Lazy Sunday

Jul. 1st 2012

Today, I decided to jump in the car and head out for a drive. This time, it lead me to a whole nother state! North Carolina. We live in Chesapeake, Virginia, about 15 minutes from the North Carolina border. When I was looking at antiques yesterday, someone brought up Elizabeth City, North Carolina. So I thought I would head down there and to Edenton to check out what I could find as far as antiques. Sadly, most of antique stores were closed. I did find one in Hertford, North Carolina. (Thank Goodness for GPS or I would have never found it) I pulled into this small town and found Hertfordshire Antiques. It is located in a historic area of this town in an old store front. I was so excited! I found my first Mint Julep Cup! Those suckers are hard to find!!

Hertfordshire Antiques Hertford NC

Afterwards I headed down to Edenton, North Carolina. While I didn’t find any antique stores, I did find some wonderful old houses.

Pembroke Hall 1850

Wessington House 1850

Dixon-Powell House 1895

Edmund Conger House 1910

Elliot-Sitteson House 1895

The Granny Bond House 1873

Beverly Hall 1810

Beverly Hall 1810 Side Door

Then I headed back to Virginia, stopping for a quick view of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Here is one of the best houses there!

Roninson Mansion 1914 Elizabeth City, NC

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 68 Comments »

Win a Weekend Getaway at Belle Grove Plantation

Jun. 25th 2012

Just imagine pulling up to our two hundred and twenty-one year old plantation home to spend two beautiful nights in one of our Master Suites overlooking the plantation and the river. Each of the Master Suites will be filled with period style furnishing matching the period that the family for whom the room is named lived at Belle Grove Plantation.  After you arrive, join us at 5pm sharp for a Wine and Cheese reception with local Virginia wines and hors d’oeuvres.

Sample a traditional Mint Julep while taking in the view of the Rappahannock River from the riverfront portico.  Afterwards, take a stroll around the property with Brett and Michelle and learn about the history of Belle Grove Plantation from its beginnings in 1670 to the birth of James Madison to the Civil War and John Wilkes Booth. Afterward return to your room with a turndown service and a night cap of Port Wine and a special Belle Grove snack.

Blueberry Oatmeal Streusel French Toast with Warm Maple Rum

You and your companion will wake to a gourmet three-course breakfast served in the formal dining room or you can choose to have a private breakfast on the balcony overlooking the river. You can spend your day relaxing and reading in our library, or go exploring the local history of George Washington, Robert E. Lee or the Civil War Battlefields of Fredericksburg. You may also chose to enjoy tasting the delights of Ingleside Winery or a quiet gourmet dinner at River Haven Restaurant overlooking the Rappahannock River.

Return for the Wine and Cheese Reception and then a quiet evening watching the sunset over the river from the Riverfront balcony.

What could be better than this? How about all of this for free?

Here is your chance!

Today we will be launching a fund-raising campaign in an effort to save the three outbuildings you may have read about in the previous post. We truly believe these buildings are worth the time and effort to save because they hold the past of this plantation. Built around the late 1700s, they could reveal life for the plantation families and slaves that lived here from 1791 to the present. With their restoration and preservation, we will be able to preserve and present that history to future generations to come.

Here’s what you need to do to enter:

Please visit our campaign site at

and read over our information for the campaign. Once you have made your donation, claim one of the “perks” we have set up. You can only claim one. Once we receive your information, we will register you for the drawing. We will send you via email the ticket numbers for your records. Please make sure you include your email address and phone number so we can call you if you win! We do not share any information and do not add you to any email list.

The drawing will take place on August 25, 2012. We are hoping to be able to open Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast in September, 2012.

Our goal is to raise $30,000 with this campaign with an ultimate goal of raising a total of $200,000 with future fund raising campaigns. This will help us restore and preserve these valuable pieces of history. We will also be using the funds to make some improvements to the grounds.

How you can help us?

You can help us by sharing the word to others. Please consider sharing this post with your readers on your blog and on Facebook.

We have to have at less two contribution within the first two days of the campaign in order to be added to Indiegogo’s browser.

Another way to help us is to visit the campaign site as many times as you can and by commenting on the campaign. By doing so, we will accumulate “points” with Indiegogo. If we receive enough “points” they will feature us on their home page. As all of you are aware, by being featured on the home page, we will get much needed exposure for our campaign. This will help us greatly!

