Surprises around every corner

Feb. 4th 2015

February 4, 2015

Wow what I day I had yesterday! I started out with two radio interviews, which of course I knew about, but ended up with several more surprises that I didn’t expect.


I woke yesterday morning early so I could be in Fredericksburg for two radio interviews with Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9. We are the “Deal of the Day” for both stations this week. The “Deal” will be purchase a certificate valued at $50 for just $25 for Belle Grove Plantation. Then you can use the full face value towards rooms or events we are having throughout the year. They go on sale tomorrow morning (Thursday, February 5th) at 8:20am. They will open their online store at that time and the sale will go on until all the certificates are sold. Believe me, it will go really fast, so if you want one, you better be ready to hit it fast. You ca go to their online store through this link:

Both Thunder 104.5 and Super Hits 95.9 have been promoting our “Deal of the Day” through their website and radio advertising. But yesterday, I got to come into the station and talk with Denny and Christal on Thunder and Dave on Super Hits. It was so much fun! Tammy Anderson, our Weddings and Events Specialist came along to video tape it for me and to have just as much fun as I did!

You can see the fun we had on our YouTube video of the event!

Super Hits

And by the way, the final answer to Denny’s questions that stumped me was “Jemmy”. However in my defense, “Jemmy” was not a common nickname for James Madison by his friends. It was a family nickname.

After I left the radio station, I headed back to Belle Grove for a meeting at 10am with Charles Thomas of Central Virginia Television Network. CVTN is a public broadcasting channel that covers the Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania areas. He is working on expanding into our area here in King George and beyond. Our Economic Development Director here in King George, Linwood Thomas, set up this meeting and frankly, I have to say a huge “thank you” to him.

It was a wonderful meeting! It started out as a one hour meeting, but ended up being over two hours! Ok, I have to admit, these happens a lot with our meetings. There is just so much to see and learn about while you are visiting us. By the end of the meeting, Charles and I were brain storming on not just one program for Belle Grove, but several! Who knows, we might even get to do a movie!

During our meeting, I had left my cell phone in my office so as not to disturb our meeting. But I had received several calls while I was away. One of them, well let’s just say was one of the great surprises of the day. This call came from the Virginia Living Magazine.

You may have remember last month, we were requesting everyone to vote for us during the “Best of Virginia” for the Virginia Living Magazine. We had asked everyone to please vote for us in several (five) categories. By us making at least one of those categories, we would receive recognition in their May Best of Virginia issue, which means free advertising having our name on a list.


We were informed yesterday that we had made three of those categories!!

I can’t tell you which ones just yet and they wouldn’t tell me if we made first, second or third on those categories, they want me to wait until May to find out. But we must have done well because they were asking for more information about Belle Grove Plantation, beyond our contact information!! This could mean that we might get a little featurette beside some of those categories!!

Brett and I have to send out a HUGE “Thank you” to everyone that voted, shared and shared again for us during the polling time. You cannot image how much this really means to us! We would have never made it without each of you!

During the day, I also received notification that an article by Nikki Ducas with the Fredericksburg Parent and Family had been published. Nikki had come to me and asked if I would contribute to her article about Romantic Getaways at Bed and Breakfasts. Of course I loved helping. Where else in the world can you find a more romantic location than Belle Grove Plantation. Of course I am a little bias. But really?

You can see the whole article at:

Our Civil War News ad also came out yesterday. We are so excited about our Civil War Weekend. We are combining forces with Port Royal and Caroline County for this very special event. It will be the 150th Anniversary of the pursue and capture of John Wilkes Booth this year, so this event is sure to be huge! We will be posting information on this event soon!

Well, what does today have to hold? I am not sure, but it is going to be hard to beat the excitement of yesterday!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Surprises around every corner

Its How the Cookie Crumbles

Feb. 2nd 2015

February 2, 2015

In 2013, just before we opened the bed and breakfast, we conducted our first Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation. It was a wonderful contest and we had recipes sent from around the world as entries.

We had President James Madison select the top ten recipes during his first visit to Belle Grove Plantation in April 2013. Wow, that sounds like forever ago! Out of the ten top one cookie won the honor of being our “Official Cookie” for one year. And believe me it truly came down to the wire with the votes on Facebook!

Modern Molasses Cookies - Alyssa D'Alconzo

The winner was Modern Molasses Cookies submitted by Alyssa D’Alconzo of New Jersey. We made Alyssa’s cookie for our guest’s turn down service for the first year. It receive so many compliments and was even fought over by some of our couples during their evenings with us.
Today we are opening up a new contest for another “Official Cookie” of Belle Grove Plantation!

