The Good, The Bad and The OMG!

Apr. 4th 2015

April 4, 2015

Where in the world has this week gone! The last I remember it was Tuesday. And here we are Saturday! Time just doesn’t stand still.

This week, we were filled with the good, the bad and the OMG! (Hint – the last OMG is a BIG One!)

After a very beautiful wedding last weekend, Monday, I set about cleaning the mansion. Brett had to travel to Ohio until Tuesday and with the Easter weekend approaching, I didn’t want him to worry about getting things back in order. So Monday became a marathon cleaning.

The Good –

The wedding party was here from Saturday to Monday morning. Before leaving, the bride and groom set a couple to be in charge of cleaning their things before we checked them out. This couple along with another couple went through this mansion in record time! They had all their checkout list completed and were ready to go by no later than 10:30am! (They need to be completed by noon) So thanks to their quick work, I was able to get to my things faster, making it easier to get things done.

The Bad –

With the wedding party leaving on Monday instead of the normal Sunday morning, this left me alone to clean. Brett was on his way out of town and I was left facing the mansion. Seven and half hours later, I had vacuum, cleaned seven bathrooms, flipped four suites, cleaned the kitchen, started the laundry and mopped all the first and second floors of the mansion.

The OMG –

I left mopping for last. As I normally do, I started with the back North Wing Suites and worked my way back to the South Wing. As I got into the Parlor, I started noticing my right arm seizing up. Then my right hand followed, curling around the mop handle tight. I calmly rubbed my arm until the muscle relaxed and continued my work.

Then when I got to the second floor, my left arm started seizing up. This time my ring finger was only curling. I sat down for a moment and rubbed to get my arm to relax. When it did, I continued my work. But this time, my arm started again and my ring finger curled in hard. I stopped again and worked the muscle to get it to relax. After several minutes, it finally let go.

Of course, I have never had this happen before. My first thought was to tell Brett. My husband, Brett is a retired Naval Corpsman with 21 years. He had taken such good care of us. He has even saved my life once. So I trust him first and for most. He first asked me if I had been drinking plenty while I was working. (Which I had). Then he asked me if I had eaten. Well … I did have an egg sandwich at 9:30am. Since then I had been too busy to think about eating. Then I got the speech … you have to eat!

After I finished my work, I decided I needed a good meal and headed over to Fredericksburg to grab a bite.

Tuesday – The Last Day I Remember!

On Tuesday, with all my work done, which I have to say felt really good, I headed to Warsaw, Virginia to meet with a member of the Northern Neck Tourism Board. I wanted to discuss with her my plans for a very special event in July that would involve her. After that, I would head back to Fredericksburg to visit our dear friend, Nancy, who has been in the hospital for over a week. Then it would be sushi dinner at Umi’s and back to the plantation.

The Good –

Tuesday was a wonderful day. My meeting with the member of the Northern Neck Tourism Board went really well. I was able to explain my hopes and by the time I left, you could see her wheels turning too. Likewise my visit with Nancy was just as wonderful. Nancy has been in ICU for over a week with a perforated bowel. Three surgeries later, she was in recovery and telling me that she might be able to go home on Wednesday! What wonderful news! When she went to the hospital, the perforation had been opened for at least two or three days. So it was really a bad start. But thanks to a lot of prayers from our “prayer warriors” on Facebook, she pulled through in record time! She is now back at home and working to get back on her feet! She is such an amazing person! And of course, a nice meal at Umi’s, my favorite sushi place rounded out a very wonderful day.

The OMG –

All good things must come to an end … Whoever said that should be shot!

While I was at the hospital, I started yawning. Of course my first thought was that I was still really tired from the marathon the day before. While at Umi’s, I have say I really didn’t enjoy it as I normally do. I again thought it was because I was tired.

After arriving home, Brett called to let me know he had made it back to Virginia. That is when I started feeling bad. So I told Brett that I was going to lay down early and try and get some rest. Two hours later, it happened …

At first I thought it was food poisoning. I have had food poisoning before (on an airplane for three hours no less) and being that I had had sushi, that was what I thought it might be. Then it really hit about midnight. Every half hour … All I could think was how much more could come up? I hadn’t eaten that much. But it seemed like it would never end. One hour became four and four become eight and eight became sixteen. In the middle of it all, I started shaking. Then is when I knew I didn’t have food poisoning. It was a stomach virus. Great …

For eighteen hours, alone at the mansion, I would run back and forth and would text poor Brett almost each round to keep him in the loop. Why shouldn’t he have some fun with me? Then is when I realized that Brett had had a stomach thing a few months ago. He had gone to Patient First and gotten a prescription for Onadnsetron. It was to help with the nausea and vomiting. He had not needed it, but I have to say someone up there was thinking ahead for me! One pill later, it started to lighten up. Two pills later, I was just churning. Three pills later … Oh why had I not remembered these sooner!

By the second pill, Brett arrived from Chesapeake. It was Wednesday midday, but it felt like an eternity. He came up and took over. He got me something to drink and helped me clean up. He ran out to get me crackers and anything else I needed. By Thursday morning, I had settled down to drinking a few slips and drifting in and out of sleep. He then drove back to Chesapeake (two and half hours) to do a day of work at his office and returned at 9:30pm Thursday night to make me comfortable again. Friday, he worked and watched over me, making sure I didn’t need anything.

