New Arrival Donation

Jun. 25th 2014

We are so excited to announce that we will be receiving one of the most amazing donations to date from the James Madison Museum in Orange, Virginia.

Piano forte 1

The Board of Directors have donated an American, Sheraton style, square pianoforte. This amazing pianoforte was made by Loud & Brothers of Philadelphia. It has beautiful gold script above the keyboard which reads:

Piano forte 4

“Loud & Brothers Cabinet and Square Pianoforte Manufacturers Philadelphia”

Piano forte 2

It is made of mahogany and treated to look like rosewood. There are engravings inside on the upper right panel as you open the lid, which date back to 1832/33 for repairs and one from 1941 when it was scripted as “rebuilt”. However. much of the internal and external piece are original. It appears that the note pads (pieces of wood with felt) are younger than the 1800’s. The green painted “cover” for the strings are original. It had all of its legs at the time of the donation to the James Madison Museum in 1983, but is now missing one of the legs. There are no records of what happened and no one on the current Board of Directors has been around beyond 5 or 6 years. The pianoforte is in need of repair for both the missing leg and for the instrument. It currently does not play.

Piano forte 3

This pianoforte was given as a gift to the James Madison Museum by Mrs. Audette Kimball on February 1, 1983 and has been residing at the museum since that time. It was appraised at $3,000 by Lionbridge Antiques and Fine Arts of Charlottesville on January 31, 1983.

The pianoforte is currently at the James Madison Museum at 129 Caroline Street, Orange, Virginia 22960. If you would like to see it before it is moved to Belle Grove Plantation, please stop in and ask Bethany, the Museum Administrator to show it to you. While you are there, make sure you view all the wonderful exhibitions they have there! This is a museum that is seriously overlooked when people are traveling through. With Montpelier just down the road, most miss the opportunity to see the wonderful collection of James and Dolley Madison’s personal items as well as many other wonderful collection pieces. We have written about this many times and love going there as often as we can. Please make sure you tell Bethany that Belle Grove sent you!

We would also like to ask for any volunteers to help us move this amazing piece to Belle Grove Plantation. We do not have the means to do so and would very much appreciate any assistance we could get. This piece is very heavy and will require the legs to be removed while in route to Belle Grove.

We would like to extend a warm and much appreciated thank you to the Board of Directors and the James Madison Museum for such a generous donation. It will grace Belle Grove and be loved for years to come!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on New Arrival Donation

Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Jun. 25th 2014


Belle Grove’s July 4 event supports effort to restore outbuildings


Cathy Dyson

June 25th, 2014


Belle Grove Plantation is hosting a July 4th picnic and concert on the lawn to celebrate Independence Day and to begin raising money to restore three historic outbuildings.

Belle Grove is the birthplace of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. It was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River as a tobacco plantation.

The property fell into disrepair over time. The mansion was restored in 1997, and Brett and Michelle Darnell opened a bed and breakfast on the property last year.


Slaves once lived in half of the summer kitchen,

which has slid off its foundation and needs considerable work.

Now, the two are turning their focus to the oldest structures there: the summer kitchen, ice house and smokehouse. The three were built between 1720 and 1750 and were in use when Madison was born there in 1751.

The kitchen, half of which was used as slave quarters, is falling off its foundation, and portions of the inner wall have fallen away. The fireplace on the kitchen side still has the iron rod on the back fire wall, along with the rods that hung down and held pots.

“It really blows my mind to think what meals would have been prepared there and who they served,” said Michelle Darnell in an email.

The condition of the smokehouse is just as bad. Two walls already have fallen away. The icehouse is in the best condition, but its bricks have come loose and fallen around the window and back wall. Along with the kitchen, it’s suffered damage from animals making their dens there as well as from the weather.

The Darnells want to raise money to restore the buildings and to create a living museum where visitors could experience life on a plantation. Any artifacts found in the restoration would be placed in the summer kitchen, along with a memorial, naming those who were enslaved at Belle Grove over the years.

The Darnells have enlisted the help of a volunteer intern, Lauren Souza, to head up the restoration and preservation project. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation and has worked at Mount Vernon and Montpelier as a restoration specialist.

Initial estimates suggest the work will cost between $50,000 and $75,000, the Darnells said.

“It is killing us to stand by and watch as the board start popping [and] bricks start dropping away,” Michelle Darnell said. “The only thing stopping us from rescuing these historic treasures is funding.”

Belle Grove will begin the drive to raise money with its “Red, White and Blues” concert and picnic under the stars on July 4. The concert begins at 6 p.m. with Mike Mallick of Maryland and his old-school rock band. They’ll be followed by the Alexis Suter blues band from New York City.

Through Friday, tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. After that day, the prices go up to $25 for adults and $15 for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Tickets are available on Belle Grove Plantation’s website, by calling 540/621-7340 and at the event.

