The Great American Small Town Diner

Jul. 12th 2013

You know as Brett and I prepared to open Belle Grove Plantation, we have worked hard to “research” places to eat for our guests. Yes, it is a true “hardship” to go to these fabulous restaurants and sample all these great foods. But we do it for the good of our guests. And nothing is too good for them!

But during the week, while I am here alone, I like to go to one of the local diners for breakfast. It gives me a chance to enjoy seeing and talking with others. Not that I don’t get visitors at the plantation. But this is a little more laid back and casual. And since I will be cooking others breakfast soon, it is nice to have someone make it for me now.

I started out going to a place located in Port Royal called Hornes. It is a landmark diner on the corner of Route 17 and Route 301. The staff there is wonderful and the food is good. But I found another place that I have been drawn back to over and over again.

Howards Store Front

This little diner is called Howard’s Bakery and Restaurant. It is located in King George (about 5 or 10 minutes away from Belle Grove) along Route 3. Now I tried to do some research on the history of Howard’s, but of course there isn’t much on the internet about it. What I did find is that it had changed hands a few times over the past 40 plus years. It once was called Clift’s and then Shirley’s and now Howard’s.


To see it today, you wouldn’t give it a second glance.  The outside isn’t flashy and it is saddled up next to a car garage. But as Brett and I have learned through our travels, looks can be very deceiving.

Howards table

Inside you will find what you would expect of a small town diner. Booths, tables and a lunch counter in a small room. No fancy decorations and no frills. The only decorations for July is the banner of American Flags hanging in the front windows and the paper party decorations for the 4th of July.

Howards Frieda

I have come to know the staff at Howard’s and they have come to know me. I come in and have a sit and they walk over with my morning beverage before I even sit down. Talk about a good memory! Then they ask me if I am going to have the same breakfast as last time, which I always seem to do. Then she starts writing it down as she repeats each items from before. It is as if I just ordered it! You think about the number of faces they see and to remember a single order is just amazing! How many places in the larger cities do you know that remember you name, let alone your order from two or three days before!

Howards Bar

Over time, I have come to understand the back lunch counter is where it is at. Howard’s isn’t just a diner that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is where the locals come to meet and talk. It reminds me of the coffee houses and taverns in Colonial America. This is where the citizens of our new country would go to get news of what was going on. That holds true to Howard’s. One of the first times I came in, just after moving up in April, I was at the lunch counter to pay for my breakfast. There sat two gentlemen enjoying their meal. As I stood waiting for the cashier, one of the gentleman asked me how the bed and breakfast was coming. Now mind you, I have never met this person before, never seen him, and yet he knew who I was and what I was doing in King George. I am learning that news and gossip travels faster here than on Headline News television.

Today, almost every time I go in, I see someone that I know or meet someone new. I hear about what is going on in King George as I sit alone in my booth enjoying my breakfast. You can’t help but eavesdrop in a room this size. But I see the same faces almost every time. And believe it or not, it is comforting. It is great to know that Small Town America is still alive and well. That a  pleasant “hello” from a stranger is a sincere greeting and that stranger won’t be a stranger for long.

Yes, Howard’s food is good. Best Down Home Cooking you can wrap your lips around. But it isn’t just the food, its the people inside that makes this place somewhere you don’t want to miss. Cracker Barrel doesn’t have anything on this Small Town Diner.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 30 Comments »

Thanksgiving in Virginia

Nov. 22nd 2012


We all know the story of the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts and celebrating the first harvest with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. But did you know that there were other “Thanksgiving” celebrations before this event?


The first documented thanksgiving feasts in the territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Spanish explorer Pedro Men’ndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The Spanish most likely offered cocido, a rich stew made with pork, and the Timucua may have brought wild turkey, venison, or even alligator, along with corn, beans, and squash.

Spanish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

Jamestown Settlement

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

Berkeley Hundred

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Berkeley Thanksgiving

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

Present Day Berkeley

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Michelle and Brett
In Chesapeake on Thanksgiving Day 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Virginia!

Brett and Michelle

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 62 Comments »