I love this man …

Friday came and went, and I slept. I can’t really say I remember much about the last few days. And what I do remember, well I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. Not even my worst enemy.


It’s Saturday … already?

So we arrived at Saturday. I made it through the last week of whatever you want to call it.

The Good –

Friday night, we had overnight guests check in. Brett took over and showed them around. They completely understood. (We have some of the nicest people stay with us!) They were here to visit friends in the area, so they didn’t require us to be with them or to share as much as we normally do.


The Bad –

While I have been able to get up today and get some food down (if you call Cheese Its, Lime Jello and Pedilite food) I still feel pretty weak. Brett says that there is a new stomach virus that is stronger and lasts a little longer than most going around. I did get my appetite back somewhat last night, but my stomach wasn’t agreeing to what I wanted.

We did try a few errands this morning too. I grabbed some things at the grocery only to find that my legs were too happy to be up and going again. It feels like I am running in quicksand. Add that to my voice being almost gone, Brett encouraged me to rest more. So we decided to call off all tours this weekend. It’s not something I like to do. I love to share Belle Grove with anyone that wants to come. And the first weekend of Spring Break, well … it hurts. I had to turn away three phone calls today.

The Biggest OMG –

After spending the day working on the computer, which doesn’t require me standing or talking, I received some very exciting news.

Back with Brett and I started looking at opening Belle Grove Plantation as a Bed and Breakfast, we knew that we needed some help from people that have already done what we wanted to do. So we went from one place to another in Virginia, looking for that one special couple who might be able to mentor us.

We found it in a wonderful couple, Kathleen and Troy of Chestnut Hill Bed and Breakfast. Kathleen and Troy have been in business six years now and were one of the only ones that spent real quality time with us. They answered our questions, give us advice, pointed us in new directions and were just there to listen. These people, as successful as they are, could have hidden away their knowledge and forced us to learn it on our own, but instead given wholeheartedly to us. Something we hope we can do for someone else one day.

I had been away from my phone for a moment. When I got back, I saw that I had missed a call from them. Being that we are both very busy, it isn’t often we get a call from them. So I called back. Troy answered and said that he had in fact called me … to congratulate us!

Okay, most of you know me. If there is any rankings, voting or any way I can draw attention to Belle Grove Plantation, I am all over it. But what in the world is Troy talking about? He kind of laughed and said, “You really don’t know?” Okay, now I am really wondering what it could be? Did I win the Nobel Peace Prize? An Oscar? What?

Well …

Unknown to me, Tripadvisor rankings Bed and Breakfast Inns not only by city (which I know- we are ranked number one in King George because “surprise” we are the only ones in King George), but they also rank them by state.

Troy watches these rankings pretty closely. He stated that Belle Grove Plantation had been on the move up the rankings for quite some time now (a little over one and a half years). He finally asked me, “With 706 Virginia Bed and Breakfasts listed on Tripadvisor, where do you think Belle Grove Plantation is today?”

Instead of my stomach, my mind is now swimming! Could I be in the 500s? Maybe 300s? All I could think was no, we haven’t been around long enough. So finally I told him I had no idea.

“Well out of 706 Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inns listed on Tripadvisor, Belle Grove Plantation is ranked NUMBER 2 in the State!”


My mind was gone. I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was to thank them for letting us know, but also for being there to help us get there! I know in my heart, their guidance helped us so much.

Then, my next thought … I don’t have an acceptance speech ready …

Brett returned from an errand and a Subway sandwich stop, which I am very jealous of, and I let him know the OMG news. I couldn’t call him to tell him over the phone. I needed to see his face, to see the expression. When he came in, he had sunglasses on and I asked him to take them off. Then I told him … his face was priceless.

Now, for that acceptance speech … if you can call it that. But know it is truly from the heart.

We would like to thank everyone for all the support and encouragement that we have received over the last year and a half. Some of you have been with us from the very start, others have come along as you have discovered us. All of you mean so much to Brett and I. You have prayed with us and for us. You have stepped up and volunteered for us. Some have worked even in the hottest of weather to help us get Belle Grove up and going. You continue to write reviews, vote for us and spread the word through brochures and word of mouth.

Without you, we would be nothing. And because of this, Brett and I truly grateful.

Now … what about that number one spot??

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on The Good, The Bad and The OMG!


Mar. 29th 2015

March 29, 2015

This weekend has been really busy with getting ready for another wedding here at the plantation. Tammy Anderson, our Wedding and Events Specialist has been working hard to ensure that every thing comes off without a hitch. With that and the University of Mary Washington here this morning, starting their archaeological survey, Sheldon, our Civil War Weekend Coordinator dropping a second load of fire wood for the Civil War Weekend in April and tours most of the day on Saturday, it really has been like a bee hive here this weekend. We have really had to shift gears quickly to move into the next thing each day. (Is it Monday yet? I am ready for my day off!)

On Saturday, we were so excited to receive a very special delivery! One of our fans from Facebook messaged me last week about taking a donation. Since we have been open this last year and half, we have received several donations. From books for the library to Victorian Candelabras to pieces of furniture and china, each piece has become a prized treasure to us. The best part is that they generally come with a story or history. This donation is no exception.