Families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.

To see the online article and to leave comments, please visit:

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Outbuildings Make Press!

Meet the Volunteers!

Jun. 24th 2014

We put out call for some volunteer help at the plantation and the call was answered!

We would like to introduce you to some very wonderful people!

Carol - Master Gardener

Meet Carol

Master Garden Volunteer

Carol has been volunteering with Belle Grove Plantation for over two months! She started in the spring helping us get our flower beds and grounds into shape. Each Monday, Carol can be found weeding, raking, trimming, shoveling or planting in and around the mansion. When Dominion Power sent people over to the entrance to cut back the branches around the power lines, Carol and her husband took two weeks to clean up the mess they left behind. It required a lot of wood cutting and even a control burn to clean up the mess! But today, you can see better as you pull away from the entrance and it doesn’t look like a war zone. Carol helps Brett and I understand the needs of our landscape and what we need to get to improve on it. We are very glad that she has stepped up to help us and appreciate her hard work in helping us keep this historic landmark beautiful.


Meet Lauren


Lauren started working with us just a few weeks ago and came from one of our preferred vendors. Lauren has a masters degree in Architectural Preservation and has worked as an assistant at Mount Vernon and Montpelier. We will be using Lauren’s experience and expertise in preservation as we start our restoration and preservation of our three priceless outbuildings. The Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are her main focus and she will lead the project through each of the steps needed to bring them back to their 1720 time period. While she is working on this project, she will also be helping us as an assistant to Michelle during the week. We are excited that Lauren has come to the plantation and look forward to her helping us preserve the past here at Belle Grove Plantation!


Meet John


John came to us through our Easter Dinner, when his family joined us for a wonderful meal and tour. During the meal, we discovered John love of history and architecture. It wasn’t hard for us to see that he would be a great asset as a Summer Docent. John received our history and script just a couple of weeks ago. He did his first “tour” with Michelle last Thursday. John was so impressive that we turned over the tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to him as the lead docent. After just one day, Brett and Michelle have already decided to make John a trainer for any new docents that may come aboard! But docent work is not all of John’s talents! He is also a wonderful artist and will be working on a drawing of Belle Grove Plantation for us! Be on the look out for his work!


Meet Rachel


Rachel has been with Belle Grove Plantation from the very beginning! In July, 2013, Belle Grove opened its doors for a July 4th Open House. Not truly advertised expect on Facebook, Brett and Michelle didn’t truly expect too many people to come. But to be on the safe side, asked Rachel and her mother to come as greeters. Boy we are so glad we did! We ended up with over 100 people showing for the tour! But Rachel handled it like a pro. Since then, Rachel has been available for any volunteer job we have  needed. From wait-staff at dinners to door greeter at Christmas, we have been able to relay on her to back us up. We are excited that she will be joining us for the summer as a docent! She will be truly appreciated here!

We would like to thank each of our volunteer for giving of their time and talents! We have been so truly blessed not only by these volunteers, but by so many that have come to our aid in the past! We couldn’t have done it without you! You are truly appreciated!

If you would like to volunteer with us, please check out our Careers page on our website at:

We would love to have you join us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Meet the Volunteers!

When America Met China

Jun. 18th 2014

One month ago, we received a call from a location scout from American University. She was scouting for locations for a doctoral film thesis for several students at the university. They had secured Mount Vernon and wanted to find a location that might “stand in” for the interior shots of Mount Vernon. Just a few days later, we received the email to let us know that we had been selected! What an honor to “stand in” for Mount Vernon!


The film, “When America Met China” is their documentary on how the import of porcelains from China in Early America had affects on how we lived and entertained. I was so excited to hear that we would have actors coming in period dress and that two of them would be President and Mrs. Washington.

The students arrived just a few days later to walk the location and to start working on their shooting schedule. Little did I know I would become a historic consultant for their dinner shoot! Of course it was easy since I had create two Colonial style meals for President and Mrs. Madison’s two dinner parties here.


Emails flew for the next couple of weeks as they asked questions about our china pieces, dishes we had that they could use, linens and such. They also asked us if we could help them locate four more actors in period costume to act in the film. I knew just who to go to for this one. We had met a group called George Washington’s Young Friends ( at Stratford Hall last year. After a few more emails and getting their schedule together with the film makers, we finally had a film date.

First the production crew arrived and worked to set up each of the rooms they needed. They wanted to do a tea shot in the Parlor, a Library shot, a dinner shot in the Formal Dining Room and a Riverside Portico shot for George and Martha. Our actors from George Washington’s Young Friends arrived first. I placed them in rooms to allow them to rest and get ready. It’s not easy dressing in period costumes! Then Mrs. Washington arrived. Martha was played by actress JoAnn Abbott ( Then President Washington arrived. George was played by actor James Manship (


Of course, I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to get some great photographs of period actors in the mansion so I made sure we had at least one photographer on site for the filming. I asked Bill Hutchins to come and take the photographs. You may remember our “Gone with the Wind” photo from our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. Bill was the one who took this photograph.

