sweet Briar College, c. 1790 – Joseph Crews
Sweet Briar, Va.


2.  Monticello, c. 1770 – Thomas Jefferson
Charlottesville, Va.

Burruss Hall, Virginia Tech

3.  Burruss Hall, Virginia Tech, 1936 – William Carneal and J. Ambler Johnston, AIA, of Carneal, Johnston & Wright, Architects and Engineers
Blacksburg, Va.

LUMENHAUS, Virginia Tech

4. Lumenhaus, Virginia Tech, 2009 – Center for Design Research, Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, CAUS
Blacksburg, Va.

The Academical Village, University of Virginia

5. The Academical Village, University of Virginia, 1822 – Thomas Jefferson
Charlottesville, Va.

War Memorial Chapel and Pylons, Virginia Tech

6. War Memorial Chapel and Pylons, Virginia Tech, 1960 – Roy F. Larson, FAIA, of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson
Blacksburg, Va.

Washington Dulles International Airport

7. Washington Dulles International Airport, 1962 – Eero Saarinen and Associates
Chantilly, Va.

Moss Center for the Arts, Virginia Tech

8. Moss Center for the Arts, Virginia Tech, 2013 – Snøhetta
Blacksburg, Va.

Christ Church Alexandria

9. Christ Church, 1773 – Col. James Wren
Alexandria, Va.

Poplar Forest

10. Poplar Forest, 1809 – Thomas Jefferson

Forest, Va.

Main Street Station

11. Main Street Station, 1901 – Wilson, Harris and Richards Architects
Richmond, Va.

Mount Vernon

11. Mount Vernon, 1735 – Augustine Washington
Alexandria, Va.


13. Maymont, 1893 – Edgerton S. Rogers
Richmond, Va.

Virginia State Capitol

14. Virginia State Capitol, 1792 – Thomas Jefferson
Richmond, Va.

The Rotunda, University of Virginia

15. The Rotunda, University of Virginia, 1826 – Thomas Jefferson
Charlottesville, Va.

Governor's Palace

16. Governor’s Palace, 1722 – Henry Cary
Williamsburg, Va.

Stratford Hall

17. Stratford Hall, 1730 – Col. Thomas Lee
Stratford, Va.

Dovetail Construction Company, Inc

18. Dovetail Construction Company, Inc., 2010 – Walter Parks Architect
Richmond, Va.

Gunston Hall

18. Gunston Hall, 1759 – William Buckland and William Bernard Sears
Lorton, Va.

The Sir Christopher Wren Building

20. The Sir Christopher Wren Building, The College of William and Mary, 1702 – Sir Christopher Wren
Williamsburg, Va.

Capitol of Williamsburg

21. Capitol of Williamsburg, 1705 – Henry Cary
Williamsburg, Va.

Lynchburg Courthouse and Monument Terrace

21. Lynchburg Courthouse and Monument Terrace, 1855/1924 – Andrew Ellison, Jr. (Courthouse) and Hurd and Chesterman (Staircase)
Lynchburg, Va.

Shirley Plantation

23. Shirley Plantation, 1738 – John Carter
Charles City, Va.

Smithfield Plantation

24. Smithfield Plantation, 1774 – Col. William Preston

Blacksburg, Va.

The Jefferson Hotel

25. The Jefferson Hotel, 1895 – Carrere and Hastings

Richmond, Va.

Bruton Parish Episcopal Church

26. Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, 1715 – Royal Governor Alexander Spottswood
Williamsburg, Va.

Pope-Leighey House

27. Pope-Leighey House, 1940 – Frank Lloyd Wright
Alexandria, Va.

Humpback Covered Bridge

28. Humpback Covered Bridge, 1857 – Unknown
Covington, Va.

Belle Grove Plantation at Port Conway

29. Belle Grove Plantation at Port Conway, 1790 – Unknown
Port Conway, Va.

Jamestown Fort

30. Jamestown Fort, 1607 – Virginia Company
Jamestown, Va.


31. Montpelier, 1797 – Frances Taylor and Ambrose Madison
Orange, Va.

Old City Hall

32. Old City Hall, 1894 – Elijah E. Myers
Richmond, Va.

Bath Houses at the Warm Springs Pools

33. Bath Houses at the Warm Springs Pools, 1761 – Unknown
Warm Springs, Va.


34. United States Marine Corps War Memorial, 1954 – Edward F. Neild, Felix Weihs de Weldon (Sculptor)
Arlington, Va.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Conservatory

35. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Conservatory, 2003 – Glavé & Holmes Architecture
Richmond, Va.