We are looking for a cookie that “President James Madison would love” and will be unique enough to represent Belle Grove Plantation.
But we don’t want just any recipe! We are looking for a cookie that you don’t see often. So Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Peanut Butter and Oatmeal standards are out. We want something that people will look forward to having on their visit with us!

We have posted the details on our website Calendar page for you to see. Entries for this contest will run today until 11:59pm (EST) on Saturday, February 28, 2015. So don’t delay!

Once the entries are received, we will have a panel select the top ten cookies. Then from Saturday. March 7th to Friday, March 13th, the top ten will be receiving votes through Facebook. The top ten will also be served during our “President Madison’s Birthday Dinner and Social”. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to taste and see the top ten and vote for their favorite!

We look forward, especially Brett because he loves to taste test, to receiving your recipes and wish everyone good luck!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Its How the Cookie Crumbles

Gloucester County

Sep. 9th 2012

Holly Hill Antiques

In the coming weeks, we are going to be up at the plantation with several activities that we have going on, so we took advantage of this down weekend. Brett caught up on a few chores at our house in Chesapeake as well as catching a few college football games. I decided to head out for a day of antique shopping. I have just a few more plates to match to tea cups to complete my sets for the afternoon tea at Belle Grove. So I headed up to Gloucester to hit a few places I haven’t been yet.

My first stop was in Yorktown at The House Key Antiques and Interior Design. This is the company that will be assisting us in filling Belle Grove with wonderful antiques and interior décor. I spent about an hour discussing my ideas and wants for Belle Grove and getting some “homework” for us to do in order to help Susie and George in fulfilling our desired look for the plantation. With us having to wait four months for zoning, we are going to do as much as we can to prepare and find what we need so we don’t have too much more of a delay in opening Belle Grove.

I then headed to a local flea market called “Stagecoach Market and Antiques” located in Gloucester, Virginia. We have driven past this flea market many times on the way to Belle Grove and I wanted to stop and see what they had. There were some nice permanent shops there. One of these shops called “Catherine’s Place” had some really wonderful pieces. It was there that I found my first treasure of the day.

Catherine’s Place

After looking through a few more shops, I headed out to the Historic Glouchester downtown area. This is another location we have seen signs for as we drove to Belle Grove that I have wanted to see. Gloucester is a historic town that was formed in 1651 in the Virginia Colony. The county was named for Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, third son of King Charles I of Great Britain. Before the English arrived this area was inhabited by a Native American tribe in an area called Werowocomoco, a stronghold of the Powhatan Nation.

The English settlers would at arrive at Jamestown in 1607. These settlers would soon come  into conflict with the Native Americans as they competed for resources. In late 1607, John Smith was captured and taken to Powhatan at Werowocomoco, his eastern capital in the present day Gloucester County. According to legend, Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas saved John Smith from being executed by the tribe there.

Gloucester Court House

The center of Historic Gloucester has an area called Gloucester Court House. Here you will find a main street filled with quaint shops and dining. There is also a Court House Circle that has several colonial buildings and the Visitor Center. It was in Gloucester Court House that I made my next stop. “Wisteria Lane” had been recommended to me by someone at Stagecoach Market. What a wonderful shop! They have artwork, books and tons of silver! I wasn’t looking to purchase silver pieces this day, but now I have a place to go to find what I am looking for.

Wisteria Lane

My last stop was up the road a ways from Gloucester Court House. Located about four miles up John Clayton Memorial Highway, I found a wonderful historic farm, called Holly Hill Antiques that was filled with antiques as far as the eyes could see. The house located on this farm was built in 1880. There is a large barn, a very old shed and several smaller dependencies behind the house and barn. Every one of these buildings was filled with antiques!

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I started in the barn and spent a good thirty minutes walking up and down areas with every kind of antiques. There was art work, furniture, house ware, and even several wooden mermaids from old boats. I found several tea cups, which I didn’t buy because I have all I need right now. But there were no plates really in the barn. There were a few silver tea pots, but just not the right kinds I wanted for Belle Grove.

