Be in the “Know”

Sep. 6th 2013

Lit bulb

Do you like to be the first to know?

Well here’s your chance to be the first to know about Special Events and Offers at

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast!

We now have a new service that will allow us to send out Emails with our Monthly Newsletter, Special Events and Offers.

Please take a moment and sign up!

Through this service you will also receive Special Email Offers that won’t be available to any of our other media sites.

It’s quick and easy!

Please Share Our Website with your Family and Friends!

Home Page

Help us get the word out about Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 2 Comments »

She Has A Name!

Aug. 28th 2013

The Naming Contest is complete

and our elegant lady has a name . . .


Sara Elizabeth

Thank you to Suzanne W. for suggesting the name and to Dolley Madison for narrowing the choices to the top ten!

Let’s have more fun!

Now that Sara Elizabeth has a name, she needs history!



Belle Grove Plantation’s 1st Short Story Writing Contest!

Using our Lady’s new name and picture, we would like you to create a history for her.


1. The Short Story must be between 2,000 and 7,500 words.

2, The history must be set some time between 1670 to 1790.

3. She must have had some connection to Belle Grove Plantation and the families that were here during this period. See below for the time periods and family. You can’t change the course of history for these people.

1670 – Captain Anthony Savage, his wife Alice Stafford Savage and young daughter Alice. He also had an older daughter, Dorothy Savage Strother who was married and lived next door at Millbank Plantation with her husband, William Stother I. Belle Grove Plantation wasn’t called Belle Grove, but “Mangecemuzen” an Indian name. There was 1000 acres at the time of purchase in April.

1695 – At Captain Savage’s death – Granddaughter Margaret Thornton (daughter of Francis Thornton and Alice Savage Thornton’s daughter) who had married her first cousin, William Strother II at Millbank Plantation received 300 acres of the 1000 acres. The other 700 acres to Elizabeth Thornton Conway, second daughter of Francis Thornton and Alice Savage Thornton. By this time, Alice Savage had died in 1692.

1698 – Edwin Conway passes and Elizabeth Thornton Conway holds on to the property until their son, Francis Conway I becomes of age and inherits the property.

1717 – Francis Conway I and Rebecca Catlett Conway marry and Francis inherits the property.

1722 – Francis Conway I and his wife Rebecca Catlett Conway welcome their second child, Francis Conway II. Francis Conway II would inherit the property after the death of his mother in 1761.

1730 – Francis Conway I and his wife Rebecca Catlett Conway welcome their sixth and final child, Eleanor Rose Conway who is also known as Nelly. She would go on to marry James Madison Sr. when he comes to Port Royal to ship out his tobacco. She would return in 1751 to have James Madison Jr. at her mother’s home.

1736 – Francis Conway I passes. Rebecca will remarry to John Moore in 1737 and hold the property until her death in 1761. John Moore renames the plantation “Belle Grove”.

1748 – Francis Conway II and his wife Sarah welcome their first son, Francis Conway III.

1751 – Nelly returns to Belle Grove to have her first child, James Madison Jr. at her mother’s home. Her brother Francis Conway II and his wife Sarah also live there. Their home is just next door.

1761 – Rebecca Conway Moore passes. Francis Conway II also passes away this year. Francis Conway II’s wife Sarah remarries in 1765 and holds the property until her death.

1784 – Sarah Conway Taylor passes away and Belle Grove goes to Francis Conway III and his wife Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway.

1789 – Captain Francis Conway III (former Minuteman during the Revolutionary War) sets aside 13 acres of Belle Grove Plantation to establish the village of Port Conway.

1790 – Captain Francis Conway III sales Belle Grove Plantation, without the rights to Port Conway, to John Hipkins. John Hipkins would remove the Conway homes and build what is now the center section of the current mansion at Belle Grove Plantation for his only child, Francis (Fanny) Hipkins Bernard.

4. The contest will run for one month. It will start on Thursday, August 29th and end at 12:00am (eastern) September 30th.

5. All writings must be submitted in word document to our email address at

6. Submitted stories should be sent to We will confirm receiving it by email.

7. No stories will be entered if received after the deadline.

8. By submitting your story, you are giving up all rights to the story to Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

9. You agree to allow us to publish on blog, facebook or any other form media or paper your story including your name as author. Full credit for the writing will be given to you.

10. Any of the rules that are not met will cause your story to be rejected.

11. Include the following information with your Short Story:

Full Name


City – State – Zip

Phone where we can reach you:

Email Address


The Winning Short Story Prize

On October 5th, we will announce the winner of the Short Story Writing Contest on Facebook and our Blog. If you are selected, you will receive a Free Night in the Conway Junior Suite where our Lady now lives. We will also contact you by phone of your selection.

You story will be published on our blog and promoted throughout our media resources.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!!

