Surprises around every corner

Feb. 4th 2015

February 4, 2015

Wow what I day I had yesterday! I started out with two radio interviews, which of course I knew about, but ended up with several more surprises that I didn’t expect.


I woke yesterday morning early so I could be in Fredericksburg for two radio interviews with Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9. We are the “Deal of the Day” for both stations this week. The “Deal” will be purchase a certificate valued at $50 for just $25 for Belle Grove Plantation. Then you can use the full face value towards rooms or events we are having throughout the year. They go on sale tomorrow morning (Thursday, February 5th) at 8:20am. They will open their online store at that time and the sale will go on until all the certificates are sold. Believe me, it will go really fast, so if you want one, you better be ready to hit it fast. You ca go to their online store through this link:

Both Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9 have been promoting our “Deal of the Day” through their website and radio advertising. But yesterday, I got to come into the station and talk with Denny and Christal on Thunder and Dave on Super Hits. It was so much fun! Tammy Anderson, our Weddings and Events Specialist came along to video tape it for me and to have just as much fun as I did!

You can see the fun we had on our YouTube video of the event!

Super Hits

And by the way, the final answer to Denny’s questions that stumped me was “Jemmy”. However in my defense, “Jemmy” was not a common nickname for James Madison by his friends. It was a family nickname.

After I left the radio station, I headed back to Belle Grove for a meeting at 10am with Charles Thomas of Central Virginia Television Network. CVTN is a public broadcasting channel that covers the Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania areas. He is working on expanding into our area here in King George and beyond. Our Economic Development Director here in King George, Linwood Thomas, set up this meeting and frankly, I have to say a huge “thank you” to him.

It was a wonderful meeting! It started out as a one hour meeting, but ended up being over two hours! Ok, I have to admit, these happens a lot with our meetings. There is just so much to see and learn about while you are visiting us. By the end of the meeting, Charles and I were brain storming on not just one program for Belle Grove, but several! Who knows, we might even get to do a movie!

During our meeting, I had left my cell phone in my office so as not to disturb our meeting. But I had received several calls while I was away. One of them, well let’s just say was one of the great surprises of the day. This call came from the Virginia Living Magazine.

You may have remember last month, we were requesting everyone to vote for us during the “Best of Virginia” for the Virginia Living Magazine. We had asked everyone to please vote for us in several (five) categories. By us making at least one of those categories, we would receive recognition in their May Best of Virginia issue, which means free advertising having our name on a list.


We were informed yesterday that we had made three of those categories!!

I can’t tell you which ones just yet and they wouldn’t tell me if we made first, second or third on those categories, they want me to wait until May to find out. But we must have done well because they were asking for more information about Belle Grove Plantation, beyond our contact information!! This could mean that we might get a little featurette beside some of those categories!!

Brett and I have to send out a HUGE “Thank you” to everyone that voted, shared and shared again for us during the polling time. You cannot image how much this really means to us! We would have never made it without each of you!

During the day, I also received notification that an article by Nikki Ducas with the Fredericksburg Parent and Family had been published. Nikki had come to me and asked if I would contribute to her article about Romantic Getaways at Bed and Breakfasts. Of course I loved helping. Where else in the world can you find a more romantic location than Belle Grove Plantation. Of course I am a little bias. But really?

You can see the whole article at:

Our Civil War News ad also came out yesterday. We are so excited about our Civil War Weekend. We are combining forces with Port Royal and Caroline County for this very special event. It will be the 150th Anniversary of the pursue and capture of John Wilkes Booth this year, so this event is sure to be huge! We will be posting information on this event soon!

Well, what does today have to hold? I am not sure, but it is going to be hard to beat the excitement of yesterday!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Surprises around every corner

Its How the Cookie Crumbles

Feb. 2nd 2015

February 2, 2015

In 2013, just before we opened the bed and breakfast, we conducted our first Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation. It was a wonderful contest and we had recipes sent from around the world as entries.

We had President James Madison select the top ten recipes during his first visit to Belle Grove Plantation in April 2013. Wow, that sounds like forever ago! Out of the ten top one cookie won the honor of being our “Official Cookie” for one year. And believe me it truly came down to the wire with the votes on Facebook!

Modern Molasses Cookies - Alyssa D'Alconzo

The winner was Modern Molasses Cookies submitted by Alyssa D’Alconzo of New Jersey. We made Alyssa’s cookie for our guest’s turn down service for the first year. It receive so many compliments and was even fought over by some of our couples during their evenings with us.
Today we are opening up a new contest for another “Official Cookie” of Belle Grove Plantation!

We are looking for a cookie that “President James Madison would love” and will be unique enough to represent Belle Grove Plantation.
But we don’t want just any recipe! We are looking for a cookie that you don’t see often. So Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Peanut Butter and Oatmeal standards are out. We want something that people will look forward to having on their visit with us!

We have posted the details on our website Calendar page for you to see. Entries for this contest will run today until 11:59pm (EST) on Saturday, February 28, 2015. So don’t delay!

Once the entries are received, we will have a panel select the top ten cookies. Then from Saturday. March 7th to Friday, March 13th, the top ten will be receiving votes through Facebook. The top ten will also be served during our “President Madison’s Birthday Dinner and Social”. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to taste and see the top ten and vote for their favorite!

We look forward, especially Brett because he loves to taste test, to receiving your recipes and wish everyone good luck!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Its How the Cookie Crumbles

Where is the World was Brett and Michelle?