We really appreciate your donations!

Remember all donations great and small will make a difference! We will record the names, city, state (and country) of those who donate to our campaign. The name of each contributor will go on a list that will become part of the New History of Belle Grove Plantation. Once we have finished the restoration, three copies of this part of the new history will be made. One copy will be retained at Belle Grove, the second will go to the King George County Historic Society and the third copy will go to the Virginia Historic Society to be archived as part of the permanent history of Belle Grove Plantation for future generations.

James Madison

Become part of the history of Belle Grove Plantation that includes the birthplace of James Madison and the trail that John Wilkes Booth and his Union pursuers traveled!

Thank you for your support and generosity.

(NOTE! We will be adding a video of Belle Grove Plantation soon to the Indiegogo site)

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 36 Comments »

Thank you!

Jun. 16th 2012

Brett and I are so overwhelmed with the interest in Belle Grove Plantation! The warm comments and words of encouragement have meant a lot to us as we work towards opening this beautiful and historically important home. We appreciate each of you and appreciate you joining us on this journey!

Thank you just doesn’t seem enough at times.

There were several questions that we received through your comments so we thought we would answer some of them here so everyone would know.

Question One:

Is the plantation open now?

Driveway from the entry gate to main road


No, it is not open to the public yet. In fact we don’t even live there yet. We travel up on the weekends when we need to do anything or just to visit it. There is a caretaker there, but they do not allow the public to come and see. So we ask that you please wait before you try to come and find it. As soon as we are able, we will allow our friends to come and see it. Please stay tuned…

Question Two:

When are you going to open?

Plantation Side Portico


We are hoping to open in September, 2012. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. So that is a soft date at best right now. We will know more once we are able to get started on site and see what needs to be done and how long it will take. We are working on what we can now so hopefully it will cut the time down. Believe us, we can’t wait to open!

Question Three:

Are you planning on doing weddings?

View from the Riverside Portico out to the river. The old fountain will be removed. This will be where a bride steps out to walk down the aisle to her future husband.


Yes! We have already started working on collecting vendors to assist us in becoming the venue of choice for weddings! And what a great place to start your life together!

Question Four:

What is there to do in this area?

Grapes on the Vine at Ingleside Winery 2011


Where do we begin? We have many attractions in the area from

  • Wine Tasting
  • River Tours of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers
  • Great Places to eat
  • Historic Sites within minutes in King George and Westmoreland Counties, plus Historic Fredericksburg is just 20 minutes away! Washington D.C. and Baltimore are both about 75 to 90 minutes away!
  • Country Club Golf Course within 5 minutes of the Plantation
  • River Tubing and Kayaking in Fredericksburg
  • Fishing Tours
  • And much more!

Question Five:

Are you going to have any public festivals?

Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival at Stratford Hall
September 22nd and September 23rd


Yes! We are looking to have several throughout the year. We are planning the following in the coming year:

  • Wine and Arts Weekend
  • Wine and Antiques Weekend
  • Happy Birthday Dinner with James and Dolley Madison
  • Founders Day Weekend
  • Titanic Tea
  • Paranormal Weekends
  • Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Christmas Time at Belle Grove Plantation
  • Christmas Tea
  • Wine and Hot Air Balloon Festival
  • Civil War Weekend

Question Six:

How many rooms are available?

The Turner Master Suite


There are four rooms in the main house, two Master Suites upstairs and two Junior Suites downstairs. Each of the rooms is named for the families that came before as a way to honor them and their contributions to the rich history of Belle Grove Plantation. Each of the rooms will be furnished with antiques and reproductions that fit the time period when each family lived at Belle Grove Plantation. These are the names of the rooms and the period that they will be furnished in:

  • The Madison Master Suite – 1751 to 1836 – Upstairs
  • The Turner Master Suite – 1839 to 1893 – Upstairs
  • The Conway Suite – 1670 to 1790 – Downstairs
  • The Hipkins-Bernard Suite – 1790 to 1839 – Downstairs

We have plans in the future to add cottages in the style of a plantation cabin. These too will be named after families with period pieces too!

Question Seven:

Are you pet friendly?



This one was a hard one for us. As you know we love our dog, Hurley. Unfortunately, we will not be able to open the house to pets. However, once we get our cottages built, we will have pet friendly cottages available. We love animals and we look forward to meeting more furry friends in the future.