To see what we are up to at the plantation

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Page!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 4 Comments »

Sign of the times

Aug. 15th 2013

Yesterday we took down our small banner and put up a new one. The small banner was hard to read from across the highway and didn’t look as nice as the new one. We had our wonderful neighbor, Ted helping us with it. We have come to realize that Ted does nothing half way. What started out as just a banner and green fence posts turned into this beautiful sign! It almost looks permanent!


Thank you goes out to Ted for taking the time to make us look good!

To see what is going on at the plantation today

Facebook Link

visit our Facebook Fan Page!

To make reservations

Home Page

visit our Website at

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 4 Comments »

Navigating a New Web Site

Dec. 28th 2012
Belle Grove Carriage side Balcony

Belle Grove Carriage Side Balcony

Since we are playing a waiting game with the Zoning Process, Brett and I are trying to get things done that we can do now. Besides finding vendors that we want to work with, we also need to start thinking about a website for the Bed and Breakfast.

I don’t know about you, but this is all new to me. I thought I was doing really well just managing a blog! So I knew that I was going to need to find someone that I could work with and that would have the patience to explain that different parts to me. I also wanted to find someone that I could trust. Someone that could see our vision for this Historic Plantation and would be able to help me convey it our visitors.

Thankfully I didn’t have to go far. We have someone that we have known for years. His name is Adam. We have known him since he was just a teenager. So when I went to him and asked for help, he was onboard with us.

Bull and Companywww

Bull and Company

Adam works with a company called “Bull & Company MediaWorks”.

From Bull & Company Media Works:

The Internet has forever changed the world of media.  Recognizing this fact, Bull & Company MediaWorks is positioned to maximize your company’s potential with our expertise in Internet marketing.  We true full-service Internet marketing under one roof, designing and executing Internet marketing plans that leverage all forms of media.

Adam started his career in the flooring business as a Project Manager / Sales Associate / “Do whatever needs to be done” Person. He gained a lot of experience mostly as a Project Manager.  Knowing nothing about web design, he started working for a company called Bullaka Productions (a full service web marketing company) as a part time project manager.  Through the years, he gained the knowledge on how to build websites (imagine that) using the most up to date technologies.  He has worked for companies such as Bull and Crowley MediaWorks, Regent University and Dominion Enterprises doing Web Design and Development.  One of the things he really loves about this field is it combines his love for technology and his heart to serve others.  Learning how he can serve others is a true joy!  On a more personal side of things, Adam’s family is one of the most important things to him. For Adam, there’s nothing better than to be a father and a husband!  For us, family is very important and having it be a big part of his life speaks volumes to us.

Adam Woods and Family

Adam Woods and Family

To contact Adam please email him at

or call him at 757-621-9194.

Please let him know that Michelle and Brett sent you!

So we have a web designer, now we need to put together the information they will need to build our website. Have you ever thought about all the information you need to put together a website? It’s almost mind blowing! So as I am sure you have figured out from my past postings, the first thing I did was research.

I started by looking at lots and lots and lots and lots of website. I didn’t just look at website that had to do with bed and breakfasts, though they were the most that I looked at. I wanted to get a good idea of what I liked and what I thought would work well for us. So I wrote down the web addresses of those that I want Adam to look at and what about them I liked.

Then I had to figure out how someone would navigate our website and what information I want our visitor to see. Talk about endless possibilities! I have seen all kinds of tabs and links in other websites. One thing I don’t want is for it to be too much information. I have seen websites that try to give you too many choices and you end up lost. I don’t want that.

The last thing we talked about is pictures. Adam tells me that it is generally this that holds up a website from being launched. He has suggested that we get someone professional to take them. While I have tons of pictures of the plantation and Mansion, they aren’t what I would want on the website. So now we have to find a professional photographer. Any Suggestions?

One of the things I have been thinking about doing to help me “see” our website is to make a mockup of the website using sheets of paper. This way I can see and adjust that I want. I am a simple person sometimes and need to use simple processes.

Now here is your chance to help us!

Tell me what you like or don’t like about websites for bed and breakfasts.

What do you feel is most important to you when you look at the website?

What could you do without?

Your opinion and advice will help us build an awesome website

that will serve this Historic Plantation for years to come!

Facebook Link

See more pictures of this Historic Plantation

on our Facebook Page!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 71 Comments »

No Christmas Miracles in Sight

Dec. 20th 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its a Mad Rush!

Dec. 17th 2012


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

Cross your fingers and say a prayer for us!

Curved Carriage side Porches

Curved Carriage side Porches

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



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

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

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

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Search of….

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Lay Bowden 09-12 1

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

So now comes the fun part…

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

What we are looking for…

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

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

Meeting with Businesses…

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

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

Raygan Ketterer

Raygan Ketterer

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

Brigitte Morrow

Brigitte Morrow

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

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

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

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

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers  and Graphics by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

Flowers by Chikpea

So What Now…

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

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

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