Preserving the Past

24/06/12 11:27 PM

In Early Colonial America, there were several buildings besides the main house and barn that were essential to running the plantation. These buildings, called outbuildings or dependencies were the Summer Kitchen, Smokehouse and Ice House. As the plantations have exchanged hands and technology has made these building obsolete, many have been turned into sheds for gardening equipment or just neglected until they succumbed to the elements. In our research of historic homes in Virginia, we have found most if not all have lost all three of these buildings. To have all three originals is rare.

At Belle Grove Plantation, we have all three original outbuildings! On our first visit, we were astounded to see them and in as good of condition as you would expect for their age. As we have worked on researching the plantation, we have taken photographs and bricks from the Summer Kitchen to be examined by archaeologists to see if we could date them. To the best of their knowledge and without doing a more in depth study, the best guess is that they date around the late 1700s. This would make sense since the current home was built in 1791. And I don’t think that John Hipkins would have spared anything for his only child, Fanny.

These outbuildings are located on the northern side of the house, just a few yards from it.


The most important of the three buildings is our Summer Kitchen. This building is divided in half with the Kitchen section to the right of the building and the Cook Quarters to the left. The Summer Kitchen was built as a separate building from the main house to guard against fires and to cut down on the noises and smells that would have come from that room.  The Kitchen would have a large, open hearth fireplace with iron rails and iron hooks to support the cooking pots. The floors were generally made of brick to guard against fires. The cook was generally a slave who was either sent away to learn to cook or taught by their previous cook. This was not an easy life. They would rise early in the day to cook breakfast for the house and wouldn’t stop until well after dinner.

Our Summer Kitchen is a wood structure with brick walls and floors inside. The Kitchen fireplace is large with its original wood mantle.

To the back of the fireplace you can see the iron rail and iron hooks still hanging in place.

The Cook’s Quarters on the other side is also made with brick walls and floor. At one time, you could enter the Cook’s quarters on either side of the fireplace.

The Cook’s Quarters has a smaller fireplace with no hooks or iron rails. It has a wood mantle that was added at a much later date.

The previous owners (1930s to 1981) had added an in ground pool in the courtyard of these outbuildings. They had used the Summer Kitchen as a Pool House. They made several changes to this structure. They added a small porch with brick floor and wooden overhang supported with wrought iron columns. This overhang is no longer there except for the wrought iron columns and frame work. They had also added simple electric and plumbing, which do not work now. They added a cement floor to the Kitchen side. We hope that it was placed over the brick and the floor underneath is still there. They added a wooden wall on both sides of the fireplace, blocking the walk through to the Cook’s Quarters. They also added a small wood shelf that extends off the Kitchen fireplace into the middle of the kitchen floor.

Thankfully, they left the Cook’s Quarter pretty much untouched with the exception of adding a wooden mantle to the small fireplace. The floor in the Cook’s Quarter is the original brick placed in a herring bone pattern.

The Smokehouse is located just next to the Summer Kitchen.

The Smokehouse was also called Meat House which was used to smoke and preserve meats and to store the meats until it was needed. Our Smokehouse is a bit unusual as it has two doors instead of just one.

Inside, you can see the beam that extends across the middle of the building that meats were hung on to be smoked. The “furry” look to the beam comes from the fats wearing the wood as it smoked. One thing about this beam that we were excited to see; the beam, joints and stake look to be handmade. This gives us hope that it was original to the structure.

Inside you can also look up and see the black burn marks on the walls and ceiling.

This building looks to have been used as storage for gardening and yard items at a later date. Of all the buildings, the Smokehouse is in the worst shape. It has already lost one wall, leaving only the frame work. There is a second wall that has started falling away as well.

The last building is the Ice House. The Ice House would have been used to preserve items like dairy products and meats to preserve them over the summer months. The ice would have been cut from the river or even could have come from as far away as Wisconsin and Ohio. Hay or straw would have been added to help insulate the items to keep them cool. The pits could range from 15 to 20 feet deep.

Door to Ice House

Our Ice House is just to the front of the Smokehouse and is made of all brick. Inside, the pit has been filled in and it is currently being used as storage for windows, doors and wood from the restoration. You can see the iron rod that still hangs over where the pit would have been. It would have had a pulley used to raise items up or to lower ice down.