Feb. 2nd 2015

January 30, 2015

We are off on an adventure filled weekend. Saturday is my 49th birthday and this is my break before the year gets really going.

Happy Birthday to me

So we have been playing “Where in the World is Michelle and Brett?” today. Well, this time I haven’t stumped many people with the clues. That’s the problem with visiting the Williamsburg area. Everyone knows the area too well.

John Smith


View of the fort and John Smith


fort model

We started our trip with a visit to the archeological site of Historic Jamestown. I had visited this site many years ago, but I wanted to see all the changes that have come with the dig that has been going on since our last visit.

church entry

inside church

foundation info


As we walked up to the site, the first thing we saw was the old church building. Most people mistake this church as being the one that Pocahontas was married in. This church was a later church. The church that Pocahontas was married in is long gone, but they did find the post holes and have marked them.


Church outling


James River view

I was a little sad to see the many crosses marking the graves that were found during the digs. You just have to wonder about the hardships they must have faced coming here. I was talking to Brett and compared what it must have been like to one of the reality shows where they drop you on a lonely island without a way to survive. Only difference is that they couldn’t tap out.

While we were walking the site, the cold and wind picked up and the snow started falling. So we headed over to the Archeology Museum to get out of the weather. As we were walking over, we noticed some mounded up areas that we found out was a fort. This was built up by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. How strange it was to think that the Civil War touched this area.

In the museum, we enjoyed looking at all the finds and discussing how much we wish we could find some of these wonderful pieces. They did have a few skeletons, which I am okay NOT finding Belle Grove. One was Bartholomew Gosnold. He was an English Ship Captain. He was the one that named Cape Cod, for the fish that he saw swimming there and Martha’s Vineyard for his daughter. Sadly he died shortly after he arrived at Jamestown. The other skeleton was “JR”. They don’t really know who he is. They do know that he died from a gunshot wound to the right leg. The big question was it an accident or not.

One displayed had the skull of a young girl that they named “Jane”. She died during the “starving years”. They discovered that after her death, those that remained ate her. There were cuts to her skull that told them this.

One story that touched me was that of a young girl named Anne. She came to Jamestown as a 14 year old maid servant to a Gentleman’s Lady. The Lady passed away shortly after she arrived. Anne was left to work making shirts for the servants. She would do this for food rations. While working one day, she came to the end of making her shirt and started running out of thread. So she unraveled the bottom of the shirt to complete the shirt. When the shirts of all the girls were looked at, hers was shorter than the others. They ended up whipping her for not completing the shirt right.

glass oven

glass oven 2

Glass Bottle

Next we headed over to the Glass Shop. How amazing to watch them create such wonderful pieces!

You have to check out our video on Youtube to see how it is done!

We also bought the bottle above for a future auction!

Brickhouse front porch

Brickhouse front door

Front Hall

Brickhouse front hall

Brickhouse door lock

The lock looks very familiar!

Brickhouse bed

Brickhouse floor

Look at these beautiful floors!

After Jamestown, we headed to Colonial Williamsburg to check in. We decided to have a true Colonial Williamsburg experience and stay in one of the Colonial homes. It has been something I have wanted to do for years. We are staying in the Brick House Travel right on Duke of Gloucester. Best part, we are the only ones in the Tavern…. Or are we? We will have to let you know tomorrow!

For dinner we headed over to the Fat Canary at Merchant Square. This was the third time we have eaten there. And it was just as good if not better than the other times! Brett started with a Wild Mushroom Broth with Black Truffle Gnocchi. Then Brett had a Mozzarella and Salted Virginia Ham appetizer with pesto, balsamic reduction and tomatoes while I enjoyed a salad with pears, almonds, goat cheese with a vinaigrette and almond cracker.

Moz Cheese, Ham, Bal Vine, Olive Oil, Pesto, Tomatoes with SP Basil with Oil

Mus Greens with Pears, Almonds, Almond Cracker, Bal Vineg and Goat Cheese

For our main entrée, Brett had scallops with a pork belly, couscous and tomatoes. I had a beef tenderloin with asparagus and French fried potatoes. For dessert, we shared a dark chocolate mousse pyramid, floured chocolate cake, cranberry shortbread cookie and chocolate and chocolate sauce. The best part was the waitress forgot it was my birthday so she bring me a candle on plate afterwards!

Scallops, Pork Belly, Tomatoes, Couscous

Beef Tenderloin, Asp, Steak Fries and Blue Cheese Butter

Dark Chocolate Mousse with Flourless Chocolate Cake, Shortbread with Cranberry and Cranberry and Chocolate Sauce

So back in our room, getting for a quiet night in a colonial home in beautiful Williamsburg. Tomorrow we are off for more adventures and new places to see and things to do.

We can’t wait to share the fun with you!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Where is the World was Brett and Michelle?

Virginia State Captial

Jan. 30th 2015

January 29, 2015

What a packed two days! Yesterday, I left Belle Grove Plantation and head south to Richmond for a very special day today. Tammy Anderson, our Wedding and Events Specialist and I volunteered for the Virginia Tourism and Virginia Film Company day at the Virginia State Capital. We spent most of the morning handing out coffee and talking to those who stopped by about Tourism in Virginia and about Belle Grove Plantation. You know I can’t go anywhere without talking about Belle Grove.