William Hutchins Gone with the Wind Belle Grove

During the filming, Brett and I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. The production crew would come to us every now and then to as if they could move something or help them find something to use. But for the most part, we stayed outside or in our room. I would peak out every now and then to snap a few candid shots for history sake.





After the filming was over, the actors packed up and headed home. The production crew left and to tell you the truth, we wouldn’t have even known that they were there. They put the mansion back in place and cleaned up. As they said their goodbyes, the director handed us a small gift to say thank you.


Thank you


The gift was a small kite from her hometown, Weifang. It is a small city in north east China. Handmade kites from Weifang are very famous in China. They hold an international kite festival every year in Weifang. It was a preious gift that Brett and I will treasure.

We would like to thank the students of American University for selecting us for filming. It was an honor to help you.

We would like to thank George Washington’s Young Friends for coming to our rescue! We appreciate you taking the time out of your Sunday to spend the day in costume at the last minute. We look forward to having you at the mansion more often!

We would like to thank James Manship and JoAnn Abbott for coming and playing George and Martha. Your performances were awe inspiring and truly show your love of history and respect for such great historical people. We would love to have you back at the plantation to meet and greet our visitors some day as well as help us with field trips during the school year.

We would like to give a special thank you to Bill Hutchins for coming and capturing the historic events with us! Your photographs are just perfect!

BW Family Riverview

Filming Shot

Gentleman in hall

Gentlemen by the door - BH - 2014

George and guests

George and Martha come to visit

George at the table

Goerge side at table

Ladies in the Parlor

Lady at the table

Lady reading

Martha and George in front

Martha in Library

Martha in Parlor

George and Martha at riverside

We look forward to being selected for many more films in the future. Maybe one day we might even be selected for a movie!

No autographs please…


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Filming | Comments Off on When America Met China

My Dear Sister

May. 13th 2014

My Dear Sister,

I am sorry that my letters have not been getting through these past years. While I have longed to talk to you, we have been restrained from sending our correspondence due to the war. But now that the fighting has ended, we are again at liberty to send them.

Much has changed since we last spoke. The war has taken much from us and I fear things will not be the same as it once was. It is hard for me to remember how we long thought we would escape this war as Mr. Turner and our son, George were neither of age to fight. Since the war, Mr. Turner seems to have aged so much. While he is just fifty-seven years old, he seems to have aged to much older through these last four years. One would think that it was 1885 instead of 1865 according to the lines on Mr. Turner’s face and the look of exhaustion.

Belle Grove Pan

Riverside of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

While other homes were not spared the invasion and destruction of either armies, our beloved Belle Grove Plantation still stands. But I don’t know if the loss of our home would not have been better than the terrible sight we witnessed as the Union army approached and took our home from us. We were only given a short time to collect what clothing and personal items we could and were forced to leave. How hard it was to gather my four, young daughters and son into the wagon we were allowed to take, never knowing if we would ever see Belle Grove Plantation or our fine things again. Taken from us were all of our livestock and slaves. One officer seeing the tears of our nine year old son, George, did allow him to take his small pony with him.  I think had it been a horse, George would not have been given such a gift.

john 2

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

john 3

Union Marine – Mary O’Dell

We left Belle Grove Plantation to head to Chotank to be near our family. It was here that we stayed through the rest of the war. I have to say, dear sister that it was one of the most peaceful places we have been. We were away from the main fighting and were able to living without much fear.

It is my understanding that our home was also used as a headquarters during that time that the Union army held her. I must say, it is with thanks that they did use her as such for I am sure it would have been worse for Belle Grove. There is even a rumor that they used part of Belle Grove as a prison of war camp for a short time.

We have been able to return to Belle Grove Plantation, but it is not as it was before. Much of our fine personal items were stolen from our home. All the livestock have been taken or eaten. The slaves were taken from the plantation and used by the Union army or released. It seems such a different place than it was before. It is as if something had died, never to return again. Oh, will it ever be that grand place I once called home? I fear not. If it wasn’t for Mr. Turner, I think I would have rather stayed in Chotank.

Oh how I long for those days that seem so long ago. My memory of the beginning of the war, when our men were so sure. I did have the honor in meeting some of these great men just as the war started. General Robert E. Lee, whose old family home, Stratford Hall is yet but a day’s ride from Belle Grove Plantation, stopped by early to assure us that all would be far away from us and that we would not need to worry. He and General Stonewall Jackson, both made us feel that comfort we longed for. How sad was the news of General Jackson’s death early in the war.