Second wall of Smokehouse

Back wall of Summer Kitchen

As we work towards opening the plantation, it is our goal to restore and preserve these three outbuildings. As you can see, they are deteriorating and without restoration, we will lose them in time. Once restored, we would like to use the Summer Kitchen as a museum to house the artifacts and history that we have uncovered on the plantation. This would be open for the public to tour and to learn about our plantation. We would use the Smokehouse as an additional museum to show the inside of a Smokehouse as well as show more artifacts. We would like to remove the items from the Ice House and see if we can uncover the pit inside. We think this will be important to see if we can recover more artifacts and see how the pit was built. This will help us discover a better date for this building.

We feel that these buildings are our best chance at discovering more about the life on this plantation over the years as well. We feel sure that there would have been a trash pit that items were thrown into and then later filled in. These would provide time capsules of sorts for us to see what they ate, what they used and what they made. Maybe the grounds around these outbuildings could be the starting place for a field study with one of the local colleges.

It is our hope to preserve these buildings and ensure that they are here for future generations to see and experience as part of the plantation life.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC), Pro Publio Sestio

(Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the big announcement!)

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 82 Comments »

82 Comments on “Preserving the Past”

  1. Reblogged this on katherinehpurdy and commented:
    Another great post from the new owners of Belle Grove Plantation!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this with your readers! These are very important parts of this plantation history!

  3. What a wonderful job you’re doing. Can’t wait to stay there some day.

  4. Thank you! We can’t wait to meet you! 🙂

  5. Your place looks so fabulous. I bookmarked it as a place to visit at some point!

  6. Thank you! We do hope you will come see us soon! We hope to be open by September!

  7. I love history but I don’t know that much about this time period, so your posts are opening a new door for me. Thanks!

  8. Thank you and that is wonderful! We love history all together but what a joy to know that through our humble blog it is opening history to someone new!

  9. So interesting! Thanks for the post.

  10. Thank you! Please check back tonight for the big announcement!

  11. lvaletutto Says:

    Sounds like Belle Grove is in very good hands. I’m glad you are trying hard to preserve all the old outbuildings and restore them to their original capacity. You are lucky that they are still all there and still standing!

  12. Thank you! We are excited that they are there to save! We can’t wait to do the restoration too. Can you image the finds we may come across as we do!

  13. This is truly an exciting project. How lucky for this piece of history to be in such capable hands!

  14. Thank you! We are just thankful that they still there to save!

  15. Some things we find, some things find us. It looks like the plantation found caring and dedicated people to take care of it the way it should be. It is beautiful already, but it will be magnificent soon! Thank you for sharing. ~ judy

  16. Thank you! We feel like we won the “lottery” when we found this plantation. But after seeing it, it was almost as if it was calling us to help it! We can’t wait to share its beauty!

  17. This is by far the most interesting blog I have ever read. Will go back and read previous posts. What a fantastic endeavor!

  18. Thank you! We are excited that you have joined us on this journey! We hope one day you might be able to come and experience this wonderful place!

  19. I hope I can visit someday! What a wonderful experience it would be!

  20. That is so exciting! It’s wonderful what you’re doing.

  21. Thank you! Don’t forget to check back tonight for the big annoucement! 🙂

  22. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

  23. petrel41 Says:

    Thanks for this interesting post!

    On Dutch estates before there were electrical refrigerators, there were similar buildings to your Ice House: ice cellars, always built under trees to exclude sun heat. See video at

  24. Thank you for the link, but it won’t let us see it. But I am sure that our ice houses came from knowledge from Europe. It is so interesting seeing other cultures and how alike we really are! Thank you for sharing!

  25. petrel41 Says:

    Maybe that video does not work in the USA ,,, if you push the arrow in the middle of the video, the video should start, but maybe it doesn’t in the USA.

    Here is a video about a Dutch ice cellar which should work:

  26. How wonderful! It worked! You know it looks like George Washington’s first tomb at Mount Vernon from the outside! But as a whole, it would hav been very much like our Ice House with the pit and bricks to keep things cool! Thank you for sharing!

  27. petrel41 Says:

    You are welcome, and thanks for your fine blog!

  28. How incredible and how beautiful they are. It´s so wonderful what you are doing, breathing life back into such an amazing place!

  29. Thank you! We are so excited to be apart of its rebirth! Don’t forget to check back tonight for the big announcement!

  30. This is absolutely beyond interesting! I am beyond jealous!!!! My husband is a history buff and would just love all this. I hope you get to do everything you plan with your new digs and that you find tons of great artifacts. Simply amazing!

