Look who came to visit this morning at the plantation!

Oct. 16th 2013

This morning, I was up early to prepare breakfast for our overnight guests. As I was moving around the kitchen, I looked up as I always do to look out of our large window towards the river and the horizon. To my great surprise, there stood one of two twin deer. I ran from the kitchen to grab my camera. As I made it back to the kitchen, I noticed that she had moved over to the sun room just off the kitchen. There she stood just at my back door! It was as if she was thinking about coming in. It is the closest they have ever come to the mansion. It was just amazing!




She moved to the side of the mansion and joined her twin and grazed for a few minutes. I so much wanted a good shot of them as the grazed, so I quietly opened the door and stepped out. Just as I bent down to view them under the branches of the tree, I caught sight of their white tails as they bounded into the woods beside the house.


What a great start to the day!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Look who came to visit this morning at the plantation!

Retiring the Old Guard

Jun. 6th 2013

Belle Grove Plantation small

Today was a very interesting day at the plantation. I woke bright and early so I could get ready for the contractors to come in. First thing in the morning, I like to open the front and back Grand Hallway doors so people know I am up and here. As I opened the front door, I was greeted by Jasper and his family. They were up close to the front porch and I had to stand there and watch for a few minutes as they hopped around the yard eating the sweet grass.


I headed back to the kitchen to get my breakfast ready. I was surprise to see our deer standing by the wooded area eating. I have seen her every evening either there or back near the front gate. But I had never seen her in the morning. It was a nice surprise. So off I went cooking myself a quick breakfast.

As I moved around the kitchen, something darted pass the window near where the deer was feeding. I didn’t catch what it was so I moved over to the window. What a surprise I had! There standing next to their mother were twin fawns! It was the first time we have ever seen them. They were chasing each other and kicking up their heels. It was so precious!

deer 4

After breakfast, the contractors started arriving. We have had the handyman contractor here all week. His team has done an amazing job and is making good progress. We also had two volunteers here today. Terri and her son Nick came up from Richmond to lend a hand. Nick got out in the front and helped me transfer a plant from our front entry bed to the caretaker’s house. Terri helped Nick and also helped me clean some appliances in the kitchen. With my broken finger, it is a little harder to do things with water or dirt. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all that they did for me today!


Around 11am, MOTS Tree service arrived. You may remember them from our three trees that had to be cut down about a month or so ago. Matthew and his team did a wonderful job for us the first time. So when we knew that we had to take another tree down, they were who we wanted. I just love how Matthew takes the time to explain things to me and how sensitive he is to my desire to preserve the wood.


The tree that we had to cut down today was one that was located on the north Riverside of the Mansion. It became very apparent that it was no longer alive. While all the other trees have filled with their beautiful spring foliage, this Maple has stood bare.  So with a heavy heart, we scheduled MOTS to come out.

As they set up for the cutting, Terri, Nick and I watched from the back portico. They tied a line to one of the upper limbs and attached it to their truck. Then they pulled the line tight. This was to help bring down the tree where they wanted it. It was located between a line of trees on the bluff and the Mansion, so placement was very important.

Once the line was in place, they started cutting.

It took all of maybe five minutes for them to complete the cuts and bring down the tree.






It still amazes me the sound of the tree hitting the ground. It just sounds so massive. I had told Terri earlier that I wouldn’t cry this time. I knew it was dead and I worried that it might fall during some of these storms we have had lately and possible hit the house. So bring it down was a good thing. Still…. after that sound of it hitting the ground, the tears flowed. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I have come to love this plantation so much. It’s like someone taking something so special away from it. Terri gave me hugs and I was better.



Unlike the last time, we asked MOTS to clear the wood, grind the stump and remove the mulch. Last time, we cleared the wood and mulch. It took us four weeks with the help of some wonderful volunteers. This time, they had the wood cleared, the stump grinded down and the mulch removed within hours. It was wonderful! I have to say there is something about letting the professionals handle it. It was much better not having to face that pile again.


Before they started removing the wood, Terri pointed something wonderful out. The base of the tree where they cut it lay exposed after it fell. I came over to see if I could see the rings to figure its age. It is about 60 years old. That means it started growing in the 1950s.

But Terri pointed one thing out to me that I missed….


The base of the tree was shaped like a heart.

After she pointed it out, my heart broke again.

Not too long after, they finished cleaning up, packed up and left. Looking at the space where this wonderful old guard stood, you would never know that it was there. All that is left is a space of dirt. We held on to two pieces that we will place in the artifact boxes. We want to remember this tree. One that stood guard over this Mansion and the family that lived there deserves at least that.