Tammy and I in the Gallery at the Virginia General Assembly

We met some really great people from the Virginia Tourism Office and put a face on those we have been talking to. We also had the opportunity to talk with several members of the Virginia Film Company. One of the points I made sure to express is the desire of getting more filming here at Belle Grove. Rumor has it that there may be a Civil War movie to be shot here in Virginia. Wouldn’t Belle Grove make a wonderful backdrop for any Civil War movie?

Judy VA Tourism

Judy from the Virginia Tourism Office

Emily VA Film

Emily from the Virginia Film Company


While at this event, I made appointments to meet with our local representatives. Being “new” to the area, I wanted a chance to see them face to face. And for them to see me face to face. I made up some packets of information about Belle Grove as well as some of the issues and challenges we are facing. You wouldn’t believe how tough it can be getting financial help when your primary business is a “for profit” business. Belle Grove is very unique in that we are not only a small business, but a historic site as well. Puts us in a strange place for lots of things. But we are in the works to remedy this soon.


Senator McDougal


Senator Stuart

Jason - McDougal

Jason, Legislative Ad to Senator McDougal

Jordan - McDougal

Jordan, Legislative Ad to Senator McDougal

The most exciting part of our day came at noon. We were escorted to the General Assembly and seated in the Gallery. After the General Assembly opened. Senator Stuart took the floor. He introduced Tammy and I to the General Assembly and introduced Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison! How wonderful to know that it is not on record in the Virginia General Assembly! We are asked to stand and be recognized. Tammy shot some video of the event, however the sound was that good. But no worries! We will be getting a DVD copy of the event to post later!

As we traveled by home, so many things ran through my head. I thought about the number of new people that know Belle Grove Plantation through our meet and greet and from the many brochures we handed out. What “seeds” we planted today! I can’t wait to see what “grows” from them!

Tomorrow we start a new “adventure”. This weekend (Saturday) is my 49 birthday. Yes, I said “49”. I am not ashamed of my age. I earned each and every one of those years. We have planned a wonderful weekend away. Yes, I said “away”. We have taken the weekend off to rest and relax. February is the beginning of our peak time. Things last year ramped up very quickly from February to October. So we wanted to be well rested and ready to work hard for the rest of the year.

So tomorrow start watching our Facebook for another game of “Where in the World is Michelle?” Round 2! The places we are going to see and the things we are going to do! You don’t want to miss this round!





One more exciting thing we would like to let you know about. Yes, more excitement even after today! We have agreed to be one of the “Deal of the Day” vendors for two radio stations in Fredericksburg. Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9 will be offering our “Deal of the Day” on Thursday, February 5th. Our deal will be buy a $50 certificate for just $25! This certificate can be used towards a stay at Belle Grove OR towards any of our wonderful events such as the Titanic Tea or our Murder Mystery Game! There is going to be a limited number sold, so you want to be ready to dial in when the deal opens. Starting on Saturday, January 31st, Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9 will start running a spot to promote our “Deal of the Day”. Tune in to catch this spot and let us know you have heard it!

One more exciting thing about the “Deal of the Day”. On Tuesday, February 2nd at 8:40, I will be doing a live radio interview! I will send out which station soon! I am also checking to see if there is a live stream for those of you outside the listening area.

Well, after my day of excitement and knowing I have a fun filled weekend ahead, I am off to bed! I can’t wait to share all the great things this weekend!!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Virginia State Captial

New Year

Jan. 27th 2015

January 26, 2015

Well, how time has flown since our last blog post! And this is January! This is consider one of the slowest month for us! Well things have been jumping like Mexican Jumping Beans here!


Our Event Calendar has been updated with most of our events for this year. There are still a few more we are working on and hope to add soon. There are some really great events coming up in the next few months that I know you don’t want to miss!

On February 28th, we can having our “Get a Clue” Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt! We tried a Murder Mystery here for New Years and it was so successful, we wanted to bring it back quickly. We have for scheduled throughout the year. “Get a Clue” takes all the beloved character of the game Clue and brings them to life at Belle Grove Plantation. No board or dice in this game though! You have to solve the riddles to find the clues! We are looking for people to play roles in this Murder Mystery. So if you are a “character” we want you!

On March 7th, President and Mrs. Madison return for President Madison’s Birthday Dinner and Social. If you haven’t had a chance to meet John Douglas Hall and Dr. Lynn Uzzle from Montpelier, you are truly missing out. Their historic performances of James and Dolley makes you wonder if they really are James and Dolley! We start with a VIP Dinner for just 14, that’s right 14 people only! Three courses prepared by Denson Market, a gourmet market and restaurant in Colonial Beach. After dinner, we will retire to the Parlor and Library for a very special Social. This year, we are partnering with the local American Legion for their President James Madison Essay Contest. Local 6th, 7th and 8th graders winners will be invited to Belle Grove Plantation to present their winning essay to President and Mrs. Madison during our Social. This is the first year we are partnering with the American Legion and hoping it will become a long time tradition.

On March 13th to March 15th, Dr. Angela Holocker, Psychic Medium will be returning to Belle Grove Plantation. She will be scheduling Private Readings, one Group Session and one Nighttime Investigation at Belle Grove Plantation. Last October was her first visit with us and we have to say she was amazing! We have several guests who had scheduled readings with her early in the weekend that called and scheduled a second reading! This was a sell out and is one event you really don’t want to miss!