Rich Johnson Lee 2

Rich Johnson - Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson Jackson - Lee

Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

RIch Johnson Lee

Robert E Lee – Rich Johnson Photography

Robert E Lee

Robert E Lee – Madge Haynes

 The 47th Virginia made a stop at Belle Grove as well. We offered them water and what food we had to give. Many soldiers walked up our lane throughout the time we were at Belle Grove Plantation, in need of water, food and a place to rest. It was our honor to be of what assistance we could.

Lee Jackson 47th

Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and 47th Virginia – Madge Haynes

Rich Johnson - 47th

47th Virginia – Gloria Sharp


47th Virginia – Mike L Cary

Rich Johnson - Soldier 2

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography – Gloria Sharp

Rich Johnson - Soldier

Soldier – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier 2

General Bartow – Leslie

The one sight we soon learned to fear was that of the Union army gunboats. These steamboats were fitted for war and would sail up and down the river, firing their guns at whatever fancy they saw fit to shoot. Many of our plantation homes along the river have felt their guns and several home stand no more because of them. Once I received word that our family at Camden were fired upon. An officer from one of these gunboats arrived at their door asking if anyone was at home. Our dear cousin told him that she and her sick child along with their servants were the only ones at home. He reassured her that she was be safe and they would not harm her or her home. When the officer boarded his gunboat, the captain of that gunboat gave the command for them to fire upon the house. The officer that had spoken to our dear cousin protested telling the captain he had given his word that no harm would come to the home. The captain did not relent. As our dear cousin was laying her sick child down in her crib a shot broke through the nursery wall and nearly killed her. Had she not been laying over the crib, surely the shot would have struck her and killed her. They continued their barrage until our dear cousin’s tower on her beautiful home lay in ruins. Yet sad news still followed just a week later as our dear cousin’s child passed away in her arms.

Just as the war ended, we were yet pulled into another event that will forever be imprinted in my mind. In April, word traveled to us about the death of President Lincoln. Shortly after, we saw a sight that again brought fear to us as a group of Union soldiers once again rode up the lane at Belle Grove. We were informed that the assassin and his companion were in our mist and that the soldiers had been pursuing them for days. They required our front lawn to rest and eat before moving on the next day. One of these officers, Lt Col Conger, seemed in a very bad way. This officer had been wounded three times during the war and was having a hard time of this pursue. We allowed him to come into the front hall to rest and eat. My dear sister who would have ever guested that the famous actor, John Wilkes Booth would be the one to bring down our President! As I am sure you know, he did not survive Garrett’s Farm. I have heard that Lt Col Conger, the very one that slept in our hall, set Garrett’s barn on fire in hopes of smoking out the assassin. But before J Booth could exit, another soldier fired through the barn wall striking down J Booth forever.

Rich Johnson President Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

Rich Johnson - Lincoln

President Lincoln – Rich Johnson Photography

soldier and lady of the house

Soldier and the Mistress of Belle Grove – Leslie

Today, I walk the bluff overlooking our river, hearing the sounds of the past years and longing for them to quit. I do not know if that will ever happen here or if it will ever be that grand place in my heart as it once was. But I pray and hope for it. Until then I continue to walk and watch for the end in my heart and head to finally come.

William Hutchins Gone with the Wind Belle Grove

Mistress of Belle Grove Plantation on the Riverside Bluff – William Hutchins

Your Loving Sister

Belle Grove Field

Fields of Belle Grove Plantation – Madge Haynes

All the photographs were taken during our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. We would like to thank each of the photographers that gave of their time to capture our first Civil War event.

The re-enactors seen in the photographers all gave of their time for our Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation. They came short notice and helped us make the event such a great success. We wish to thank each of them for come and being a part of the event and hope to see them again next year. Next year, the event will be a weekend camp out and we hope to have several more units with us.

We would also like to thank all the volunteers who came and helped us. Without our volunteers, Belle Grove Plantation could not present our living history events as we do. You are so special to us!

The letter in this blog is a fiction letter written from the history we have uncovered over this past two years. It is told from the view of Susan Augusta Rose Turner, wife of Carolinus Turner and mistress of Belle Grove Plantation during the war. Susan did in fact have family in Chotank as well as the Pratt/Turner family at Camden. After the death of Carolinus Turner in 1876, she did not remain at Belle Grove Plantation. The plantation was willed to their four daughters and she moved back to Chotank. Whether it was for her own comfort or for whatever other reason, we do not know. It is a fiction thought that she might have wanted to leave after the events of the war at Belle Grove Plantation.