To see more pictures of the trees of Belle Grove

Facebook Link

Please see our Facebook Fan Page

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 34 Comments »

The Calm After the Storm

Jun. 3rd 2013


Yesterday as I was driving home from the Bridal Show in Fredericksburg, I got surprised by a very bad thunderstorm. I took Port Conway Road, which is a shortcut from Route 3 (Kings Highway) back to Highway 301 (James Madison Highway) to get back to the plantation. As I was driving the wind really picked up. This road has allot of overhanging trees, so my main worry was not getting hit by one coming down.

Port Conway Road is really a very nice road and it cut some of our plantation acres in half. Just as I was about to the end of our plantation, lightning struck some trees. The trees had to be no more than half a football field’s length from the road. I first saw the flash of white light and then saw bright red sparks flying everywhere! It took my breath away! I was so glad it didn’t hit my car! I didn’t stay long to see if the trees fell or not. The wind was too high and the rain was coming down too hard.

After I got in, I settled down to writing my post about our Bridal Show while the thoughts were still fresh in my mind. The wind started dying down, but the rain kept coming in small squalls. Around 9:30 (eastern) as I was just finishing up adding all the pictures, the lights went out. Okay, now I have to tell you, it kind of freaked me out a little. I mean think about it. A heavy rain storm going on with a clash of thunder every now and then. A huge old house in the middle of a plantation. No lights…anywhere. I think you get my meaning.

Thankfully I had my “safe guard” nearby. I have started carrying a flashlight lantern when I go to and from the house and car during the night. You never know what is moving around in the dark. So I grabbed it and turned it on. With what was left of my battery on my computer, I finished the post and published. Then hunger struck.

I headed out the door, yes at 10:00 to get something to eat. I decided that I would head to Horne’s in Port Royal. This is one of the greatest late night diners in the area. As I headed down the lane to the highway, I caught sight of what I thought was a black and white cat. But something struck me as odd. The legs were too short! That is when I realized what it was. We have a skunk on the plantation! Let’s hope Hurley doesn’t find out!

After dinner, I headed back to the house. That is when I realized we were still without power. By this point, my cell was dying so I sat in the car and let it charge while I kept Brett up. I know I was really stalling because I didn’t want to go inside without lights, but really it was a little scary to think that I would be all alone in this dark house with no way of seeing what was making any of the sounds. And believe me, it was dark! Both inside and out. Brett just told me to go in and go to sleep. I told him to just call and get me a hotel!

I didn’t want to just sit there so I headed back down the lane. As I pulled out onto the highway, I saw the lights at the small church come on. So I turned around and headed back in. Sure enough all the lights were on inside the house. Whew…. I got inside and pretty much crashed until this morning.


Bright and Early

We have been having contractors coming to make minor repairs over the last week. Mainly it has been the plumbing company. But this week, we got the handyman repairs started. It should take but a week or two to get things done, but looking at it you would never thing so.

I woke up at 6:00 and tried to drift back to sleep. It didn’t happen. As I lay there snoozing, I heard Dolly, our osprey. I knew it! I looked out the window and the handyman guys were here. It was 7:30. I jumped out of bed and dressed quickly. I didn’t care how I looked. I was just glad they were here and were really to go!

After everyone arrived and they got going, I headed back over to King George to make some copies. Wow, the storm was really bad last night. The first thing I saw was the wheat in the field. It was all bent down and laying on the ground. I told Brett about it and I have to say I love his response!


“Alien landed and left crop circles”

Then I headed down Port Conway Road to see if I could see the trees. Oh wow! They really did take a good hit! It was amazing that they didn’t look worse! What was more amazing was that they didn’t fall or hit me!


Back at the plantation and I was running around the mansion taking pictures of the work going on. I have to document this to add to the Belle Grove Plantation History! But these guys (and one girl) were amazing! They got so much done today! Chris Haller, owner of Lakeside Services (the handyman) told me that it would take two weeks total and I wasn’t sure if that was going to be right. But looking at the way they busted things out, I think we may get it down right on time!

Chris Haller of Lakeside Services

Chris Haller of Lakeside Services








Jason and Cheryl from Harries Plumbing have also been great! They have work so hard to make sure the water system was up and in great condition. They have flushed out all the hot water heaters, checked the bathrooms, check and turned on all the ice makers (we have two), install four water facets outside and even gotten into the crawl spaces to check all the pipes. They are so great!


Around 4:00 I got a call that our banner was ready. I ordered a banner to place at the end of the lane near the highway to use as a temporary sign until we can get ours installed. I am going to have Brett put it up this weekend. If you are driving down Highway 301, you should be able to see this weekend!


As I arrived back at the plantation, I got a wonderful thrill! You know how I just love the wildlife here. Well, as I entered the lane, I was greeted by a groundhog at the start of the lane. But just down about half way, I could make out the head and ears of a white tail deer laying in the wheat fields! It was amazing. As I slowly moved up, a second one appeared! She was just grazing on grass with her cute white tail flickering back and forth. Sadly they heard me and moved on into the wooded area. But then as I came into the bowling green, there sat two sweet rabbits nibbling on grass. How sweet to have them all greet me as I return home.