On April 11th, we will be conducting our 2nd Annual Titanic Tea with the Victorian Ladies of Fredericksburg. We will see the return of Molly Brown, Countess of Roth, Mrs. Astor and so many more of the First Class Passengers of the Titanic! Door Prizes will be awarded as well as a prize for Best Tea Hat and Best Period Dress. Our Silent Auction will be returning so don’t forget your pocketbooks!

On April 25th and April 26th, we will be remembering the 150th Anniversary of the Pursue and Capture of John Wilkes Booth during our Civil War Weekend. We will have an encampment of troops, demos, presentations and so much more! On the evening of Saturday, April 25th, we will have a Civil War Social with special guest, President Lincoln, General Robert E Lee and General Stonewall Jackson. More information on this event will come soon!

We are excited to inform you that Tammy Anderson, our Wedding Coordinator has expanded her consulting role here at Belle Grove Plantation. She will now be our Events and Wedding Specialist. She will handle all Private Events and Weddings for us. We couldn’t be more excited!
Weddings are really filling our calendar for 2015 and 2016! Can you believe that we have almost filled the month June 2015 weekends with weddings! We have just one weekend left that month! We have also schedule several Wedding Open Houses in 2015. Check our schedule on our wedding page for dates and times!

With February just days away, we can’t forget Valentine’s Day and the month of love! We will be having a very special Elopement and Vow Renewal Weekend on Valentine’s Day Weekend. Our “Seal the Deal” Weekend will be filled with intimate elopement ceremonies in your choice of space here at Belle Grove Plantation! Last year, our most popular space was the Riverside Balcony at sunset. It is such a magic time at sunset here!

We will be offering our special “Romance to Remember” package for the month of February. This all inclusive package gives you everything you need for a romantic get-away any time during the month of February! Roses, candies, In Room Dinner for Two and In Room Breakfast for Two set just the right tone for that intimate time together!


As you might know, we were on national television last year on the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. What I bet you don’t know is, we are going to be on national television again this year in just a few months! We have filmed our second national television show for the National Geography Channel! I can’t tell you the show just yet, but it will be very exciting!
In the last day or so, we have had contacts from two production companies looking to film here at Belle Grove Plantation! Who knows, we might even see a movie here one day!!


We have started uploading videos about the plantation and about the events that go on here. Check out our YouTube Channel and subscribe to catch all that is going on at the plantation! Check out our newest Belle Grove Plantation YouTube Commercial!


We are very excited about this week! One huge hint! Watch our Facebook and other social media sites towards the end of the week! We have something really big to share! It is going to blow your mind!!

Well, I guess I will leave it there for now. This year is going to be an amazing year for Belle Grove Plantation!

Question is, will you be a part of it?

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on New Year

New Years Eve Murder at Belle Grove Plantation

Jan. 3rd 2015


January 2, 2015

View our video on YouTube –

KING GEORGE, VIRGINIA – New Year’s Eve started off as a peaceful day as we prepared for the coming the New Year. We had hoped 2014 would quietly slip away and 2015 would herald a great beginning. Sadly this wasn’t to be for us. By the time the ball dropped and 2015 arrived, we would experience a “murder” at Belle Grove Plantation.

At 7:00pm on Wednesday, December 31, 2014, Belle Grove Plantation turned into Devonshire Manor in the quiet town of Pinehorn. Like Belle Grove, Devonshire Manor is an 18th century mansion on the outskirts of town. It had been owned by the wealthy Devonshire family and is a legendary estate to the citizens of Pinehorn. In their day, the Devonshires were beloved, and treated as royalty, as they owned more than half of the businesses in town.

The Devonshire Manor, like Belle Grove’s mansion, has exquisite architectural features, albeit weathered throughout the years. Weeds and high grass have long since replaced the flowering shrubs and ornamental trees that adorned the property in its day. The remaining Devonshire lineage passed away in the early 1900’s, leaving their estate in the hands of the town of Pinehorn. The townspeople have neglected to keep up with the place, mostly due to the legend that the Devonshires still roam the corridors at night.

The mayor of Pinehorn has made it her quest to remodel and reinstate the Devonshire Manor as a historical bed and breakfast. She believes that the old estate can generate tourism and an income for the town of Pinehorn. Most of the townspeople stand behind her, although a few people are adamantly against her pursuit – stating that the place is haunted and should be left alone.

The mayor cleaned up the dusty cobwebs and hosted a fundraiser bash for the townspeople of Pinehorn. She had hoped to raise enough funds for her remodeling endeavors.

The list of guests saw many of the prominent people of Pinehorn. By the nights end, one of these guests would lay dead on the floor of the library and the rest of the townspeople would all fall under suspicion.

Dakota Green, a college student arrived first along with Parker Tankus, a guitarist with the band, Armpit Anguish. Dakota is a nerdy math major at Pinehorn University. You can find Dakota spending most of her time at the library reading or tutoring students to earn a living.

Parker is a bit antisocial and has been known to have some severe anger management issues. He tends to be extremely judgmental of others and is somewhat of a germaphobe. Rumor also has it that he is considering a break with the band to start his own solo career.

Ashton and Reese Harvery arrived next at the manor. Ashton is a web designer and Reese is a muscle bound personal training. Ashton has created many of the websites for the businesses in Pinehorn. He is a dedicated friend and is ready to lend a hand. Reese, on the other hand is a recovering school bully. She spent most of her time in school scaring the student body. But she has recently seen the error of her ways and has been working hard to change. Ashton and Reese live together and spend most of their time playing video games.