We also do not know if General Robert E. Lee or General Stonewall Jackson ever came to Belle Grove Plantation. It was added to the letter so we could show the photographs of our re-enactors. We do know that the Turner Family was forced from the home and their home, belongings and livestock were taken. It was through family information that we found that George was allowed to take his horse. We assume that it was a pony because a true horse would have more than likely been kept. We also believe that Belle Grove was held as a headquarters for the Union Army. One reason was that the house has never had any bullets holes, shots or cannon ball scaring. Another reason is we have found Union “drop bullets” at the base of one of the outside staircases and at the white entry fence. One last clue was in the pardon letter from Carolinus Turner to President Johnson. In this letter, Carolinus speaks of knowing General Burnside. While we still haven’t confirmed the thought that is was a headquarters or even a POW camp, we believe that the clues do lean that way.

We would like to say that they letter is written from the view of someone that lived through and lived after the Civil War. The reference to the actions of either Union or Confederate armies or the reference to slaves does not reflect our belief and is used only to show what Susan’s feelings may have been. Again, this is a written fiction letter and not intended to be taken as fact.

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

Mother’s Day Tea

May. 11th 2014


 “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”   ―     Abraham Lincoln

The modern American holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her beloved mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Anna’s mission was to honor her own mother by continuing work she had started and to set aside a day to honor mothers, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis, was a peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.


Anna Jarvis

Due to the campaign efforts of Anna Jarvis, several states officially recognized Mother’s Day, the first in 1910 being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. In a thank-you note to Wilson Jarvis wrote of a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.”

Today at Belle Grove Plantation, we celebrated Mother’s Day with an Afternoon Tea for some wonderful ladies and their family and friends.







Today we served

Avocado-Cilantro Chicken Salad on Crusty Croissants

Lemon-Line Salmon Cups

Asparagus-Virginia Ham Dijon Crescent Roll-ups

Wild Blueberry Mini Scones

Orange-Cranberry Mini Scones



Italian Orange Cream Puff Pastries

Cream Puffs

Mini Sugar Cookies with Icing

Vanilla Madeleines shaped into a Clam and Pearl


We would like to take the time to wish each mother a very special day tomorrow.

Thank you to all mothers, who love, kindness and endless patience has shaped the world we have lived in and the world that will be follow us.


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Food and Recipes | 2 Comments »

New Pages added to the Website

May. 6th 2014

We have added two new pages to our Belle Grove Plantation Website!

For all the Birdwatchers

We now have a special page just for you!

Recently we had a guest who is an avid birdwatcher. In less than 24 hours, he was able to identify 39 different species of birds at Belle Grove Plantation.

Visit our Birdwatcher’s Page on the bottom of our home page to see what feathered friends call Belle Grove Plantation homw.

Chipping Sparrow

One of the many contacts we get is about employment with Belle Grove Plantation.

So we have added a Careers page at the bottom of our home page.

Join our Team

Visit our new Careers page and see where you can make a difference at Belle Grove Plantation!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on New Pages added to the Website

Titanic Afternoon Tea Video

May. 5th 2014

I am sorry this too so long to post. With all the fun I have been having without my computer over the past two weeks, I am finally catching up my blog posts.

This is a wonderful video! You will be able to see it here or on our Event Calendar.

We would like to thank Dawn Gardner of DG Photography for taking the photographers and filming our event to share with those who couldn’t come!

“Titanic Afternoon Tea” April 12, 2014

Special Appearance by Countess of Roth, Lady Duff Gordon, Mrs. Margaret Brown, Mrs. John Jacob Astor, and Mme. Léontine Pauline Aubart. Featured Appearance by Captain Smith of the Titanic.


Photography by Dawn Gardner of DG Photography

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Titanic Afternoon Tea Video

The Early Bird May Get The Worm… But The Bird That Stays Late Gets The Feast!

May. 4th 2014

Thursday, I spent the evening at one of my favorite pass-times, auction antique shopping!

One of my favorite locations is Alexander’s Antiques in Midlothian, Virginia. I have been there several times and you may remember all the fun I have written about. But the one thing that I like about going here is the later you stay the better the price.

I generally start by coming in before 6:30pm to preview the items. This gives me a chance to really look close at something before I decide if I want to bid on it. But sometimes, even that isn’t enough to determine it. Some of the items tend to be “boxed” in so you can’t get a good look at it. So you have to wait until they bring it forward to look at it closer. I don’t think this is their way of hiding anything. It’s just lack of space. But there have been items that I thought I wanted that when brought forward weren’t all that I thought they were.

After I select an item, I will write down the item number for reference later. There has been times when I thought an item was what I looked at only to realize when checking the reference number that is something that looks like it. I may even take a picture of the item to remind me of what it looked like when I first saw it. And of course to share it with you.

Once I have previewed all the items, I may go back around a second time. There have been a number of times that I went back only to find something great that I missed the first time around. After the second review, I will reserve my seat. I try to get as close to the front as I can. This way I have time to really look at something that is brought forward before they start bidding on it. Sometimes, because of the distance I have to travel and the time I could get away, I may not be at the front. No worries about that. As the crowd thins, I just move forward. By the end of the night, I will be on the front row.