  31. Thank you! We are keeping our fingers crossed. But don’t be jealous! You can come and experience them with us!

  32. There’s something peaceful about knowing there’s a past.

  33. I have to agree. It makes this plantation so much more personal!

  34. Impressive amount of work here. I love the aerophoto of the foundations. I think you are correct about out buildings or dependencies. Two reasons the kitchen was located away from the main building: 1/ heat and 2/ fear of fire. Both were a big deal in Colonial Virginia. The dependencies at Gunston Hall, where I served as a docent in the 1970s, were “restored” as are most of them at Williamsburg.

    The term dependancy originally meant a wing attatched to a Palladian central block. Later it was used to denote any out buildings. At least that’s what i learned in classes on Colonial architecture.

  35. Thank you! We are learning as we go. The house itself has extended over the years so they would have started farther away. If you cut the house in half and then cut the half in half, that would be the original distances. I would love to have you come see ours! I love hearing more information from others that have really studied the history!

  36. Dianna Says:

    So wonderful that you have all three outbuildings still standing. The smokehouse is a much shorter structure than the one at Bacon’s Castle. Thinking of the way of life back then just makes us appreciate our modern conveniences so much more, don’t you think?

  37. I agree! I don’t think I could have cooked breakfast the way I do now if I had to use the Summer Kitchen!

  38. PigLove Says:

    Hello wonderful Belle Grove – – Go check out my blog today. Luvs you – snout kisses

  39. Thank you for thinking about us! We love seeing your blog! snout kisses back at you!

  40. How neat! I love that you guys are restoring it and it’s too bad that others had tried to convert it. I take it the pool is no longer there? Photogrphically – I love the picture of the smokehouse next to the kitchen! 🙂

  41. Thank you! We are hoping the converted parts may not been too much that we can’t reverse. The pool is still there, it has been filled in and is now underground. Once we complete the restoration, we are going to uncover it and remove the old one and reposition it so it works better with the outbuildings. That one is my favorite photo too!

  42. RobynG Says:

    So neat! Thanks for the history lesson. You certainly have a wonderful property and I’m enjoying watching the progress and learning all of the nuggets of history from you. And, I love the image of the smokehouse next to the summer kitchen. Beautiful capture.

  43. Thank you! We have really enjoyed bring it back to life! It has been so much fun sharing this adventure with everyone too! There is so much more history to tell you about too! Yes that photo is my favorite too!

  44. asahjaya Says:

    Nice. A mini museum. Wish there’s people who will willingly donate related items to it.

  45. Thank you! One thing we hope to do is make our finds available for others to see and enjoy. We also hope to have a Wine and Antiques weekend next summer. We are hoping some of the old items might find their way home.

  46. nerdtrips Says:

    How fortunate that you have all three outbuildings. You do a great job describing, but nothing beats seeing things in person. I look forward to visiting once you open.

  47. Thank you! We count our blessings that they are still here and original! We look forward to having you come and see them up close and personal!

  48. vacantpages Says:

    Thank you for stopping by my blog Vacant Pages and liking a recent post, much appreciated. Love your blog, great information and love the photographs also.

  49. Thank you! We love seeing other blogs and have even learned and discovered so much from them! We look forward to seeing more of yours! Thank you for stopping by!

  50. We can’t wait to have you come and see it up close and personal! They are so wonderful to see!

  51. Norma Chang Says:

    I know nothing about plantation and am learning so much from your post and also about the south. I hope someday to be able to spend some time at your plantation.

  52. Thank you! We love sharing the history and are glad that others are learning from our research! We hope that you can visit us one day too!

  53. bookzine Says:

    Another interesting post –

    Just wanted to let you know too that I’ve awarded you with two blogger awards – the One Lovely Blog Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award – see the details on, dated June 25. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and images.

  54. Thank you so much for remembering us! We appreciate you sharing our blog with your readers and others!

  55. bookzine Says:

    You welcome. I always look forward to reading your posts.

  56. marydpierce Says:

    I hate to make more work for you – goodness knows you have your hands full with your restoration and keeping up this amazingly informative blog – so please don’t feel like you have to reply. I just wanted to say that, like so many others here, I enjoy reading your posts immensely. I’m a sucker for history and architecture.

    I’ve never had a mint julep, and I’ve never stepped foot inside a real plantation, so a visit to Belle Grove would knock two more firsts off my list!