While we aren’t sure when she arrived, Peyton Crownly must have split in behind our backs. Peyton is the peculiar receptionist at the Pinehorn Dental Office. The only way we knew she was here was her ear bending whistling. As a constant whistler, you always know she is around. And even if she isn’t whistling, you can still sense her being there by her uncomfortable stares. Though her periods of silence can make her seem unfriendly, she has surprised many of the townspeople with sculptures of her own making.

JackieDr Feathers
Last to arrive were Jackie Bean and Dr. Furen Feathers. Jackie is the Chief Financial Officer at the largest corporation in town, Greeto Lay Potato Chips, Inc. Jackie is a very friendly kind of fellow however you have to be a little concerned by his continuing rants about governmental conspiracies. Jackie believes the government is always watching and listening. He has discovered that putting tin foil on certain items will block the listening devices used by the government.

Dr. Feathers is the newest person in Pinehorn and certainly the most annoying. She has to always “one up” anyone else’s experiences. As the town’s new veterinarian, Dr. Feather has already made an enemy of Reese Harvey. Reese took her beloved sick snake to Dr. Feathers only hours later to have that snake die under the doctor’s care.

Just as the cocktail hour started, Officer Nelson of the Pinehorn Police Department arrived. This crabby, introverted police officer is the most highly decorated officer of the police department though most think he achieved this through intimidation. Lucky for us he was at the party this evening. Who knew that would need his services, for what they are worth, by the evenings end.

Officer Nelson

After cocktails, Officer Nelson took the townspeople around the manor to show off his knowledge of Devonshire. Moving room from room and deep into the explanation of the architectural features, little did he or others notice the coming and going of some of the townspeople. While upstairs with most of the group, Parker could be heard screaming down in the library for everyone.

As everyone came into the library, gasps could be heard as Peyton lay on the floor…. Dead.

Explanations started flying as each of the guest told of what they knew and where they were. None claimed to be anywhere near Peyton. Arriving on the scene were several detectives, who all started questioning the guests. While questioning went on, Officer Nelson received a preliminary forensic report from one of his officers. This report, while helpful in some ways, pointed the finger of suspense at several of the guests.

The group retired to the formal dining room for a break and time to question each other. Who knew that Peyton was spying on everyone in town? Who was sending out the blackmail notes? All the questions were interrupted by the appearance of Peyton’s ghost. Devonshire Manor really is haunted!

After much questioning, finally the guest list came clean. Each stood up and explained their reasoning for not liking Peyton as well as their regrets of actions they had committed.

Finally, the guilty party stood up and confessed to the crime.

The guilty party was …..

Now I can’t tell you the answer! Who knows we might want to play this murder mystery again!

Thank you to all who attended our first Murder Mystery. It was a lot of fun as each of our guests brought their great acting skills. And we can’t leave out of group of detectives! They would make any Law and Order detective look bad with their very detailed questions!
If you missed out on this Murder Mystery, don’t worry. With the success of this event, we have decided to have more throughout 2015! Watch our website and facebook page for coming Murder Mystery events!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Events | 1 Comment »

The End of an Era

Dec. 10th 2014

December 9, 2014

This morning, since we didn’t have any overnight guests, I decided to go grab a late breakfast. It’s nice sometimes to have someone else do the cooking for breakfast. I love going to this wonderful American Small Town Diner called Howards Bakery and Restaurant. It is located in King George on Route 3. I wrote about this place last year when I discovered it.

Howards Store Front

It is everything you would think of in a diner. The colors, the counter with the round stools, the booths and menu. Best of all, it is where most of the locals go. Going here, you can see people you don’t normally see and hear all that gossip that is going on in this small community. It really reminds me of the Colonial Coffee Houses and Taverns where people went to find out what was going on in the world and to discuss things.

Howards Bar

I came in and took a booth as I normally do and Teresa, one of the wait staff waved at me as I sat down. Just a minute later, she arrived at my table with a small glass of Coke with a lot of ice. This is my drink order no matter where we go. I had to smile as she set it down on the table and said to her, “It is getting really scary that you know my order before I place it.” She smiled and asked me if I was ready to order. Once again, she really didn’t have to ask. I order the same thing every time. I mean, why “fix” something that isn’t broke? As I told her my order, she just smiled.

After a few minutes she returned with my breakfast. As she set it down, she asked me, “What are you going to do after we close?” It was as if a 2 by 4 had hit me in the head. Closing? What do you mean closing? I must have looked dumb struck as I asked her, “What do you mean closing? Like for good?”


She replied, “You didn’t know? I thought everyone knew.” No, I really didn’t know. Things have been really busy at the plantation. And being so busy, it doesn’t allow me time to eat breakfast out. Which means I am always the last to know things here. Of course being on the plantation and isolated from the world is wonderful, but it does limit my knowledge of what is going on.

I spoke to Virginia, the co-owner and asked her if it was true. Virginia and I have been come friends and even share different recipes for things like scones. She told me that they had put it out on Facebook. Of course I try to keep up with other’s Facebook pages, but things still get past me. That and Facebook doesn’t always post all the postings from your friends on the News Feed like they use to do. So again, I missed out.

But this is truly sad. Virginia and Howard have been open for eighteen years and working there for twenty years when it was owned by someone else. They both have new jobs to go to. Some of the wait staff is retiring and others are now looking for their next job.