Fort Monroe National Monument

36. Fort Monroe National Monument, 1834 – Brigadier General Simon Bernard
Hampton, Va.

Broad Street Station Science Museum of Virginia

37. Broad Street Station/Science Museum of Virginia, 1919 – John Russell Pope, FAIA
Richmond, Va.

Blue Ridge Tunnel

38. Blue Ridge Tunnel, 1858 – Claudius Crozet, Engineer
Rockfish Gap, Va.

City Market

39. City Market, 1879 – Unknown
Petersburg, Va.

The Mosque Altria Theater

40. The Mosque/Altria Theater, 1927 – Marcellus Wright, Sr., FAIA, and Charles M. Robinson
Richmond, Va.


40. Swannanoa, 1913 – Noland and Baskervill
Lyndhurst, Va.

Branch House Virginia Center for Architecture

42. Branch House/Virginia Center for Architecture, 1919 – John Russell Pope, FAIA
Richmond, Va.

Martha Washington Inn

43. Martha Washington Inn, 1832 – built for Gen. Francis Preston
Abingdon, Va.

Adam Thoroughgood House

44. Adam Thoroughgood House, c. 1719 – Argall Thorowgood
Virginia Beach, Va.

Arlington House The Robert E. Lee Memorial

44. Arlington House: The Robert E. Lee Memorial, 1818 – George Hadfield
Arlington, Va.

Wickham House Valentine Richmond History Center

46. Wickham House/Valentine Richmond History Center, 1812 – Alexander Parris
Richmond, Va.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Expansion

47. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Expansion, 2010 – Rick Mather + SMBW Architects PLLC
Richmond, Va.

White House of the Confederacy

47. White House of the Confederacy, 1818 – Robert Mills
Richmond, Va.

The VCU Institute for Contemporary Art

49. The VCU Institute for Contemporary Art, Unbuilt – Steven Holl Architects
Richmond, Va.

Point of Honor

50. Point of Honor, c. 1815 – built for George Cabell, Sr.
Lynchburg, Va.

Egyptian Building

51. Egyptian Building, 1845 – Thomas Stewart
Richmond, Va.

Taubman Museum of Art

52. Taubman Museum of Art, 2008 – Randall Stout Architects
Roanoke, Va.

Washington and Lee University Chapel

53. Washington and Lee University Chapel, 1868 – George Washington Custis Lee and Col. Thomas Williamson
Lexington, Va.

Westover Plantation

54. Westover Plantation, 1734 – William Byrd, II
Charles City, Va.


55. National D-Day Memorial, 2001 – Dickson Architects and Associates
Bedford, Va.

St. Andrews Catholic Church

56. St. Andrews Catholic Church, 1902 – William P. Ginther, FAIA
Roanoke, Va.

Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

57. Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, 1792 – John McComb, Jr.
Fort Story, Va.

The Homestead Hotel

57. The Homestead Hotel, 1892 – Yarnell and Goforth; Elzner and Anderson; and Warren and Wetmore
Hot Springs, Va.


59. The Pentagon, 1943 – George E. Bergstrom, FAIA, and David J. Witmer, FAIA
Arlington, Va.

Bacon's Castle

60. Bacon’s Castle, c. 1665 – built by Arthur Allen
Surry, Va.


61. McLean House at Appomattox Courthouse, 1848 – Charles Raine
Appomattox, Va.

Powder Magazine

62. Powder Magazine, 1715 – Royal Governor Alexander Spottswood
Williamsburg, Va.

The Iron Fronts

63. The Iron Fronts, 1869 – Franklin Sterns; William S. Donnan and John Asher
Richmond, Va.

United States Air Force Memorial

64. United States Air Force Memorial, 2006 – James Ingo Freed, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners
Arlington, Va.

Siege Museum

65. Siege Museum, 1841 – James Berrien
Petersburg, Va.

Mount Airy Plantation

66. Mount Airy Plantation, 1764 – attributed to John Ariss
Warsaw, Va.


67. Norfolk Scope Arena, 1971 – Pier Luigi Nervi with Williams and Tazewell
Norfolk, Va.

National Museum of the Marine Corps

68. National Museum of the Marine Corps, 2006 – Fentress-Bradburn Architects
Arlington, Va.

Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts

68. Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts, 1984 – Dewberry & Davis, and John MacFadyen, AIA and Joseph Boggs, FAIA
Vienna, Va.