When the bidding begins at 6:30pm, I sit back and watch. I never bid. When an auction opens, the crowd is at it fullest. It is also when the emotional level is at its highest. You never want to bid with your emotions. You always end up paying too much for something.  If an item that I have selected comes up, which happens often, I just note the price that it closes at. Again, I never bid. Even if it is something I really want. I have learned that that one item I really want will show up again at later auctions or stores. I have saved so much money doing this.

I generally won’t start bidding until after midnight. I know it sounds crazy. But by this time, most of the “high spenders” and “emotionally spenders” have gone home for the night or they have run out of their funds. This is when the prices start coming down to earth. And this is where I get some of my best buys. By 2am, things are beginning to be grouped together and sold as a lot to move the auction along faster. This is when you really want to be there to take advantage of the savings.

This week was no different. This week I scored a front row seat on arrival. After my preview, I even had time to run out and grab a bit to eat.  The auction ended at 4:30am and it took an hour to load my car. In fact, it was so loaded that if I had bought one more large item, I would have had to come back to get it. Thank goodness I stopped when I did.

But are you ready for this?

How much did I spend?

Take a look at the items I previewed and the items I finally won. Then take a guess. Believe me, you will be shocked!

These are the items we previewed and thought about bidding on.























These are the items that we won!

If you don’t see an item from the first list, the item went too high for us to bid on or it came up to early in the auction.


Not on the preview list. But we loved it! It will be going between the sinks in the Turner Bath.


This is one of the preview items! It came up for bid around 3am


I love the base of this lamp. It is going on the Grand Hall sideboard.


This lamp wasn’t on the preview. It came up just after the above lamp.


The base is really beautiful. It will be going on a small table in the upstairs Grand Hall sitting area.


These were on the preview list! They are a medal urn with a black marble base. We have them in the library.


This was not on the preview list and I can’t believe I missed it! But it came up around 3am and I was so glad to get it. It now graces above the fireplace in the Small Dining Room.


This was not on my preview list. It was such a great deal I could pass it up. It is an oil painting in a beautiful gold frame. It is pretty large and will be going on a side wall in the Formal Dining Room.


When this came up, I had to act quickly. I had missed it in the preview and had to get someone to measure it for size.


To my delight, Sarah Elizabeth in the Conway Suite fit perfectly!


This was not on my preview list. But we were in need of a mirror in our personal bath. At this price, it was perfect.


This was not on my preview list. I have been looking for some plant stands to add to the rooms for Boston Ferns. This one is now in the library. After looking at it in there, I am not sure if I want a plant on it or a statue.


This chair was not on my preview list. When they brought it forward, I kept thinking about how it would be perfect for the Turner Bath Dressing Table. Currently we had a small chair that wasn’t as nice as this. Today, the Turner Bath has a great dressing chair!


This chair wasn’t on my preview list. It was brought forward at the same time as the chair above. Just like the other chair, I kept thinking about the Madison Bath Dressing Table. This now sitting in the Madison Bath.


These were not on my list. They came up together and I could just see them sitting in the Parlor. Guess what! They are now end tables by the “Lincoln Movie” settees!


This item . . .


and this item . . .


and this item were not on my preview list. They came up as a lot offering. I really just wanted the tray, but who could refuse the silver craving set and a handle server too!


This was not on my preview list.


But when I saw it . . .


I kept thinking about the Fruit Bowl James and Dolley Madison had. So I got it.

Okay . . .

You have seen our found treasures . . .

But . . .

How much did I spend for it?

Would you believe I spent less than . . .


Yes, that is correct!

So the early bird may get the worm, but I would rather wait until later (much later) and get a feast!!

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

Technology . . . We love it . . . When it works.

May. 3rd 2014

Well, I finally did it.

A week ago last Wednesday, while I was working on my laptop on my lap, I reached over to get something from my side table. Two seconds later, I watched as if in slow motion my laptop slipped from my lap onto the floor. I picked it up and restarted it. It turned on and connected as normal. I breathed a sigh of relief. Just about two minutes later, the programs started shutting down. So I tried to reboot it. Again it came up, but would only shut down within minutes of connecting. So I tried to run a test on it. The test came back normal. Again I rebooted and again it shut down after a few minutes. So I quit trying and went to bed with a pit in my stomach. I was going to have to go see the Geek Squad.

The next morning I let Brett know what I had done. He responded in that warm, “I am so sorry” kind of way he has. That’s right, no yelling and getting upset at me. He is just like that. And I love him for it. I headed out at 7:30am (we had no guests the night before) and drove to Fredericksburg. I knew Best Buy wouldn’t be open at 8am so I stopped at a small grill for breakfast. As I sat there, I started looking for another repair place just in case the Geek Squad wasn’t able to help me. I also found out that Best Buy didn’t open until 10am. So I had to waste two hours, all the while wondering if I would make it home in time for our guests coming around 4pm.