Question Eight:

Will you allow children?

Our Children, Tyler and Alexa. 2010


In the Main House, we will allow children ten and older that are adult supervised and well mannered. Once we open the cottages, we will allow children under ten in the cottages.

Question Nine:

Will there be historic tours?

Iron Rods that still hang in the Summer Kitchen Fireplace


Yes, we are planning public tours of Belle Grove Plantation once we open.

Question Ten:

Will you have a restaurant there at Belle Grove Plantation?

Formal Dining Room with archway to Second Dining Room.
The Second Dining Room will be used as a Tea Room and Sunday Brunch Room


No, we will offer a full gourmet breakfast each morning to overnight guests. We will also have Wine and Cheese, with Mint Juleps every evening at 5 sharp for overnight guests. On Sunday, we will open Belle Grove up to the public for Sunday Brunch by reservation only. Overnight guests will have the option to skip breakfast on Sunday and eat Sunday Brunch instead.

For meals outside of these, we can recommend several wonderful places to go both close to us and in outlying areas.

These are just a few questions and I am sure there are going to be even more as time goes by. Please feel free to ask them! We welcome them. You can also email us at  if you would like to ask them privately.

Please keep a close eye on future posts! We have a very special surprise that will be posted soon! If you are thinking about coming to see us, this post will help you get here!

Please make sure you “Like” us on Facebook and “Share” the Belle Grove page!

Thank you for all the fun we have had getting to know you! We can’t wait to meet each of you in person and share this beautiful and historic home with you!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 60 Comments »

More Research

May. 16th 2012

While we have been working on finalizing this project over the last 309 days (as of 5-16-12) we have also worked on researching other plantations and bed and breakfast locations to gather information on what works and what doesn’t. In October, 2011, we did one of our most extensive research projects of plantations in Louisiana. It was our 25th wedding anniversary and we spent an entire week exploring the old Southern homes and food in and around New Orleans.

Houmas House Plantation

The first stop was Houmas House Plantation with its beautiful Live Oaks that seem to reach out and welcome you as you come in. This home and its beautiful gardens were well worth going out to see. We made notes on how the gardens lay around the house and what we wanted to add to our plantation.

Nottoway Plantation

Then it was off to Nottoway Plantation. This plantation had been turned into a resort with rooms in the main house, caretaker’s cottage and small duplex cabins that were tastefully done to mirror the local slave quarter cabins. The grounds also had a pool and gardens with an indoor and outdoor reception area for social events. Nottoway’s main house serves as a museum during the day and the rooms are used at night for overnight guests. We stayed in the main house on the third floor in one of the family’s guest rooms.

Nottoway Plantation

As you walked into the room, the bed alone took your breath away. It was a high canopy style bed with an egg shell carving in the headboard. We had been told by the guide at Houmas that this bed was sought after by many. Downstairs in the basement area was a restaurant and bar. After dinner out, we headed down to the bar for a night cap and had a chance to meet some of the locals that hang out there. We ended up making some really good friends and had a great time!

Madewood Plantation

The next day we made our way over to Madewood Plantation. It wasn’t open for viewing, but it was still really nice to see. Then we found our way to San Francisco Plantation. This plantation had to be one of the saddest ones we saw. This home is beautiful with its bright colors and beautiful Victorian architecture. But what made it sad was that the petroleum company had inched its way up and around the home. The grounds were reduced to just a small few acres with petroleum storage tanks for a view. It is open for public viewing, but we chose not to go in. This is one of the reasons why we feel it is so important to preserve these homes and associated properties. I am sure that the land was slowly purchased up, but what do you have left? I can image the history that was lost and will never be known because the land isn’t there anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a beef with the petroleum company, just the fact that history is lost.

San Francisco Plantation

We then headed over to find the famous Oak Alley Plantation. If you have seen “Interview with a Vampire” and seen Brad Pitts character riding up to his home, then you have seen Oak Alley. As we drove over to it, we found Laura Plantation was just down the street. We had one more day so we decided to save Oak Alley for last and instead went to Laura Plantation.

Laura Plantation

After seeing all the Southern style plantations, Laura, a Creole Plantation took us by surprise. It did not have the huge home and sprawling property that the others did. This was a working plantation that was built for the business of raising sugar cane. The house consisted of the bare essentials needed for running the business and living areas with little area for entertaining. The grounds had some gardens and several examples of surviving slave quarter cabins. After our visit there, we passed by Evergreen Plantation, but weren’t able to go in because we missed the last tour.

