Our Tree has come Home

Aug. 7th 2013


Belle Grove Plantation

March 2013 – With our 200 year old Mulberry Tree

As most of you know that follow our blog, we had to cut down four of our trees on the plantation this year. It was a heart-breaking task because one of those trees was a 200 year old Mulberry. This tree stood here for 200 years and witness many of the historic events at the plantation. It was even standing when James Madison was alive.

Before we cut them down, we did look around for a good use of the wood. I just didn’t want to have it end there. I wanted to respect them and have their wood be something of value. In my search and thanks to one reader of our blog, we came into contact with two woodworkers who treasure “Witness Trees” and who work hard to preserve them. One woodworker is local to us and has taken a large trunk section to be milled and worked into a colonial style table for the mansion. The other woodworker is from New Jersey. He took several of the limbs and will be turning them into beautiful historic pens for us. Most of the wood is currently drying, but The Historic Pen Company was able to dry some of the wood through a faster method so they could produce a few pens now.

Today, I was surprised by a package. When I opened it, I was thrilled to find one of these Historic Pens. 









Made from the 200 year old Mulberry Tree and engraved with our name and that of James Madison,

this pen will now sit proudly in our Grand Hallway for all to see.

My heart is truly thankful and tears fill my eyes as I look on this pen knowing that our tree has finally come home.

Bob DeMartino

Bob DeMartino


John Greco

Thank you so much to Bob DeMartino of the Historic Pen Company and to John Greco the Master Woodworker who turned our tree wood into a beautiful reminder of what history we have at Belle Grove Plantation!



To get your own Historic Pen made from our 200 year old Mulberry Tree

Please visit our Online Store on our Official Website!

Home Page


Part of the funds raised from the sell of these pens will benefit our 1720 Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 21 Comments »

Press Release

May. 13th 2013

This is a press release from the Historic Pen Company. They are one of the woodcarving guilds that have some of our historic wood from Belle Grove. We are excited to have them working with us to preserve these “Witness Trees” for everyone to enjoy!

We do not have information yet on when our pens will be available yet. They just picked up the wood on Saturday and will be returning in two weeks to pick up the rest. Once they have evaluated the wood to see how long they need to dry them out for before they can carve them, we will know more. I will get it out as soon as I hear.

Our trees that were removed and will be turned into historic pens were a 180 year old Mulberry, 80 year old Red Maple and an undetermined Ash. The Ash’s center trunk was so degraded that we couldn’t get an age from it. It was wide enough to be at least 100 plus years. The Mulberry would have been planted around 1830s and would have been alive during the life of James Madison.

180 year old Mulberry Tree Belle Grove Plantation

180 year old Mulberry Tree
Belle Grove Plantation

80 year old Red Maple Tree Belle Grove Plantation

80 year old Red Maple Tree
Belle Grove Plantation

100+ year old Ash Tree Belle Grove Plantation

100+ year old Ash Tree
Belle Grove Plantation


Prince 1


HISTORIC PEN COMPANY/Seaside Heights creates Original Boardwalk wood gift for Prince Harry and Governor Christie

 Manahawkin, NJ – May 13, 2013:  The Historic Pen Company began with a simple goal: the reclamation, salvaging and repurposing of wood and other materials from historic sites throughout the United States that would otherwise be discarded and lost to history.

Additionally, the Historic Pen Company offers a historic and culturally significant, revenue-producing alternative to support the ongoing operation of its client historic sites while also limiting the destruction of these one of a kind resources, thus preserving not only history, but the integrity of the environment through the repurposing of these materials.

In this the Centennial Anniversary Year of the Borough of Seaside Heights, New Jersey and at the request of the Borough of Seaside Heights and specifically Mayor William Akers and Special Events Director, Michael Graichen, the Historic Pen Company created a “pair” of high quality writing instruments to commemorate the May 14, 2013 visit of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales to the community.

Following the devastation of Super Storm Sandy on October 29, 2012 and the destruction of the famous Seaside Heights Boardwalk, the continued support of people worldwide has served to strengthen the community during its recovery. Continued support through the Office of Governor Christie and the visit of His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales to experience first hand the deviation that struck the New Jersey coast support this recovery.