Ellen, our fan has given pieces of her family history. These are local pieces that are from around us here. So this makes them even more precious. Here is what we received:

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A basket that was used by her grandmother, Edith Travis as a laundry basket. She used it during the 1920s while living in the Mica Community, which is now Fort AP Hill.


The chaise belonged to her grandfather, Dr. John Randolph Travis. She was told it was located in his medical office either in the Mica Community or when he practiced in Fredericksburg, Virginia during World War II.


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spinning wheel

The chair she was inherited from her aunt. The spinning wheel with given to her about 12 years ago. She believes her aunt purchased them from a local antique store in either Richmond or the Northern Neck.

We have decided to place them in the Winter Kitchen in the basement for now. We are working towards opening that space as a small museum to display some of our artifacts from Belle Grove Plantation. This would be added to daily tours we current have. One of the things we wanted to do was to display information about our enslave community here at Belle Grove Plantation. So I think all but the chaise would work really will in telling that story.

We would like to express our deepest gratitude for the wonderful donations from Ellen. These pieces will always be a part of our Special Collection and will be treasured for years and generations to come!

If you would like to make a donation to our Special Collection, please contact us at Any piece that we receive will stay at Belle Grove Plantation and will be listed in our Special Collection. It will also be treasured by us as one of the most special gifts given to us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Treasures

And then there is light… finally!

Mar. 26th 2015

March 26, 2015

On the night of July 3, 2014, the day before our Red, White and Blues concert with the Alexis P Suter Band, we experienced a very high wind strong. It blew limbs down and made quite a lot of noise that night. But the worst part of this storm was that it brought down our back portico lantern. Just so you know, the door you enter when you arrive at the plantation is our back portico. Lucky for us, it didn’t hit anyone.


When it came down, the copper structure was damage and needed to be reattached. Believe it or not, it is next to impossible to find someone to do it. After looking locally, we finally found someone in Gordonsville, Virginia that could do it. Laurie Holladay Interiors ( had someone on site to do the repair. We just had to get this huge lantern to them.

So on Monday, March 16, 2015, on our way to Montpelier for the Wreath Laying Ceremony for James Madison’s birthday, we made a side stop to drop it off. When I arrived, the gentleman who was going to do the repairs asked me how old I thought it was. Not knowing when it was brought to Belle Grove, my best guess is that it came sometime during the Hooker Family period (1930-1987) My best guess was somewhere in the 1940s. Brett would receive a call later the next day letting him know that they could repair it, the cost and when to expect it. He also let Brett know that the age of the lantern wasn’t the 1940s. He said that this lantern started out as a gas lantern around 1900. It would have later been converted to the electric as so many other would have.

Within one week, I was on the way back to pick it up. I was so excited to get it back. First to know that it came in during the Thornton Family period (1894-1906) instead of the Hooker Family. What a great surprise that was! Second to finally get light back on the back portico. It truly gets so dark here and I have been so afraid of people tripping down the stairs because they couldn’t see them.

Front Porch Lantern

Today, it was finally reinstalled! What a great joy to turn on the lantern and see the light! Tonight is going to be such a great joy seeing our lantern back again!

This weekend, Brett will have another item added to his “to do” list. We are going to chain the corners to keep it from swinging back and forth in the winds here. In fact we are going to chain all of the portico lights. We need to protect these treasures for others to enjoy.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on And then there is light… finally!

Belle Grove Plantation and President Madison Make Press!

Mar. 19th 2015

March 19, 2015

When we started Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast, we had a vision for what we wanted for the plantation. We didn’t want to just be known as a luxury bed and breakfast or just an elegant wedding and special events venue. We wanted to honor the history that has occurred here and to help educate others about it.

From time to time, we have children coming with their parents to see “the Birthplace of President Madison”. The parents wish to show the children where history happened in hopes of touching something inside them as well as teaching them about their history as an American Nation. On two occasions we have had young students come in hopes of getting information for school projects. The first happened just after we opened. The young man came with his mother and siblings with a desire to learn more about President Madison. Later after the project was graded, the young man’s mother sent me a message on Facebook letting me know about his final grade, an A+.

Back in January, when we were recognized by the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, a received a call from another mother in North Carolina. Her daughter was doing a school project and she wanted to get more information about President Madison. After I returned home, I was able to provide her with information about James Madison and his mother’s family.

Last night I received an email from this mother with the final grade for her daughter, Lani Williamson’s project. She got a 100%! But the best part was that she appeared in their local newspaper! She dressed as President Madison for her project and from all views, it looks like she did a fabulous job! We offer our heartiest congratulations to a job well done!

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(Lani Williamson is dressed in the white wig)

After our President Madison Birthday Celebration at Belle Grove on March 7th, we too made the newspaper! The King George Journal and report Richard Leggitt placed us on the front page of this week’s newspaper! Below is the article for those of you that can’t get the King George Journal.

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James Madison – King George native son, Founding Father
King George Journal – Richard Leggitt – March 18, 2015

History buffs and area residents recently gathered at Belle Grove Plantation on the banks of the Rappahannock River to celebrate the birth of James Madison – patriot, American revolutionary and father of the U.S. Constitution.

The marking of Madison’s birthday – March 16, 1751 – was a celebration fitting a founding father.