As I ate my breakfast, I listen to the conversation going on at the counter. This is how you find out things in a small town diner. The discussion was why they were closing. One thought was that there were too many similar restaurants in the area. There are a few Mexican, a few Italian and maybe one Chinese. But the thought was that because people go to these other locations more often, it was cutting into Howard’s business.

Was it because there was too much competition? Was it because of location? Was it because of the food style? How knows for sure. These days, with the Food Network and Cooking Channel, I think people’s palates are changing. I know my children, having grown up in a home where we cook with a lot of seasonings and spices as well as trying new things, are more into going to places that gives their palates a work out. Could this be the reason?

No matter the reason, one thing is true, the Great American Small Town Diner is on the decline. We are become a population that prefers convenience, fast and cheap. We are all on the move more, trying to get our kids to the ball field or dancing lessons or piano lessons. We try to shove as much into our days as we can. And in doing so, we shove out time to enjoy a meal.

It truly saddens me. I know things change and I am okay with change. But it is sad to see such a place that was the center of a community fall by the wayside. I really don’t think people will understand the loss until that one Saturday morning they get up and want to head down for breakfast. Where does the “heart” of a community go now?

I guess this means I am just getting older. (Notice I didn’t say old- I refuse to get old) But it is funny as I watch things that were staples in my life closing. This was just such a simple and good thing that I thought it would last forever. But one good thing about this is I got a chance to be a small part of it before the doors close. Now I can say, “Hey, do you remember Howards?”

Brett and I wish Virginia and Howard all the best. We also wish the wait staff much luck in finding their new path. We are going to truly miss this one spot in the world where things were simple and everyone knew everyone’s name.

Howard’s will be closing their doors on December 31st. Take a meal and enjoy the simple things in life before they are gone forever.

Check them out of Facebook and let them know how much we are going to miss them!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on The End of an Era

It’s a Wonderful Life

Dec. 5th 2014

Lantern Snow
December 5, 2014

Phew… it is finally done. Okay, almost done. We have been decorating Belle Grove for Christmas for the past three days. Thank goodness two wonderful volunteers came to my rescue on Wednesday or I would not be as far as we are today. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Tammy and Claire for sticking with me and getting the major part of the decorating done. Next year ladies… we will be ready!

I am also very thankful to Oakbrow Plantation (just two plantations downstream from us) for allowing us to come and cut as much greenery as we have. Belle Grove Plantation is a huge undertaking when it comes to greenery. It allows us to remember past Christmases at Belle Grove when they used fresh cedars and hollies to deck the halls.

We are also very thankful to Mason Florist in King George, Virginia for starting our Christmas decorating off. They were here the day after Christmas to decorate the Formal Dining room. It was their design that truly set the tone for the rest of the mansion. We are still amazed at how beautiful that room really is!

We opened for our Christmas Candlelight tours yesterday and thankfully we didn’t have anyone show. We still had a few things to do and frankly, after being on my feet for two days straight, I was beat. Honestly, I can’t tell you what I had for dinner and don’t remember going to bed. But at least I had the chance to sleep in this morning. I think I clocked about eleven hours of sleep.

We have only a couple more things left to do to finish our masterpiece in decorating. The Riverside Balcony stands undone at the moment. But it will get its dressing in the morning. I need to run out and grab one more rope garland to stretch across the width of the balcony. Then I just need to hang the two swags and wreath. Then we are calling it done.

You should see this mansion! It is beyond beautiful! We have almost all the rooms decorated. There are seven fireplace mantles that are decorated in different themes. The Grand Hallway is a sight to see! With the Christmas tree to greet you and the beautiful garland flowing down the stairs.

In the library we have our Santa collection. I have been collecting Santa dolls for about fifteen years. Each year it is my mission to find that special one to join the group. But it can’t be just any Santa. His face has to “talk” to me. And the details truly matter. I look for glasses or special clothing or just something to set him apart. No, I don’t do the silly Santa dolls that are dressed as cowboys or fisherman. I have already found this year’s Santa. You can see him in the Grand Hall when you enter. He is on special display until another comes to take his place. Who knows, I might find a second or even third this year. The last two years I didn’t find any that I liked so I am due!

But you know, with all this decorating and running around, it still doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. It isn’t Christmas until I see “It’s a Wonderful Life”. There is just something about seeing that movie that gets me in the mood for Christmas. I don’t know what it is. It wasn’t like I watched it as a child with my family. In fact, it didn’t start until our kids were almost grown. But now, after watching it so many times before Christmas, I don’t seem to feel the “spirit” of Christmas until I see George Bailey running through the town of Bedford Falls calling out “Hello” to all the old buildings he once took for granted.

I bought the DVD about five years ago. The day after Thanksgiving, we would pull down all the Christmas decorations and spend the day putting things up and watching the movie. My children grew to hate the movie so much that one year the DVD went missing. But don’t worry, I replaced it.

But things just haven’t seemed to work out for me and the movie over the last two years. Two years ago, my mother passed away at the end of November, just before Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving, then her birthday on December 3rd and then Christmas, it was just too much for me to handle. My family was so wonderful at that time. I asked for one year, not to have Christmas. I just couldn’t face it. And because they loved me so much, we didn’t have Christmas. Just a quiet dinner with each of us playing “Secret Santa” for one another. That year, “It’s a Wonderful Life” didn’t come off the self.