The Governor Chris Christie and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales pens were handcrafted by Historic Pen Company’s Master Pen Maker, John Greco over a period of 5 days: May 7-12, 2013. The pair were made from Authentic Seaside Heights Original Boardwalk Wood salvaged by the Borough of Seaside Heights during the clean up following Superstorm Sandy. Each pen is 5.875 inches in length with a diameter of 2.3125 inches and is enhanced with 24K gold plated hand-carved rhodium hardware and crystal clip. Although created as a matching “pair”: because to the complexity of the Boardwalk pine and grain, each pen is a uniquely different one of a kind work of art.

The pens will be presented to Governor Christie and His Royal Highness during their May 14, 2013 visit to the Borough.

To see more information on the Historic Pen Company

Christie 2

Please visit their website at 


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 6 Comments »

Laying Our Gentle Giant to Rest

Apr. 17th 2013


Today has been so exhausting in so many ways.

The plantation has been overrun with people all day and we cut down our three trees.

My first person today was a local teenager who is working on pulling bricks for us. He is doing a great job, but it seems to be slowing down as he is finding it harder to pull ones that are so covered with over grown grass. The next person was the Master bee keeper and his wife preparing for the tree with the bee hive to come down. Then we had a landscaping service come in to give us an estimate on the grounds. No sooner did I finish with him then the tree service people arrived. Then a newspaper reporter and photographer arrived. While all this was going on, our air conditioner/heating company returned to work on the system to prepare it for opening. Then the woodcarvers came in to watch the trees come down. We even have a stray dog show up around mid-day! Needless to say, the plantation has been as busy as a bee hive.

Our first tree to come down was the Red Maple with the bee hive. The Master Bee Keeper needed to be somewhere later so we didn’t want to make him wait. I stood back as I watch Matthew with MOTs Tree Service pull out his chainsaw. That is when the emotions hit. I knew I would be upset and would shed a tear or two. But what ended up happening was really overwhelming.


Matthew started cutting and pulled a small chuck out of the base as a start. Then he made sure the area was clear and called out “All Clear”. This I would come to understand was the signal for the end. He quickly started cutting around the tree in a circle. Then is when I heard the cracking. Before I knew it, our Red Maple dropped to the ground. As soon as the tree hit the ground, my emotions sprang up and slapped me in the face. I had to turn away as I started crying. You would have thought I was watching someone I love die.






After about two or three minutes, I was able to pull it together and watch the Master Bee Keepers at work. Quickly they ran over to the tree in their suits and started searching the hive. But it didn’t take long for me to realize something was wrong. The Bee Keeper turned to me and told me that when the tree came down and because it was hollow inside, the tree collapsed around the bee hive and the bees were trapped in the tree. It turned into a rescue mission to see if we could save the bees.


Matthew came back and started clearing branches from the tree, trying to get to the hive. Once he was there, he started making cuts close to where the bees were in hopes of freeing them. We all held our breath. One cut, nothing. Two cuts, nothing. Three cuts close, but not there. Then he hit it. The bee keeper came back over and started searching again. Still not close enough.


While this was going on, the tree crew started working on the oldest tree, the hickory close to the front of the house. I walked over and sat down on the porch and watched as they dropped branches from the tree to prepare for it to come down. Every cut and ever limb was just like a part of me was coming off with it. By this time, I was also talking to the newspaper reporter, Cathy Jett with the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star. It seemed to help keeping me busy talking about the plantation.


Cathy Jett with Matthew from MOTs Tree Service and John our woodcarver from Virginia

Cathy Jett with Matthew from MOTs Tree Service and John our woodcarver from Virginia

Then the time came. Matthew came in and as he had before cut a chuck from the base. Now this tree is pretty big, so he ended up cutting a total of three chucks out. Then the call from Matthew, “All Clear.” I knew the end was coming. I stood up on the porch focused on the tree. Tears had already started rolling down my cheek and I tried to brush them away without fogging up the camera viewer. Then the crack. I could feel the breath rush out of my chest as I uttered a small cry. Then it happened. The tree dropped to the ground.






I quickly turned my head and cried harder. But what amazed me now as I sit here and think about it was the silence. No one said a word. Not a sound came from anywhere. Not a bird, not a car, nothing. It was silence for just a minute, then two, then three. All you could hear was my crying. I have to say I was shaken by this experience. My whole being was crying out for the loss of this old tree.