With actors playing the roles of Madison and his wife, Dolley, the historic venue literally rang out in honor of America’s fourth president.

“It was an amazing weekend with President and Mrs. Madison,” said Michelle Darnell, operator of the luxury Belle Grove Bed and Breakfast. “It is such a joy to bring such fine historic performers to the plantation and share them with both students and adults.”

Belle Grove Plantation, Madison’s King George birthplace at Port Conway, across the Rappahannock from Port Royal, was first purchased by Captain Anthony Savage in 1670. The house was later acquired by Madison’s grandparents, Francis Conway and Rebecca Catlett Conway.

Their daughter, Eleanor Rose Conway, returned to the plantation in December of 1750, three months before the birth of her child, who would grow to become one of the world’s foremost political thinkers. Though born at Belle Grove, Madison is more closely associated with Montpelier, the Orange County plantation where he grew up, spent his retirement years and died on June 28, 1836.

Still Darnell described Belle Grove as a great spot to toast Madison’s 254th (264th) birthday.

“Where better to celebrate James Madison than at the plantation where he drew his first breath?” she said.

The festivities include a James Madison Essay Contest sponsored by the King George American Legion.

“We look forward to future events with the American Legion and hope this is the beginning of a long standing annual event.” Darnell said.

While Madison never attained the popularity of fellow Virginians and Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the King George native son was a leading American statesman.

A Princeton (University of New Jersey) graduate, Madison skillfully argued for ratification of the new representative form of government at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he co-authored the Federalist Papers, which helped swing popular support behind the new Constitution.

Winning election to the House of Representatives, Madison authored the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1791. In 1794, he married Dolley Payne Todd, who served as Washington D.C.’s leading socialite during the early 19th century.

Madison would serve as Secretary of State during the presidency of his friend, Thomas Jefferson, during which time the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the new United States.

Madison won election as president in (his) own right in 1808. His tenure coincided with a time of prosperity of the nation, but he also presided over the War of 1812, which saw the British burn the White House.

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Two things I do want to note about President Madison. He is the last Commander in Chief to see combat. He also left the Office of President more popular than when he entered it. Not many Former Presidents can boost those honorable distinction.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Belle Grove Plantation and President Madison Make Press!

Remembering Mr. Madison

Mar. 19th 2015

March 18, 2015

Where does the time go! It just seems like yesterday that I last wrote in our journal. Things are getting busier with the start of Spring. While the days get longer, it just doesn’t seem like I have enough time to get everything done. Our Special Events have kicked off as of February 28th and our Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt called Get a Clue. It was a great success and we are looking forward to kicking off our Amazing Race in July. Our next event has become an annual one that we look forward to each year. Our President Madison’s Birthday VIP Dinner and Social.

Each we plan to come together and celebrate President Madison’s Birthday with a VIP Dinner for just 15 people. We invite “Mr. Madison” (John Douglas Hall) and “Mrs. Madison” (Dr. Lynn Uzzell) to join us for a table of fine food, good conversation and living history. After dinner, we conduct a Social with additional guests to meet the Madisons.

Last year, we had a nice showing for this event. But this year… Wow!

It started about a week before the event. I received a call from a local mother who home schools her children. She was looking for an outside field trip for the kids and thought of us. When I informed her of the Madisons arriving in just about a week, she and I formulated a plan to not only get her children there, but to let other parents of homeschool students know. By the time we were on the date, she had over 30 people scheduled to come. We decided to have them come before the event, during the day. Low and behold, we didn’t have 30 people show up… we had 50! It was an amazing hour or so in the parlor with the kids asking questions and Mr. and Mrs. Madison sharing their insight and knowledge.

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Dinner time arrived quickly after the days event with the home school children. Denson’s Grocery from Colonial Beach provided the meal of Herb Roasted Chicken with White Wine Sauce served with Sautéed Green Beans with Shallots, Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Sweet Potato Biscuits. Dessert was something special for one of our dinner guests. Her birthday was the same day so we had Chocolate Birthday Cake to celebrate with her.


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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

After dinner we moved to the parlor where we met other guests that came to meet the Madisons. Last year, the Social was just a gathering to meet and see the Madisons. This year, it was a little more special. The American Legion had approached us early in January about partnering for a James Madison Essay Contest for local 6th, 7th and 8th graders. We were so excited and suggested that they present the winners to the Madisons during our Social event.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

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What a great pleasure it was to see and hear each of the essays entitled “James Madison is a hero because”. Each of the student meet the President and First Lady and President Madison presented them with their certificate and prize money.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

But this event wasn’t the only event that we remembered Mr. Madison this year.


On Monday, March 16th, Tammy Anderson (our Wedding and Event Specialist) and I went to Montpelier to represent Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison during a Wreath Laying Ceremony. This was Tammy’s first visit and I was so excited to be able to share and point out all the wonderful things at Montpelier. This year was also the first year Belle Grove has been invited to lay a wreath at the tomb of this great man.



The Ceremony was made even more touching with the Marines conducting the Color Guard, Firing Squad and Presentation Wreath from President Obama. President Obama wasn’t able to be there, so the Commanding Officer of Quantico, Col. David Maxwell, presented the red, white and blue wreath for the United States. He also deliver on of the best speeches I have ever heard.