John Paul Jones Arena

68. John Paul Jones Arena, 2006 – VMDO Architects
Charlottesville, Va.

Rice House

71. Rice House, 1965 – Richard Neutra, FAIA with Thaddeus Longstreth
Richmond, Va.

Berkeley Plantation

71. Berkeley Plantation, 1726 – built by Benjamin Harrison, IV
Charles City, Va.

Virginia House

73. Virginia House, 1929 – Alexander and Virginia Weddell
Richmond, Va.


74. Reynolds Homestead, 1843 – Hardin Williams Reynolds
Critz, Va.

Virginia Military Institute Barracks

75. Virginia Military Institute Barracks, 1839 – Alexander Jackson Davis
Lexington, Va.

Long Branch Plantation

76. Long Branch Plantation, 1811 – Robert Carter Burwell with Benjamin Henry Latrobe
Millwood, Va.

Agecroft Hall

77. Agecroft Hall, 1927 – Homer G. Morse
Richmond, Va.

Executive Mansion

77. Executive Mansion, 1813 – Alexander Parris
Richmond, Va.

The Byrd Theatre

79. The Byrd Theatre, 1928 – Fred Bishop
Richmond, Va.

Torpedo Factory Art Center

80. Torpedo Factory Art Center, 1919 – U.S. Navy
Alexandria, Va.

Carter's Grove Plantation

81. Carter’s Grove Plantation, 1755 – built by David Minitree, James Wheatley, Richard Baylis, and Duncan Lee
James City, Va.


81. Barboursville, 1822 – Thomas Jefferson
Barboursville, Va.

Assateague Lighthouse

81. Assateague Lighthouse, 1867 – Unknown
Assateague Island, Va.

Old Coast Guard Station

84. Old Coast Guard Station, 1903 – George R. Tolman
Virginia Beach, Va.

Carlin's Amoco Station

85. Carlin’s Amoco Station, 1947 – George W. Terp
Roanoke, Va.

Tredegar Iron Works

85. Tredegar Iron Works, 1837 – Reev Davis and others
Richmond, Va.

Coffee Pot Building

87. Coffee Pot Building, 1959 – Kenneth Willis
Lexington, Va.


88. Centre Hill Mansion, 1823 – built for Robert Bolling, IV
Petersburg, Va.

Monumental Church

88. Monumental Church, 1814 – Robert Mills
Richmond, Va.

White's Mill

88. White’s Mill, 1790 – Unknown
Abingdon, Va.

Scottsville Elementary School Addition

91. Scottsville Elementary School Addition, 1984 – VMDO
Scottsville, Va.

Stonewall Jackson House

91. Stonewall Jackson House, c. 1801 – built for Cornelius Dorman
Lexington, Va.

Hollin Hills

93. Hollin Hills, 1971 – Charles W. Goodman, FAIA
Alexandria, Va.


94. Woodlawn, 1800 – Dr. William Thornton
Alexandria, Va.

Ronald Reagan National Airport Expansion

95. Ronald Reagan National Airport Expansion, 1997 – César Pelli, FAIA with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Alexandria, Va.

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Birthplace

96. Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Birthplace, 1846 – Rev. Rufus W. Bailey
Staunton, Va.


97. Rosewell, 1744 – Mann Page
Gloucester, Va.

Freemason Street Baptist Church

98. Freemason Street Baptist Church, 1850 – Thomas U. Walter, FAIA
Norfolk, Va.

The Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium

99. The Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, 2006 – Carlton Abbott, FAIA of Carlton Abbott and Partners, P.C
Jamestown, Va.

Hampton Coliseum

99. Hampton Coliseum, 1970 – A.G. Odell, Jr. and Associates
Hampton, Va.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | No Comments »

From Russia with Love

I don’t generally talk about our guests that come and stay at the plantation, but I am making an acceptation in this case. Back in November, 2013, we received three very interesting visitors. These gentlemen stopped by after finding us by chance on their way through. They were from Moscow, Russia and were doing a quick tour through the United States, stopping at all the Presidential birthplaces and homes. One gentleman is a university professor and also owns several hotels in Russia. Their tour of the mansion was very brief and at times challenging because they didn’t speak or understand very much English. Brett did the best that he could explaining the history. As they left they told us that they would like to return.