Then as I worked to calm myself, I could hear them discussing the age growth rings. Everyone wanted to know. Was this tree old enough to have been standing here when James Madison was born? After a quick count, Matthew said that it looked like it was around 180 years. That would place its starting year to around 1833. It wasn’t standing here where Madison was born. Nor was it here during his years he could have walked by it. James Madison would have been alive at Montpelier during its first years, but he would have been in his final years. Later Matthew would reconfirm that it was around 180 give or take 20 years. This means it could have been standing during his term as president, but still not old enough to have been here during his childhood. Matthew would also confirm that it is not a hickory tree. It is a variety of mulberry trees that are not indigenous to Virginia. This means that it was brought here and planted. It also showed sights of attempts to save it in the past. There were steel rods, cables and even concert inside the hollow where someone tried to keep it together.



But one thing we do know. It was standing here during the Civil War and would have witnessed the Union Army encamped at Belle Grove. It would also have seen the detachment chasing John Wilkes Booth that stopped and rested at Belle Grove. They could have easily slept under or even against its massive truck at that time.


By this time, the bee keepers had gotten into the hive and had started recovering the honey combs and bees. They started moving worker bees to the new hive, but still the queen had eluded them. So they set up the new hive close to the open trunk in hopes they would move to the new hive.

Then we headed to the Ash. This tree has seen many bad storms and had lost two of its main sections on top. The trunk was also cracked in half and looked to be hollow. I have to say, I didn’t cry as this tree came down. Not that it didn’t mean as much to me as the other two. But this was almost like a mercy cutting. It was in such bad shape that it was just sad to see it suffer as it was.





When the tree came down, we were greeted by a huge cloud of yellow pollen. All I could think about was how I was going to be sneezing tonight! When it came down, the crack in the trunk just twisted leaving part of the trunk standing. As I walked over, Matthew called out. Inside the trunk you could see what looked like dirt. From this he pulled out this huge larva. It was almost scary! Next they found a beetle and we realized that we had found a nest of Rhinoceros beetles.


The larval stages of this beetle can be several years long. The larvae feed on rotten wood and the adults feed on nectar, plant sap and fruit. The females, which have no horns, can lay 50 eggs on average. The males have the horns. Males can live up to 2 to 3 years. Females generally die not long after they mate.


Matthew collected several of them and will be taking them to a place called the “Bug Box” in Fredericksburg. Here they will keep them to educate children on the species. I think that it is wonderful that we were able to provide a new home for them.


All that was left after this was to grind the stumps and cut the pieces for transport. The woodcarvers that were here today are from Virginia. They will be taking most of the wood to have it milled. From there, the wood will be made into either furniture or historic pens. Part of this wood will also be going to New Jersey to another Historic Pen Company to produce more pens. These companies are doing this free of charge and will be offering these pens and items for sale later. The part of the funds from the sale of these items will be given back to Belle Grove to go into our “Restoration Fund” for our three outbuildings. One of the best parts is the woodcarvers from Virginia will be making us a small colonial table from the wood.

We have gotten a lot of comments as to why we decided to cut these trees down. Believe me, if we could have saved them, we would have. But all of them showed sights of decay. If we had left any of them, they could have fallen at any time. If the Red Maple had fallen, we could have lost two other health trees. If the mulberry tree (what we thought was a hickory) had fallen, it could have damaged this 221 year old plantation mansion. We didn’t take this decide lightly and we loved them very much.

The old mulberry tree (what we thought was a hickory) on the inside

The old mulberry tree (what we thought was a hickory) on the inside

The inside bee hive in the Red Maple

The inside bee hive in the Red Maple

The inside of the trunk of the Ash

The inside of the trunk of the Ash

So now, I am sitting here in the formal dining room trying hard to get use to the new view of the bowling green. It looks so much larger without the two trees in it. If you stand and look at the mansion from the bowling green, it also looks so much bigger. We still have all the wood sitting in piles in and around the bowling green waiting for transport. I can’t image what it is going to look like after it is clear. The Bee Keepers have left the new hive near the old bee hive in hopes the bees will move to the new. They never were able to find the queen. They said if we are lucky and because they are exposed, they might move to the new hive. We will see tomorrow when he returns.


What I do know is that I will miss that old tree. I have only been around it for two years, but with the tears I cried today, you would have thought I planted it. But with is downing, so too goes the last witness of so many years. Children coming and going, families standing in its shade, soldiers resting after a long ride, storms and years of quietly waiting for the next family. If this tree could talk, what stories it must have had to tell.

To see all the photos from today

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

and see the Trees of Belle Grove Album

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History | 77 Comments »