As someone that was presenting a wreath, I was seated in a special reserved section of the audience. In fact I was on the front row seated next to the Congressman’s representative and the City of Orange Board of Supervisor. They placed the wreaths in several rows within the family plot. At one point, we were asked to stand. As our names were called, we walked to stand behind our wreaths. It was a proud moment with our name was announced. It was such an honor.


After we were recognized, we returned to our seat. We were addressed by a history professor and 2 time Pulitzer Prize winner, Alan Taylor, one of the nation’s premier experts in Colonial America and the early U.S. republic.

I don’t want to say I didn’t listen to him, because I was truly interested in what he had to say. But something kept pulling my attention away. I would glance over to the large tombstone and see the word “Madison”. Then my eyes would wonder over to the view between the trees and just beyond to the Blue Ridge Mountains. No wonder Mr. Madison loved this place. I would try to imagine what it might have been like here with Mr. Madison walking or riding around the property. What thoughts would run through his head. How he must have rushed to his library to write them down before they “escaped”. I tried to imagine the day that he was laid to rest. Dolley was so overwhelmed with grief that she didn’t even attend.

Before I knew it, time was up. We stood to prepare for the retiring for the Color Guard. But before they left, we received a three shot salute from the Firing Squad. Then two trumpets, one on each side of the family plot, began playing “Taps”. It was so moving that one couldn’t help be shed a tear. Then the Color were retired.



After the ceremony, Tammy and I made our way to the mansion for a tour. Being Tammy’s first time, I tried to remain quiet through the tour (though it was very hard and I didn’t really make it without making some comments) and allow her to experience the tour in all its glory. I did have to laugh a moment under my breath when she leaned over and whispered, “Montpelier is beautiful, but Belle Grove is much better.”

And as we toured the mansion, we arrived in the formal dining room. Just as the docent started her talk, I looked up to see “Mr. Madison” (John Douglas Hall) coming from the hall. I swear to you, it caught my breath as if a Rock Star was entering. Tammy later told me she hear my reaction and had to laugh too. John Douglas Hall has been to Belle Grove many time and we have become good friends. But when we first met during Montpelier’s Candlelight Tour in December 2012, I was over come with joy and excitement. It was as if I was meeting the great man himself! But to see him again in the Montpelier mansion, it brought back that tender memory. Brett laughs because I get so excited.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

After we headed back out to Orange, Virginia for a quick stop at the James Madison Museum. We had to do a quick walk through because they were getting ready to close. But I wanted Tammy to see some of the artifacts that belonged to James and Dolley. Most especially Mr. Madison’s favorite chair, the Campeche Chair. I do so lush for that piece of Madison history.

This year’s celebration of Madison wouldn’t have been complete unless we posted a special shout out for President Madison on our Facebook page. We encouraged others to “Shout Out” and Share the post. It was just amazing! To date the original post has received 506 likes and been shared 70 times! This is the most that any of our posts has ever gotten! It reached over 22,000 people!

For me, it was just wonderful that over 22,000 people took a moment to remember this great man and all that he did for our country. We celebrate Washington and Jefferson and Adams has had a mini series done on him. President Madison tends to be overlooked. I hope in the future that someone will take the time to teach more about this man, about what he believed in, what he dreamed of and how it has inspired others today.

I think it would be well worth the effort.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Remembering Mr. Madison

A Visit with President and Mrs. Madison

Aug. 26th 2013

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On Sunday, August 25th, Belle Grove Plantation was proud and honored to open its door to President and Mrs. Madison of Montpelier. They arrived in early afternoon and were gracious enough to allow us to do a photo session with Chamberlin Photography.

The pictures are just beautiful!

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After the photo session, they relaxed on the Riverview Balcony enjoying the sunset. Afterward it was dinner with Brett and I were we enjoyed wonderful conversations around the lives of President Madison and Mrs. Madison. We also discussed the upcoming event on September 15th. They are very excited to be returning to Belle Grove Plantation in just a few weeks again for another wonderful Virginia Fare Dinner.

We were also showered with some wonderful house warming gifts. We received several new books for our library! We received James Madison – A Biography by Ralph Ketcham from Montpelier CEO Kat Imhof.

We received from Mrs., Madison (Dr. Lynn Uzzell) two copies of the Constitutions, one hardback and one paperback, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Founding Families of Virginia” DVD by Chef Walter Staib, “Montpelier Hospitality – History, Traditions and Recipes from the Home of James and Dolley Madison” and something I have been wanting for some time, a bust of James Madison.

We received from President Madison (John Douglas Hall) “The Complete Madison – His Basic Writings by Saul Padovea and Borderline in Borderlands – James Madison and the Spanish-American Frontier (1776-1821)” by J.C.A. Stagg.

Both President Madison and Mrs. Madison brought us something to “warm” the evening. Mrs. Madison brought us a bottle of Korbet Brut Champagne and President Madison brought us a bottle of Madeira.

We were just overwhelmed with all the gifts. They were unexpected but will make very wonderful additions to our library and home.

I have already started reading one, “Montpelier Hospitality” and found something that I really think frames my goal with our plantation hospitality.