Last Wednesday evening, I returned from Chesapeake after taking the day off to visit with our kids and pets. I was tired from driving and decided to retire for the evening around 9:30pm. At 10pm, I received a call from our Russian friends. He asked me if I remembered them. How could I forget! They were so charming and delightful, even kissing my hand several times before leaving. He said, “We would like to stay with you.” I was delighted that they would be returning. “Sure, what day would you like to come?”, I asked. “Now”, he replied. To my surprise, they were here and outside waiting to get in. So I jumped up, threw on some clothes and rushed out to greet them. No make up and my hair down. I must have been a mess to see.

They greeted me and asked if they could stay. “Of course!”, I replied. He asked for three rooms for one night and I walked them around to each so they could pick out which ones they wanted. The professor took the Madison Suite and his friends took the Hipkins-Bernard and Turner Suites. When the professor walked into our library, he was in heaven. He told me that he was going to look through it after dinner, to which he asked me where they could go.

Okay, 10:30pm on a Wednesday night in King George. The choices were a little limited. So I had only one place that was still open to send them . . . Hornes Diner. This place is a great place to get a hamburger or even a quick breakfast. When they returned, I made sure they were settled down and didn’t need anything. That is when the professor told me that they would like to stay two days instead of one. No problem. The professor also asked to change from the Madison Suite to the Conway Suite on the second night. No problem. So I said my good-nights and headed to bed around 12:30am. Breakfast was to be served at 9am.

The next morning after I finished preparing breakfast, I walked back into the library to check on them. The friend in the Hipkins-Bernard Suite was up and moving. He was the one among them who understood and spoke English the best. During the night, I had decided to look on Google Apps to see if I could find a translator, which I did. Thankful, it came in handy through the rest of the visit.

The gentlemen slowly made their way to the table and seemed to enjoy the breakfast. After breakfast, the professor walked me back to the library. There on the table were about 30 books he had pulled from shelves. He asked me if he could pay me for the books, take them to Russia and then return them in two years. I explained to him that they were all donations to the library (through my neat little app) and he shook his head, he understood. He then narrowed it down to 10 books and asked again. I told him that I would write down the titles and allow him to borrow them and would like them to be returned in two years. He agreed. After agreeing, he handed me three gifts. One box held a special chocolate dessert, which the writing is in Russian so I don’t know what it is. The second box was a bottle of “Chance” by Chanel. And I am not talking about a small bottle. Like 1.7 floz to be exact. And two bags of Russian chocolate candy bars in a Russian bag, which Brett and I are about to finish off today. They are wonderful!



chocolate dessert


chocolate dessert

(can anyone tell me what it is?)


Russian chocolate candy bars

You see, the professor is on a mission. He is working on research for a book he is writing about the American Presidents. He has been seen almost all the birthplaces and homes of every one of the American Presidents. How many of us can say we have seen more than one or two? And here is a gentleman from another country who is just thrilled at seeing these places.

I asked them where they were headed for the day because we like to help our guests find places to see and things to do while visiting Belle Grove Plantation. Through maps and broken English, I found out that they were planning on heading to Charlottesville to see Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highlands, then to Lynchburg to see Poplar Forest and then back to Richmond to see Tuckahoe Plantation. When I tried to explain that it was a lot of driving, they told me not to worry. I asked them if they wouldn’t prefer finding a place to stay closer to Richmond so they didn’t have so far to drive back to Belle Grove. The professor looked at me with kind eyes and said in his sweet broken English, “No, we stay here. Michelle is a great woman.” Just minutes later they were off on their adventure.

Brett arrived later that evening (Thursday) as did our daughter, Alexa. We went to dinner after I explained where they were going and that I didn’t expect them until late that night, if not early morning. They had a key to the door so I knew they could get back in. I was right, they arrived a little after midnight.

The next morning after preparing breakfast, I stepped into the grand hall to see them packing up. I asked how their trip was and found out that they had not made it to Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highlands or Tuckahoe. They had headed to Poplar Forest in Lynchburg and because they had been so close to West Virginia, they decided to make a detour there for the rest of the day. By the time they arrived back at Belle Grove, they had traveled over 600 miles!