By the time Best Buy opened, I was a nervous wreck. And it seems I wasn’t alone. I arrived early to Best Buy and there were several others waiting at the door to get in. I wasn’t sure if I was at Best Buy or at a Patient First waiting to see the doctor. When the doors opened, I was glad that the others needed to see the store and not the Geek Squad. I quickly made my way to the Geek Squad area. There sat a gentleman in black pants and a white, button down dress shirt and tie. I half expected when he turned around, that I would see a pocket protector and pens to complete the look. He was sitting with his back to me, working on something on his computer. I think he was checking his email. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, while I am sure it was just a few minutes. He finally did turn and noticed me.

When I walked over, I explained what had happened and how I had tried to “fix” the problem. I am sure in his mind, he was thinking, “Poor girl, you should never try to fix anything on a computer.” I had even taken a photo of the blue screen message that kept showing up on my computer when I rebooted it. When I tried to show him the photo, he just waved it off and said I am sure you have damaged your hard drive. So we started up my computer. To my amazement, it started up and connected (I brought my “hot spot” so I could) and I was able to open my files. Isn’t that just like a computer and car. When you aren’t at the repair store, it doesn’t work. But as soon as you step in the store, it makes a miraculous recovery.

So he told me that he wasn’t sure how long the hard drive would continue to work and suggested that I download all I could on a external hard drive. I bought one quickly, leaving my computer up and running. He sat me at another station and allowed me to start downloading. Now before you preach to me about the wonders of backing up my data, I want to let you know that I had been doing so on another external hard drive. The only issue is that we had gotten so busy lately, I had not done so in a few months. So I was very eager to get what I had off so I wouldn’t lose that work. So I started to make the transfer. I opened my first file and wouldn’t you know, it wouldn’t transfer. Then it shut down again. I tried to open it again and it just shut down again. I turned to see what the gentleman’s next suggest would be, but he was with another customer. So I sat waiting for him to finish. When he did, I called him over with a teary voice and said, “Now what?”.

He told me that he couldn’t guarantee anything with a computer that was broken. He kept saying that throughout our conversation and really, I was getting a little tired of hearing it. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. But you are a geek. Fix it!” was my thought. He told me that he could do one of two things, but not both. He could replace my hard drive, which meant I would lose all my files. Or he could recover my files, but not fix my hard drive. At this point, just wanted it to work. I needed it for my business. So I asked how long to fix the hard drive. He told me that he would have to send it off to do so and it would take about four to seven weeks to get back. That wasn’t an option for me. So I thanked him and left. So much for the Geek Squad. Had Leonard, Howard or even Sheldon been there, I would have it working with my files and free access to the “World of Warcraft” loaded. By the way, I don’t play games on my computer, but I love “The Big Bang Theory”.

While I had been eating breakfast, I had found a computer repair store in Fredericksburg that showed promise. They advertised that they could fix most issues within a hour. They were my last hope. So I plugged in their address into my cell phone GPS and headed off. I have been in the area for one year and I am still learning my way around Fredericksburg. I know main streets, but anything else I have to use my GPS. This store proved to be a little harder to find. I drove for about half an hour, missing the address somehow long the way. I ended up in a Sheetz parking lot half an hour later. I had to make a phone call to a bride’s mother to discuss our wedding packages. She had called me the day before and I wasn’t where I could talk and had asked if I could call her back later. So I didn’t want to put her off again. So I put aside my stressful search and made the call.

Half an hour later, after I finished my call with her, I called the repair store. They gave me directions to their place, which I had passed several times. They are tucked back in what looks like a construction company lot. When I arrived, I explained my dilemma. It was just two days before our first Civil War Day at Belle Grove. I had guests arriving that day and would have a full house until Tuesday the following week. My self guided tour guide for John Wilkes Booth’s Trail from the Potomac to Garrett’s Farm was on the computer. And I needed my computer to work. I had told him of my visit to the Geek Squad and of their “help”. He told me that he could help me and do it faster and cheaper. It set my heart at ease. He asked me to go and run my other errands and he would personally look at my computer. So off I went to get my Civil War costume for Saturday.

When I returned half an hour later, he told me that he would work on transferring my files and put in my new hard drive. And that he could work hard to have it to me by close of business the next day. (Friday) I thanked him with all my heart and left my computer in his good hands. That night was really a pain. Little do we know how much we rely on something until we don’t have it available to us. I really did miss my computer. People were emailing me, asking for wedding package information (which I didn’t have access to) and asking for Civil War tickets, which I couldn’t log on my list for our check in person. It was really a pain.