“Montpelier’s most important and famous occupants were James and Dolley Madison, who presided over this “harbor of hospitality” in the early 1800s, when strangers as well as friends and neighbors were welcomed. Montpelier, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is in the heart of Virginia’s hunt country. It was the lifelong home of James Madison, fourth President, Father of the Constitution, and the founding genius of the American republic. His captivating wife, Dolley, still holds the unofficial title as the most famous hostess the White House ever had. During her lifetime, she was considered the most popular person in America. The volunteers at Montpelier because intrigued with the idea of researching Dolley’s background to discover the secrets of her entertaining success and to find the recipes she once used. After poring through old cookbooks, journals and letter in search of truly authentic recipes, we found that very few, if any, survive. Instead, we learned that Dolley’s fame as a hostess was based not so much on what she served, but the grace, charm and warmth she extended to her guests at both the President’s House (later called the White House) and Montpelier. She had the remarkable ability to make all feel welcome. Her genuine love of people was evident in her belief that neither political party nor social status was the criteria by which individuals were recognized.”

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If I could only be one tenth like Dolley Madison . . . I am sure our home would be one of the greatest successes.

This morning, President Madison rose early for a brisk walk around the grounds while Mrs., Madison enjoyed a glass of juice and a good book on the Riverview Balcony.

James and Dolley Dinner

We are so sad to see them go, but we can’t wait to share them with 12 very lucky VIP dinner guests and many more Salon guests on September 15th! It is guaranteed to be an evening you don’t want to miss!

Get your tickets now! They are selling fast and won’t last long!

Go to our Online Store at

and find the Tickets for this event.

Or you can call 540-621-7340 to order tickets over the phone by credit card.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 14 Comments »

Couch Potato

Jul. 11th 2013

Yesterday, I took off for the day and made my way to Orange, Virginia. If you  have been following the blog, you know that Montpelier and the James Madison Museum are located here. I had read on Facebook that the James Madison Museum was going to have a new exhibition opening on July 7th and in this exhibition was something I would be interested in.


Before I went to the museum, I decided to stop off at Montpelier to meet Matt, the head of the Archeaology Department. I have wanted to meet him for some time now and being in the middle of the week, I knew this might be my only chance. As most of you have read, we have had some really great “finds” lately and I wanted to get his opinion on them.


The first piece I showed was our two plate pieces. I had gotten a date from Mara at Ferry Farm that this was from the time period of 1740-1755. Matt confirmed that it was. This really makes me excited because when we first started researching Belle Grove, we were told that the house that James Madison was born in had long ago disappeared into the river. We later heard that the foundation was located between the house and the current bridge. We recently read a letter from the early 1900s that placed it between the current house and the church. But by finding items that date to this time period it shows that there was active life here near the house from that period. It also gives some credibility to the foundations we have under the Small Dining Room and behind the Garage. Maybe one day we can fund a dig there!

He also answered my question on a second piece. It was a very badly rusted piece of metal that I thought might be a knife. Matt says it looks more like a barrel ring. It came from the same hole as the plate. Maybe we have a small trash pit here! We will have to see!

After my talk with Matt, I headed back into Orange and to the James Madison Museum. I couldn’t wait to see what I came to see!


The James Madison Museum

Orange, Virginia

Bethany greeted me at the door with a warm smile and hug. Then she ushered me back to the new display.


Here before me stood three Virginia Sectional Sofas. The first one was the Salubria Sofa from Culpeper, Virginia. It had been in a home built by the Reverend John Thompson in 1757. Robert Grayson purchased it in 1851. His mother, Sara Mason Cooke Grayson was the granddaughter of George Mason of  Gunston Hall. (Funny how places we go and people we learn about here in Virginia seem to connect together) Robert Grayson was with the 6th Virginia Calvary during the Civil War and his brother, John Cooke Grayson was a surgeon in Farmville, Virginia Hospital. Robert Grayson’s son, Admiral Cary T. Grayson would serve as personal physician to President Woodrow Wilson. It is currently owned by the Memorial Foundation of Germanna Colonies in Virginia and was donated to this foundation by the Grayson family in October 2000. It is currently on loan for a short time to the James Madison Museum by the owner and descendant of Admiral Cary T. Grayson.


The second sofa to greet me was the Port Royal Sofa. This Sectional Sofa from Virginia was made between 1825 and 1840 and is thought to have begun its life in Warsaw, Virginia (just 30 minutes from Belle Grove Plantation) at the Mount Airy Plantation. It is known that it came to Port Royal (across the river from Belle Grove Plantation) in 1911 when Courtneyay Tayloe Crump married Richard Pratt of Camden Plantation in Port Royal. It has been almost two years since I last spoke of Camden, but I had the opportunity to view it in January 2012. This family is connected to Belle Grove through Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins (mother of Fanny Hipkins Bernard, who the main section of Belle Grove’s Mansion was built for in 1791) and Carolinus Turner, whose family married into the Pratt Family. This sofa spent much of its time at the foot of a bed at Camden. This sofa, unlike the other two in the exhibit, is held together with a simple latch to allow it to be used as a day bed. This sofa remained in the Pratt Family until 2007. Today it is on loan from Laura and Hal Stuart.


The last sofa was the one I came to see!