And just when I didn’t think it could get any better, I got surprise guests. Sarah and Dave, from Gloucester stopped by. They are moving a friend in the area. Sarah brought me another cookie! This one is from Ginger Snaps and is her daughter’s business. This cookie  is too cute to eat! Since I got to eat the last ones, I have decided to take this one to Brett. I know he is going to love it! Thank you to Sarah and Dave for the wonderful surprises!

Now I am off to eat dinner and get ready for the “Evening Show”, our sunset. The clouds have parted and the sky is almost clear. Maybe with the few small clouds this afternoon, we might get a few sun rays for the sunset. Either way… it has been a great day at the plantation!

To see more about Belle Grove Plantation

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 33 Comments »

Sunset on the Plantation

May. 30th 2013

This afternoon, someone knew I needed a “pick me up” kind of moment.


Last Sunday, while Brett was pulling up bricks on the riverside of the Mansion, I got started on the old fountain. It has been there since the early 1900s and we aren’t able to save it. So we are pulling the bricks and will be using them in the walkway as a way to “repurpose” them.


The bricks were coming up pretty easily because the cement has dried up and started cracking. As I got the first level of bricks off, I started hammering the cement and wire messing down so we can fill the hole and make it a beautiful space for a bride and groom to say “I do”. After about 20 minutes of breaking this cement up, I remembered we had a chisel we had bought just for this task.

Just a few minutes later, I was starting to really go to town on the fountain. Bricks were coming up and the cement and messing were falling away.

Then it happened….

One good hit and I was screaming. The hammer had missed the chisel and came down on my left, ring finger. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. Brett rushed over and his former Navy Corpsman came out. We pulled off my work glove and my finger was already dripping blood. As soon as I saw it, I ran to the porch. The whole time I was crying and telling Brett how bad it hurt. He got me up and we ran to the kitchen to get it under cold water. As I ran to the kitchen, I started doing the “Oh my this really hurts” dance. But when I put it under the cold water, I started doing the “OMG!  This really hurts” dance.

Poor Brett! I was crying and telling him that it hurt so bad. Then I started feeling light headed and telling him I was going to pass out. (I didn’t) But Brett was trying to see the finger and hold me all at the same time. I just love him. All he could see was the blood running down my finger and my hand. We could see that I had two really good cuts. So he did whatever great Corpsman does in an emergency.

Since we haven’t really moved all our things up yet, we don’t have allot of supplies at the house. So needing a plastic bag for ice, he dumped out a hot dog bun bag and made me an ice bag. That plus two towels and we were off to Patient First in Fredericksburg.

One hour and one x-ray later, we found out that it wasn’t broken and I had two cuts, one across the top and one down the side. Luckily, Brett got my wedding band off before the swelling started. They couldn’t do stitches so I ended up with a bulky wrap for a finger. The good thing was by the time we left, my finger had gone numb. And it stayed numb for three days.

The second day after, I got a call from Patient First. Guess what! I did break it. Right on the tip. There isn’t much you can do but splint it and let it heal. But that night, the feeling started coming back. I spent most of yesterday with my hand up, trying to stop the throbbing.

Today has been a little better. The bulky wrap is off and I am just in a splint. But this afternoon, I hit it on the steering wheel as I was driving back from Stafford. It was just a little painful, even with the splint on there. But someone must have taken pity on me as I pulled into the driveway.

Sunset over the wheat field

Sunset over the wheat field

As I drove down our long drive, I say one of the most beautiful sights. The sun was setting over the wheat fields and it turned them to a beautiful golden color. I stopped the car and jumped out for a picture. I have started carrying my camera everywhere because you never know when it’s going to happen.

I headed on up to the main gate, hoping I might see some of our wildlife. As I rounded our circle, the only thing I saw was a cat laying in the grass by our wooded area.

But then I saw them!


Out from the riverside ran two white tail deer! They had been on the riverside of the Mansion eating. Imgine sitting on the balcony and seeing them come up to eat! It would have been wonderful! I grabbed the camera and got one picture before they disappeared into the woods.

After I got in, I stopped to look back out at the riverside hoping they would come back. Instead I caught two sweet rabbits eating right close to the window. All of a sudden, one started chasing the other. It was so much fun to watch them run and play.

Then I saw it!

Sunset over the River

Sunset over the River

One of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever had. I grabbed the camera and flew out the door. I got down just to the bluff as the sun slipped down behind the trees. The river was so calm and flat. Almost like glass. And the color. Oh the color was glorious to see. It was as if someone had set up this perfect shot for me to take.

As I came back in, I wasn’t worried about my finger any more. It had stopped throbbing. All I could think about was how beautiful this plantation is and how very lucky we are to be here.

How great to see the wonders of this place and to be able to capture it and share it with you.

Facebook Link

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 31 Comments »