Last year, we were here at Belle Grove for our first Christmas. We were so honored to have six ladies from Bowling Green, Virginia come and decorate Belle Grove. So there was no time for me to pull it off the shelf as they worked. I don’t think I got to see it on television either.

This year, we have been pushing hard to finish the decorating and “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been far from my thoughts. That is until today. As I was putting the finishing touches on the decorations and sharing Belle Grove with two tour visitors, it struck me how I just didn’t feel like Christmas. I am surrounded by all these beautiful decorations and I just don’t feel like Christmas. I knew something was missing. That is when it hit me. I had not seen the movie.

So I looked up the television guide to see when it might be coming on. And there it was, Saturday, December 6th at 8pm. No! It can’t be! I won’t get to see this one. We will be busy doing tours from 7pm to 9pm.

So that is when I went to the shelf and dusted off my DVD copy that I had hidden from the children. After tours tonight, we are going to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” together. Just Brett and I that is. I know the children will be happy about that.

But as I sit here, thinking about the movie and the plot, I too reflect on our past year here. We have had such a great time getting Belle Grove going, meeting the endless number of people who have come calling at our door, accepting the wonderful donations to our collection, working with some of the best volunteers in the world and bring together the lost history of Belle Grove Plantation. It is my hope that we have been able to give back all the love, encouragement and support we have received in the last year.

So whether we get tour visitors for our Christmas Candlelight tours or not. I can honestly say, it truly has been a wonderful life.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on It’s a Wonderful Life

Tis the Yuletide Spirit

Nov. 28th 2014

November 28, 2014

This last few days at the plantation have been so busy as we were preparing for Thanksgiving Dinner with our family and friends. We had guests booked almost every day this week. The only day we didn’t have guests was Wednesday. It turned out to be a rain and cold day with even our first snow flurry. Thankfully, no snow on the ground. After last years snow, I think I am pretty good not to have any at the plantation this year. Here is hoping though I don’t think it will happen.

Because I knew the Wednesday was going to be cold and wet, I decided to do all my shopping on Monday and Tuesday. You know, just in case we got a freak snow storm that socked us in for the day. Don’t laugh, it would be my luck. On Monday, I spent take looking for some things we need for our Christmas decorating here at the plantation. I needed mostly to find some LED light strings that were battery operated and had a timer on them. Our power outlets are limited here and I know I didn’t want to run around turning on and off Christmas lights this year. I also need some small black lanterns with shepherd hooks to line the entry lane. I thought my best bet would be to hit “And That”, a discount store in Fredericksburg that carries just about anything.

As normal, I was pushed for time on Monday and I debated going or not. But I knew if I didn’t, I would find them there later and they would be almost sold out. So I thought, “I will just run in and see if they have it or not.” You know to rule them out later if I needed to look elsewhere. So in I rushed, knowing I had only 30 minutes to get in and out. We had guests arriving between 4pm and 6pm and I needed to get back.

I did find the lights I needed there, but as always when you need lots of them, they only had two. I pulled a sale person aside and asked if they might have more in the back. She said no, but she thought we could order them. Order them? I didn’t know you could do that at this store! Big question was, when would I get them? This week? Really? Let’s do it! Of course they didn’t have the black lanterns that I needed. But at least one thing can be marked off the list.

I decided not to leave without taking the two lights I found. You never know if you might need them. When I went to get in line, the customer service line had two ladies with carts overflowing with items. I walked down to the two cashier lines that were open only to see both had two customers in each line with their carts overflowing. This wasn’t good. I had just ten minutes to get out and on the way. So I walked back to the customer service line and ask the cashier if they had an express line. She replied, “This is the express line, but it doesn’t always work that way.” While she was telling me this, the lady in front of me, looked at me and my two items and turned her back on me.

I looked at the first lady in line and saw that the cashier was only half way through her cart of items. So I stood there for a minute or two thinking, “Should I wait or should I ask them to hold these until I returned for the others? Or should I just put them down and go.”

Then it struck me. The lady in front of me knows I have only two items, yet she turned her back on me as if not to care. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect special treatment. I believe in waiting my turn like everyone else. But had this been any time expect before Thanksgiving and Christmas, the lady ahead of me with ten thousand items in her cart would have offered to allow me to go ahead of her. Yet because it was before the holidays, she turned her back on me.

“Tis the Yuletide Spirit”

You know what I am talking about. That time during the holiday when the sweetest old lady turns into an aggressive monster that pushes and shoves her way through the store to get that last Christmas item before you. That kindly gentleman that turns into an angry ogre as he cuts you off to get that one parking spaces that you had been waiting on as the previous person pulled out.

This morning I woke to read about the Black Friday Shoppers that started on Thursday during the Thanksgiving Day specials. Violent skirmishes fighting over bargains on televisions, tablets and even Barbie dolls! In one location two women started pushing each other over $5 Barbie dolls! In another store, a woman was arguing with a man over a Sony subwoofer speaker while a store employee in a safety vest tries to mediate the situation.


Whatever happened to this time of the year being about love, hope and giving? In the past years, I have come to avoid stores and malls at this time because frankly, people have lost their minds! I have come to hate the commercial side of Christmas. Why is it so important that we get that last “Tickle me Elmo”? Remember that one? I bet you can’t even remember that toy is today that you spent four days camped out in line at Walmart for? So what do you have to show for it?