The Conway Settee is entirely original and unupholstered. It is believed that it was crafted and/or shipped in/from Falmouth, Virginia. (20 miles north of Belle Grove Plantation). It was shipped to Mrs. Lucy Conway on October 18, 1848. Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway was married to Reuben Conway during James Madison’s second term as President Jefferson’s Secretary of State. Her mother was Sara Madison Catlett and was James Madison’s sister. Reuben Conway was the son of Catlett Conway. Nelly Conway Madison, mother of James Madison was Reuben’s aunt. The settee is made entirely of yellow pine. They used animal blood based paint on the exposed wood to simulate mahogany. The frame is pegged and it has a slatted wood base. The upper upholstery is a heavy Osnaburgh linen. There is no evidence of casters ever being affixed to it. It has a deep seat box and a simple turned leg with original button-down covering tacked to the frame. On each of the sectional you can see Lucy’s name. This settee is a gift from the Orange County Historical Society.



I have to say I was in awe at this piece! How exciting to see a piece of Conway Family History! 


While I was there, I also saw a very wonderful colonial table. I have seen many card tables in our search for tables for Belle Grove, but this one was very unique.


The top of the table rotates around!


Then opens up and lays on top of the frame!

This table dates to the 17oos and may have been made by slaves. It was on the farm of James B. Daniel , known as “Grandpa Jim”. Mr. Daniel ran the Post Office in the community that was named for him, “Daniel” Virginia. The family used this table for generations until it was donated to the museum. It was a gift from William Downer in 1986.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 11 Comments »

James Madison Book List

Jun. 10th 2013


I have contacted “Mrs. Madison” from Montpelier and she was so kind as to get me in touch with two curators from Montpelier. I was looking for a list of books that Mr. Madison would have owned for our library. Here is the list they were so kind as to send me. If we could get these for the “James Madison” section of our library, we would be most grateful.

 Books owned by Madison



Adams, John Defence of the Constitutions
Burns, Robert Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect
Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John de Letters from an American Farmer
Filson, John Discovery, Settlement, & Present State of Kentucky
Gibbon, Edward History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
A. Hamilton, J. Jay, and J. Madison The Federalist 
Jefferson, Thomas Notes on the State of Virginia
Ledyard, John Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean
Locke, John Treatises on Government
Longacre, James Barton National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans
Montesquieu The Spirit of the Laws
Morse, Jedidiah Geography Made Easy
Shakespeare, William Hamlet
Plato The Republic
Raleigh, Sir Walter History of the World
Ramsay, David History of the American Revolution
Vattell, Emerich de The Law of Nations
Warville, J.P. Brissot de The Commerce of America with Europe

 Books about Madison

Ketcham, Ralph James Madison: A Biography
Banning, Lance The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the founding of the Federal Republic
Brookhiser, Richard James Madison
Burstein, Andrew and Nancy Isenberg Madison and Jefferson
Madison, James Notes of Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787
Mattern, David and H. Schulman The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison
Mattern, David B. James Madison’s Advice to My Country
Rakove, Jack James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic
Stagg, J.C.A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, & Warfare in the Early American Republic
Wood, Gordon Empire of Liberty

Our “Virtual Housewarming Party” is to stock Belle Grove Plantation’s library.


We have five sections of shelves with five long shelves each. This is allot of book to find and buy. And personally we would like to have a good mix that are recommended reading from others.

So this is where you come in.

We would like to break each section down to catalogs.

Here is what they are:

Books that James Madison would have had in his library – These are books that James Madison would have had to read in his personal library. Or it could have been books that Thomas Jefferson would have allowed him to borrow. Here is a link of reading material Thomas Jefferson wrote about :

Books on the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) and the Constitution – These are books that are about the great men and women who help form America. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, Martha Washington, Dolley Madison and on. We would also like to have books on the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Books on the military events and American History – Since Belle Grove’s history spans every period in American history, we would like this section to have books about the periods in American History. Of course the American Revolution and Civil Wars touched Belle Grove because they happened here, we would like to have several on these. But we would also like to have the rest too because it would have touched each family in some way.

Books on Virginia and American Life – These books would talk about life in Virginia and in America. Send us a book about your great state or your favorite Virginia sights.

General Interest Books – These can be of any interest. Fact or Fiction. Good stories that you think people would like to read. You may also like to send us a copy of a book you have had published.

A Couple of Requests

Because these books are going to be placed in this historic home, we would like to acknowledge you for making this donation to our library. In the front of the book, we ask that you place the following information:

“This book was donated to Belle Grove Plantation by (your name) from (City, State and Country) on (date) to help complete their library.”

This will help us preserve your place in our history.

We would also like to request that your book be a hardback book that isn’t too large. If the book is too large, it may not fit on the shelf. Paperback books are nice and inexpensive, but as people read them, they get worn over time. We would like your book to last as long as possible.