  57. I don’t mine replying! 🙂 It’s not work for me. Thank you for your kind words about our blog. I had hope that we could have people share in our passion and excitment! We hope that one day you can come to the plantation and enjoy both a refreshing mint julep and to see a real plantation! We would be so honored to have you! Check out the newest posting! You might find it interesting 😉

  58. hermitsdoor Says:

    Amazing what history remain is private hands. Thank you for pursuing the history and preservation. Where we live in West Virginia, about a hour west of the “other” Belle Grove, buildings from the 19th and 18th century are still lived in and run as family farms. Many of the buildings have been recycled for use from out buildings, to homes, to one room schools, to barns. We see many decaying along the road from abandonment. Now, where is the Necessary?

  59. Thank you! We love the other Belle Grove! It was the start of this journey in a way. I know what you mean. As I drive to and from our Belle Grove, I see others that aren’t as lucky! In my heart I cry for them. Because once they are lost, they are gone forever. You know, I don’t know where the Neccessary is. But as we start the landscaping, I am sure we may find something.

  60. […] birthplace! These lovely folks are turning it into a bed and breakfast and are trying to preserve three other historical buildings on the property. Support them if you can! I'm already trying to plan a trip for when they open. 🙂 This entry […]

  61. Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers and supporting us as we work towards bring this plantation back to life! It means so much to Brett and I!

  62. […] birthplace! These lovely folks are turning it into a bed and breakfast and are trying to preserve three other historical buildings on the property. Support them if you can! I'm already trying to plan a trip for when they open. 🙂 This entry […]

  63. Thank you so much for sharing us with your readers and supporting us as we work towards bring this plantation back to life! We really appreciate your help!

  64. Reblogged this on nebraskaenergyobserver and commented:
    This is a fascinating article showing where we came from.

    I should note that summer kitchens (without cook’s quarters) lasted into the 20th century in farm country, partially to keep the farmstead cool.

    Also not that these fine folks have a giveaway going, read their following post. How often are you going to get a chance to sleep in the house where James Madison was born, anyway?

  65. Thank you for sharing our blog with your readers! I love the way you told them! I didn’t know that about summer kitchens! See you learn something new every day! If you have a chance, please visit our fund raising page at Even if you are not able to help us with a donation, just a comment on our campaign counts as points towards us getting on the featured page. Thank you so much!

  66. You are so welcome. I’m coming to see you sometime, don’t know when, don’t know how, so don’t leave the light on yet, but you’re on my bucket list.

  67. haha! Thank you for your comment! It made me day! I had to laugh at the “don’t leave the light on yet”.

  68. Great photos and what an amazing place. You’re really making me miss Virginia!

  69. Thank you! Well, you know where there will be a room soon! Love your icon! We are about 20 miles from Stratford Hall at the plantation!

  70. drowqueen Says:

    Hi there! The Burned Hand just made a donation and hopefully I can visit there soon:)

  71. Hello! That’s awesome!! Thank you so much for making a donation! Best wishes for the drawing too!! Hope you’ll check back on our progress and maybe share our campaign with your friends!

  72. baconbiscuit212 Says:

    Absolutely fascinating! Did you have a moment when you thought to use the smokehouse as a smokehouse again?

  73. You know I haven’t thought about doing that. I think I would be afraid of burning it down. And historically it is too important to lose. Right now, if we don’t get it repaired so, we may lose it any way. Its such a great building. You can see the inside on our video on Indiegogo.

  74. I’ll check it out! It’s all very fascinating!

  75. Jen Says:

    This is marvellous! I do hope the buildings can be saved. So far as a waste pit, I’ve been following one of the Mount Vernon blogs (of course), and they’re finding all sorts of marvellous things even now. You should have many years of exploring and discovery ahead of you!

  76. Yes we are excited about what we are going to find! Have you checked out our Indiegogo site? If not, please do! If you just leave a comment, it will help us save these beautiful buildings.

  77. […] outbuildings, which date to the 1790s (you can read about these wonderful pieces of history here). Each suggested donation amount comes with a number of opportunities to win this weekend trip, so […]

  78. Thank you for sharing our blog with your readers! Every comment, every penny and every visit will help us save these beautiful 220 year old outbuildings and bring back to life this beautiful historic plantation! 🙂

  79. So delighted to see the loving and thoughtful way you’re approaching this fantastic project. Best to you all the way through!

  80. Thank you! We love this plantation and our goal is to preserve it for future generations to see.

  81. […] door. See the grounds as they are today, before we start the landscaping. Get a close look at the Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in […]

  82. 🙂