Well, lucky for me, another cashier came along and took me out of line so I could get out on time. She was so nice and I think she could see the stress in my face and I pondered over what to do. So despite that “Yuletide Spirit” that others may show at this time of year, I know that is hope. There are those out there that feel and live the true meaning of Christmas.

I know I want to make sure I am one of them.

With this thought, today I will be spending the day doing tours of Belle Grove from 1pm to 4pm and then greeting our overnight guests between 4pm and 6pm. In between, I will be working out our Christmas decorations. We will be working on getting things in placed for our December Candlelight Tours starting on December 4th to December 21st. Our Candlelight Tours will be from 7pm to 9pm Thursday – Sunday.

We are excited that we have two florist, Mason King George Florist from King George and The Flower Guy Bron from Richmond helping us with the interior decorations. Dawn with Mason Florist is decorating the Formal Dining Room and Bron from The Flower Guy is decorating the Ladies Parlor.

If you are crafty and would like to volunteer helping us decorate the outside of Belle Grove or the interior Grand Hall way, please let me know. We will be working on getting the fresh greenery cuttings this weekend and will be decorating this weekend until Thursday morning. We would love any help that we can get! The more the merrier! Just contact me at 540-621-7340 or email us at

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Tis the Yuletide Spirit

Finally, The Indians Have Arrived

Nov. 22nd 2014

November 21, 2014

Since we have been away this last week, we spent much of our day today catching up on errands, emails and preparing for our weekend guests. We were excited to see our first guests this weekend because they have been with us before. The last time they came, the weather wasn’t so nice though. We had just come out of a 24 hour period with no electric and fifteen inches of snow on the ground. We were happy that they returned to enjoy a cozy Madison Suite with its gas fireplace and while cold, no snow.

After running to the grocery this morning, we enjoyed an early and quick lunch. Then we headed over to Ferry Farm, boyhood home of George Washington to see our favorite archeologist, Mara. She has been working with us since the beginning to identify and date all our artifact finds. Over the past week, we have been investigating some other areas of the plantation. While looking around, we started finding some really nice artifacts. So I bagged them up and headed over to see Mara.

One of the artifacts we took was something we placed on Facebook to see if anyone else could identify. Generally I can send a few pictures of an artifact and Mara can give me a good idea of what it is. This one stumped her. In fact it stumped everyone. But after our visit with her and Melanie at Ferry Farm, we were able to get a good idea of what it might be.

Unknow artifact - Front

Unknow artifact - back

 Possible Table or Chair Foot from 1920s or 1930s

We had people say it looked like a drawer pull, a drawer wheel, a button and even a toy wheel from a car. But none of them made sense because the artifact is so heavy and gilded. After Mara and Melanie studied it, they come to the possible conclusion it was the foot of a table or chair, possibly from the 1920s or 1930s. Now looking  at it, I can see that as a good possibility.



When I saw this piece, I was sure that it was part of a cooking pot or kettle. I have found other pieces like this with a foot on them. This one looked like it had a rim on it. But to my great surprise, Mara told me it was part of a sewage pipe. No great excitement there!


This was another one that stumped us. At first I thought it might be the end of a rifle, but the bottom was enclosed. Mara showed it to Melanie and she knew what it was . . . an old battery. I don’t think this is colonial!



These are two nails that we found. Because of the shape of the first nail, I thought we might have found a rose head nail. But Mara told me it was just a wire nail. The bottom nail is an old square nail. We found nails all the time here.



This piece was really interesting. I thought it might be a knife or part of a barrel ring. We have another piece very similar to this one that was identified as a barrel ring so I thought we had a second piece. But after looking it, we think it might be part of a shutter’s hardware. Looking at where we found it, we think it might be from one of the slave quarter’s cabins.



This one wasn’t too hard for us to figure out. We also knew it wouldn’t be from the Civil War. This bullet is strange in the way that it has exploded. It doesn’t look to be fired. Mara wasn’t able to tell me what caliber it was. But she did tell me it would be  20th Century.


This is also a 20th Century piece of glass. After Mara did some research and emailed her findings to us this afternoon. This glass bottom dates post 1953 and is from a company out of Illinois called Lincoln Container Corp.



This is Solarized Glass. This glass was made with manganese in it. After it gets buried for a period of time and is exposed to the sun again, it will turn this pretty purple color. This is a thick piece of glass and could have come from a square medicine bottle.


When I saw this piece, I thought we had found a rim of a bowl. I was wrong again. This is a piece of a clay pigeon. During the Hooker Family time period, they had a hunt club here and used a skeet for the hunters. This could be any time between 1930s to 1980s.



This piece is a great find! This is what is called “waste”. When the Native People and Ancient People, who lived in this area would strike rocks to make spear heads or tools, this would be the pieces that were cut away. So it is good evidence that we had a settlement here during ancient times. We have found two spear heads called “Halifax Spear Heads” that date to 3000 BC.






These two pieces really excited me! One thing I had not found yet was Native American pottery. With these two pieces, we have found some! According to Mara the darker piece is an Accokeek pottery dates approximately around 800 BC! This is so exciting! Melanie helped us to also determine what tribe might have called Belle Gove Plantation home. In 1608 our area would have be occupied by the Assuweska tribe. They would have been a member of the Powhatan Nation.

So now I need to do some research on this tribe to see if I can learn more about them!




Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Finally, The Indians Have Arrived