Books we already have

So we don’t get repeat books, once we receive a book, we will list it on our a blog page. Look on our left column under “About Us”. It is listed as “Housewarming for the Library

Here is what we have picked up so far:

The Asent of George Washington – John Ferling

Madison Writings – Jack N. Rakove

A Slave in the White House – Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

The Debate on the Constitution – Bernard Barilyn

James Madison – Garry Wills

War at Our Doors – Rebecca Campbell Light

Images of America Virginia Presidential Homes – Patrick L. O’Neill

Places I Have Known Along the Rappahannock River – Beverley C Pratt

Come Retribution – William A Tidwell

A Perfect Union – Catherine Allgor

Gordonsville Virginia – William H.B. Thomas

Orange Virginia – William H.B. Thomas

Dearest Friend  A Life of Abigail Adams – Lynne Withey

Patriots of the UpCountry – William H.B. Thomas

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King

The Dead Zone – Stephen King

Pet Sematary – Stephen King

The Tommyknockers – Stephen King

To get your books to us, please ship them to the following address:

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

9221 Belle Grove Drive

King George, Virginia 22485


Brett and I would like to thank you so much for supporting us throughout this last year and continuing to follow along with us as we reach that all important Opening Day. We look forward to see each of you at the plantation and sharing this beloved plantation with the rest of the world!

To see more of Belle Grove Plantation, please view our virtual tour at

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

Results are in!

May. 6th 2013

Just received my results from my ServSafe Food Management Course exam…

Pass-Bar-Exam-Stamp1 (1)

I passed!

This is just one more step closer to our opening!

I don’t know about you, but the wait is killing me!

We still have some things to complete around the Mansion and grounds before we can open the doors. We were hoping to be open by May 1st, but that isn’t possible with some of the delays we have hit. Could it be by Memorial Day Weekend? I sure hope so, but there is still so much to be done!

This week, I am back in Chesapeake working on our website! We have the layout design completed and all we have to do is add text, photos and the reservation software. Sounds easy right? Argh! With the phone ringing and things going every which way, it has been hard to focus on what to say!

Yes, that’s right; Michelle is speechless… for once.

But I am determined to complete it this week. We still need more photos of the Mansion… with furnishing. So that is going to have to wait until we get that part done. The interior designer is on standby at this point. We still need to finish some minor plaster repairs before we bring in the furnishings. Everything is so connected to the next!

HPC was able to get ONLY 2 high quality pens to commemorating the battle of Gettysburg - July 1-3, 1863 in this the 150th Anniversary of the battle from the small section of blood stained floor planking from the Sheaffer Farmhouse, which was used as a Union Field Hospital during and after the Battle of Gettysburg.

HPC was able to get ONLY 2 high quality pens to commemorating the battle of Gettysburg – July 1-3, 1863 in this the 150th Anniversary of the battle from the small section of blood stained floor planking from the Sheaffer Farmhouse, which was used as a Union Field Hospital during and after the Battle of Gettysburg.

This Saturday we are heading back to the plantation. It is a jammed packed day. We have Bob from The Historic Pen Company coming in to pick up the last of the Witness Tree wood from our trees. We are so excited to see what wonderful pens he will be producing from our wood! The best part is, the tree will still be with us… just in another form. I know allot of you have asked about pre-ordering the pens. Once I get all the information on them, I will let you know!

We also have a member of a Photography Club coming to see the plantation! I can’t wait to see how he views our beloved plantation through his lens! We are working on planning an event with this club at the plantation soon!


Last, but not least, we have a journalist from the King George Journal Newspaper coming to do a follow-up article on our progress to opening. It is so exciting to see how everyone is looking forward to the opening! I will post the article once it is printed.

Some more exciting news!

We have started planning some events for this year!

Mrs. Madison

Mrs. Madison

We are excited to announce that we will be having Mrs. Madison stopping by Belle Grove Plantation in August for afternoon tea! This event will be two parts. At noon on August 24th, we will have a young girl’s afternoon tea with Mrs. Madison. Girls from 8 to 16 years can come to the plantation and enjoy tea and conversation with Mrs. Madison. At 4:00 on August 24th, we will have a Ladies Afternoon Tea with Mrs. Madison. This will be a full afternoon tea and conversation with Mrs. Madison.

The Historic Performer for Mrs. Madison is portrayed by Dr. Lynn Uzzell. From her website,

“Lynn Uzzell received her B.A. in speech communications at Black Hills State University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in politics at the University of Dallas. Her doctoral dissertation explored the debates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. She has taught courses in Political Philosophy, the American Political Tradition, American Rhetoric, and Leadership and the Humanities at Baylor University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Richmond. Dr. Uzzell is currently the scholar in residence at James Madison’s Montpelier and senior editor of ConText, an online resource for James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention. She has been portraying Dolley Madison for Montpelier since 2010.”

Mr. and Mrs. Madison (Dr. Lynn Uzzell and John Douglas Hall)

Mr. and Mrs. Madison
(Dr. Lynn Uzzell and John Douglas Hall)

We are also excited to announce that we will be having Mr. and Mrs. Madison at Belle Grove Plantation on September 15th for their 219th Wedding Anniversary. We will be having an Anniversary Lawn Dinner with food, music and good conversation with the Madisons!

We will release information about tickets and reservations soon!

Be on the look out for more events and classes to come!

We are also booking social events for this year and beyond!

We have several weddings, baby shower and social club events already booking! If you are interested in booking an event, please contact us as soon as possible. Contact us through email at or through our Facebook Fan Page Messages.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 32 Comments »

A presidential chat

Apr. 29th 2013

We wanted to share this wonderful blog from JMU about the Madison birthday celebration in March. It is such an honor to be included in the JMU community.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on A presidential chat