After breakfast and while his friends finished packing, the professor took me to the library again. He started taking out books that he had purchased the day before. I said, “Oh how wonderful! You have some really great books to take home!” He smiled and said, “No, I have copies in the car. These are for you.” I was floored! There were over 17 books! He had wanted to add to our library too.

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I started clearing the breakfast table and Brett spoke with the professor as he settled up their accounts. We also had an opportunity to introduce them to our daughter. The professor asked about our daughter and asked if we had others. We explained that we had a son too.

It was finally time to say good-bye and through my app we wished them a good journey. Inside, I was so jealous! To be able to take the time to see these places would be such a dream! They bid us good-bye and promised to return.

After they pulled away, Brett shared part of the conversation I had not heard. The professor told Brett that in Russia, they have hotels that are “5″ (meaning 5 star). He said Belle Grove Plantation, “not 5, you 500! ” Brett then pulled out of his pocket a “tip” that the professor had left for us. Let’s just say, it was extremely generous.

While we have only been open now for seven and a half months, we have had some of the most wonderful guests! And while we hope that we offer them a place to rest and relax and enjoy our surroundings, it is really Brett and I that are so blessed. Each of them have touched our lives in more ways than we can begin to say. And with less than a year under our belts, I can’t wait to see what the future will hold for Belle Grove Plantation and for us.

One thing I know . . . we will never be the same again.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 3 Comments »

One Year Anniversary

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(Belle Grove Plantation, One Year Ago)


(Belle Grove Plantation, Today)

Yes, can you believe it!

One year ago today, I moved into the Belle Grove Plantation mansion!

I sit here remembering the first day . . .

I arrived at twilight. I have to say, I was a little scare coming back to the mansion alone. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was happy to arrive with some light to find my way around.

Shortly after I arrived, I left to find something for dinner. I knew there was a Domino Pizza in King George, we had used them for an earlier Paranormal Tours Event. So I headed over. And to be honest, I really don’t like pizza, but I knew where it was and how to get to it.

I drove back to the plantation just as the light from the day was disappearing. I knew I didn’t have much time before I wasn’t be able to see. The plantation gets really dark at night. As I was driving down Port Conway Road, that connects Route 3 and Route 301, I did the unthinkable. A small bunny ran out across the road. The road is so curvy that I didn’t have time to react. Yes, I rolled the bunny! I looked into my rear view mirror and could see the little bunny rolling over and over behind my car.

I called Brett . . .

I was crying and tell Brett, “I can’t believe it! I have been here less than an hour and I have already killed an animal.” Poor Brett could only comfort me with his words. But it was just so sad.

By the time I arrived at the entry to the plantation, dark had overtaken. Driving down the lane, I was surprised to see a bank of fog moving across the field and filtering across the lane through our Red Cedar Trees.  My thought was, “This can’t be good.” I was beginning to wonder, what have I gotten myself into.

It was the first time I had started having doubts about my decision to do this. I was away from my family, I was alone in a strange and new place. I didn’t have anyone to talk to because I had not really made any friends. The only comfort was a call to Brett.

Of course looking back now, I know it was just the stress of being somewhere new. It had nothing to do with the plantation or our plans of creating this wonderful place. As time progressed and as I got down to work, my feelings changed. We started focusing on rebuilding the grounds and creating a beautiful place for others to come enjoy. I started working on the marketing to show others what I already knew. This plantation is something so special. It is a place to come relax and to reconnect with yourself and others. It is just so warm and inviting that it is hard not to want to be here.

Today, one year later, I am so proud of how far we have come. What we have accomplished. What we have improved. I am no longer scared of the fog. In fact, some of my best photos have come from the fog.  I don’t rush home to beat the dark because I’m not worried about what is larking inside. And I haven’t killed any more animals. Not a one.

But the best part of this year has been all the people we have come in contact with through this plantation. It just amazes me to think of who we have become friends with and who has walked through our doors. I can’t begin to tell you how each of you have changed our lives. Your support, your friendship, your words of encouragement and your prayers have been the backbone we have built our business on.

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Today, I stop (just for a moment) to remember where I have come from. I have grown so much in this year. Our business has grown so much. I am so excited about the future. And I pause to wonder what exciting and new things and people will walk into our lives. If this year is any indications, we are in for an exciting ride!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 8 Comments »
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Pictures provided by Chamberlin Photography, Rebekah Beasley Photographs & DG Photography