The next day, I ran over to the repair store. The owner let me know that he was having a harder time removing the files than he had expected. He had taken my new external hard drive and downloaded the John Wilkes Booth guide, so at least I could get that printed. But he was going to need more time to make the transfer. So again, I left my computer in hopes he could get it done. But it would be Monday before I could get it back. By then, Brett had brought our other computer from Chesapeake for me to use. I was at least able to print invoices for our guests and check some of our social media. But I didn’t have what I needed… my files.

Monday arrived and I waited for a call from the repair store. At mid day, I decided to call them. The person I spoke to had to talk to the tech so he put me on hold. My thought, “This isn’t good.” The person got back on the phone and said the tech was working my computer as we spoke. He said that he would have the tech call me within the hour. I thanked him and went about my business. Four hours later, I called again. I got an apology and another promise the tech would call. Somehow I didn’t believe him. But I was surprise when the tech called. He told me that they had been working on my computer all weekend, which I didn’t believe at all, and that they were not having much luck pulling the files off. He said that they would continue to work on it and let me know the next day where they were at.

The next day arrived and I received a call from the owner this time. He apologized for the mix up, that he had been out of the office for two days sick. He told me that they weren’t able to pull the files as they had hoped. That the hard drive was just shutting down too fast for them to get them. So he was going to replace the hard drive with the new hard drive and have the tech load my operating system (Windows 7). He said that it would be ready by the end of the day. But that he would keep my hard drive and do some research on pulling the files off it he could. He told me that he would do this part for free. I thanked him and said I would be there later in the day to get it.

I didn’t make it that day.

We had a couple coming in for the evening and they didn’t arrive until well after their closing time. So I was on day five without my computer. I felt completely lost. But while I was waiting for our guests, we had a “drive by” come through. Brett and I call them “drive by” because they will pull into the circle and drive around to see Belle Grove and drive right back out without stopping. This time, because I was thinking it could be our guests, I met them at the door. It was a local couple that had been interested in seeing the mansion. Turns out the gentleman had worked on the mansion during its restoration sometime between 1997 and 2003. He had been 15 years old and had wanted to see what it looked like now. So I invited them in even though it was after tour hours (12pm to 3pm). Turns out the young lady is an IT Tech. After my conversation with her, I had decided to allow her to see if she could pull the files from the old hard drive. She wasn’t going to have to do “research” so it made me a little more comfortable.

This has happened to us many times during this journey. Just as we came into need for help, someone shows up at our door for a tour, generally after hours that fits that need. It’s like God was hearing our prayers and providing the answer. He is good like that. So it is almost not a surprise anymore. And we are so thankful.

The following day, Wednesday, one week after I dropped my computer, I picked it up along with my old hard drive. It is the first time I had seen a real hard drive. They aren’t that big. Just about the size of a small cell phone razor style. But who would think that such a small piece could hold us at its mercy. I left and headed for a lunch of my favorite comfort food… sushi. The week had been so stressful. Learning how to cope without my files and finding other ways to conduct business had been a continuous stress. I decided to take a break and do something I had not done since we opened Belle Grove. I took the night off and went to a movie.

On Thursday, I stated my old computer. When it opened up, it didn’t look the same. The screen was stretched wider than my old screen and things looked distorted. It was also missing all my software. No Microsoft Office. None of my passwords worked. Since it was a new hard drive, I knew it wouldn’t have my password “cookies” as my old one had. But what made it harder was I couldn’t remember most of them. My old computer had saved them so I didn’t need to recall them each time I logged in. So now I struggled to remember them. After a short time, I just shut it down. It was hard looking at that screen knowing it wasn’t my old computer.

So on Friday, I spent the day downloading contracts and files from my “Sent” emails that I still had in my email accounts to the computer Brett had brought from home. I am glad I had not deleted these lately. I also worked on getting logged in to the different sites and programs I need to operate Belle Grove Plantation. Will I ever go back to my old computer? I don’t know. It is as if it isn’t the same as the old one. And in a way, I feel betrayed by it. How can I trust it to be my business’s “keeper” again? I told Brett that I am almost ready just to buy a new one. I had used the old one for several years and it is pretty much a “dinosaur” compared to today’s newer computers. The computer Brett had brought was also a little harder for me to use. It is a tablet and hooks up to a monitor. It took me a few tries to learn how to move the screen from the tablet to the monitor. It has also taken me a little trial and error to figure out the new operating system on this computer. Things don’t open up and close as my old “dinosaur” had. But I am not intimidated by technology. I am a fast learner and can pick up how to do it pretty quickly. It is just the thought of “rebuilding” my files and programs that is so stressful. And the loss of the pictures, videos and files that I might never see again. Some of these files and photos are ones I can never replace. So let’s keep our fingers crossed and pray this IT Tech can work a miracle.

Once I get this computer where I want it, am going to hook us up to either Dropbox or Cloud. This won’t happen to me again.

At least I hope not.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 1 Comment »