Evergreen Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation

Our last day was a trip to Oak Alley Plantation. This plantation is everything you would think of when you go to a plantation. It was true “Gone with the Wind” style. We were even treated to mint juleps on the back porch area.

Destrehan Plantation

After Oak Alley, I asked for one more plantation before we left. So we head to Destrehan Plantation. This plantation was another Creole style plantation, but more suited for entertaining. This plantation was also in “Interview with a Vampire”. The grounds were used when Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise walked out of the social gathering with their victims and Brad ended up feeding on the poodles.

Live Oaks at Destrehan  Plantation

As we traveled home the next day, we talked about the good points of each plantation and what we felt would work for our plantation. We both decided that the interior furnishing would be key to our plantation. We want to have that “Wow” effect as you enter a room. Our rooms are named for the families that have lived in this plantation and we are hoping to use furnishing for each time period that each family was there. We also realized that like any great outfit, it’s the accessories that make it stand out. This is true with the grounds surrounding the house. In looking at Oak Alley or Houmas Plantation, you see very well kept grounds. But with San Francisco, the lack of land and kept grounds makes the home less appealing. So we are working with a horticultural architect to come up with a design for the best use of the grounds. All in all, this was one of the best research trips we have made so far.

Garden and Fountain at back of Houmas House Plantation

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 6 Comments »

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

May. 13th 2012

While I can’t tell you the name or location of this plantation, I can tell you an interesting story from the plantation’s past. When I started researching the house, I was able to talk to several of the locals who live near the plantation. One gentleman, whose family had owned a neighboring plantation for generations, allowed me to come to his home to look around and to hear about the plantation we are working to open. One of the past owners of our plantation was a family member from his family and he shared a personal story that had been passed down through the generations.

In the 1800s this gentleman’s ancestors purchased our plantation. They were a very prominent family in the area. Three of the owner’s family also owned other plantations in the area. It was a custom for this family to come together for afternoon drinks before dinner. Below is the story as it was handed down:

“Mr. ‘W.A.R.’ who attended the ‘T’ Family reunion in 1948, told the story of how his Uncle ‘C.T.’, ‘Prince’ of our plantation, Cousin ‘G.T.’, ‘Duke’ of his plantation, Cousin ‘R.T.’, ‘Count’ of his plantation and Cousin ‘W.P.’, ‘Earl’ of his plantation used to get together in the afternoons at their plantations for a social mint julep and congenial discussion of current affairs.

But they had a rule that they would never touch their mint juleps until the stroke of five o’clock. On one occasion at our plantation as they sat looking at their watches restlessly waiting for the appointed time, Cousin ‘G.T.’ said that by his watch it was exactly five o’clock and proceeded to take a sip of his mint julep. Cousin ‘C.T.’ said it was only two minutes till five and thereupon arose a furious discussion of the relative accuracy of their watches. So intense the argument grew that the party broke up and they did not speak again for months.”

How you ever heard the saying, “It’s five o’clock somewhere”?

In the Victorian period, it was improper to drink before five o’clock. That is why there was such a dispute about the time in this story. So in keeping with this tradtion, our bed and breakfast will have a social hour at 5pm (exactly) each day. This will be a Wine and Cheese Reception, but we will also have mint juleps each day so that we can keep this family history alive.

Mint Julep

Tonight, for mother’s day, we went to a favorite restaurant for dinner. It was a little busy so we decided to sit at the bar. While there, we asked the bartender about how a mint julep was made. Angel, the bartender, was nice enough to show me how to make it. Surprising it was very easy!

You take some mint leaves and sugar and muddle them in a tumbler. Angel told me that you should rinse the pestle with soda water in the glass to rinse off the mint leaves (don’t fill the glass, just a light rinse). This releases the essential oils and juices into the drink. Then you add a jigger of good bourbon (he suggests Maker’s Mark) and fill the glass with crushed ice. Then fill the rest of the glass with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

From my reading about mint juleps, I learned that the drink is traditionally served in a silver or pewter cup and is held at the bottom or top of the cup to allow a frost to form on the outside of the cup. This also helps to prevent the heat from your hand from transferring to the cup and warming your mint julep.


Thanks Angel for your expert instruction!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 61 Comments »