As I stepped out of the barn, I met one of the employees who shared with me some of the information of the house and buildings. Tara told me that the house was also open and would have what I was looking for as far as plates. She also directed me to one of the dependencies that might have some plates as well. I stopped first at the dependencies, but it was filled with mostly old kitchen items like cast iron pans and such.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I made my way up towards the house, I came up to one of the trees in the yard. Looking at this tree reminded me of our trip to Mount Vernon. It was as large as the trees we had seen there. Standing nearby was another employee who it turns out lived in the house as a child. I told her that this tree reminded me of the trees at Mount Vernon and that I bet it was here in the early 1700s as those at Mount Vernon had been. She agreed and said that she had no doubt it was.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I walked into the house, I was amazed at the amount of antiques in each room. Dishes and artwork were abundant. It was in the dining room that I found my second treasure of the day.

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I made my way up to the second floor passing homemade quills hanging on the landing rails. It was funny, but I found myself looking more at the house than the antiques most of the time.

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

Holly Hill Antiques

I think the wallpaper amazed me the most. What wonderful old patterns it had. Upstairs there were four rooms and a bathroom in the back wing of the house. It even had a servant’s staircase that was blocked by antiques. I think I spent a good hour or two just looking around. Another thing that amazed me was the family pictures. Albums and wall-mounted pictures were all over the place. Looking at them, I wondered if they had lived there and what their lives must have been like.

Holly Hill Antiques

As I walked back to the car, Tara wished me a good day. I know that I didn’t see half of what this farm has to offer. I can see another trip here soon! If you love antiques and want a true treasure hunt, I wound highly recommend a detour down John Clayton Memorial Highway to this historic farm.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 20 Comments »

A Little Unscheduled Stop

Aug. 12th 2012

After Brett and I finished with our Afternoon Tea at The Blue Willow Tea Room in Petersburg, I made the suggestion that we head over to Hopewell, Virginia to see a plantation that I had read about the night before at La Villa Romaine. When I saw this plantation, the first thought that came to mind was, “This is what Belle Grove looked like before Carolinus Turner changed it by adding the porticos, porches and extensions.”

Weston Manor

This plantation is called Weston Plantation. It was built in 1789, right around the same time as Belle Grove (1791) was built.  Weston Plantation is located in Hopewell and sits on the Appomattox River. The house was built by William and Christian Eppes Gilliam. Today it is the only 18th Century plantation on the Appomattox River. Weston Manor is an example of late Georgian plantation architecture.  It is located on a bluff overlooking the river and still retains its rural atmosphere. Today the house contains 85% of its original architectural fabric including the original beaded weatherboards, window sash and interior woodwork.

Weston Manor (Riverview)

Door to basement and Winter Kitchen

Door Handle for the Basement door. We have the same Door Handle on the Front Entry Door to Belle Grove.

William Eppes Gilliam’s family came to the colonies in the 17th Century as indentured servants. But by the 18th century, the family had amassed several plantations in the area, most notably being Eppington Plantation. One family member of the Eppes Family, John Wayles Epps would become the son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson. Christian Eppes Gilliam was the daughter of Richard and Christian Robertson Eppes of the Appomattox Plantation. Her maternal grandfather was a descendant of Pocahontas.

John Wayles Eppes


Weston Manor

Weston Manor – During the Civil War

Weston Manor

During the Civil War, the Appomattox River was patrolled by Union gunboats. From these gunboats, many of the Confederate Plantations were either damaged or destroyed. Weston Plantation would also share in this fate. A Union gunboat fired upon Weston, leaving the house damaged, but not destroyed. During the shelling of Weston, one of the cannon balls lodge in the wall in between the first and second floor. It wasn’t until much later that the cannon ball was discovered when it finally fell to the floor from the ceiling in the dining room. Weston would also be used as the headquarters of Union General Philip Sheridan.

Major General Philip Sheridan

In the mid-1970s, Raymond Broyhill donated the house to the Historic Hopewell Foundation. Weston Manor continues to be maintained by the Historic Hopewell Foundation and is now open to the public as a historic house museum and cultural center. The Historic Hopewell Foundation has worked to find and fill Weston with period antiques and reproductions.

Main Hallway looking towards the Riverside of the Manor

Main Hallway looking towards the Front Door

Library and Office – Where they would have conducted business for the plantation

Library and Office

Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room – I want to find a table like this! Can you image the lenght on it when those extensions are opened?

Dining Room – They said this picture isn’t someone from the house. It was just a nice period piece.

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Clock in the Front Hallway


Staircase – Belle Grove has the same kind of stair rails. We don’t curve like this, but the look is the same.

Staircase – Second Floor landing

Second Floor Hallway

Second Floor Hallway

Children’s Room – We want to get beds like this for Belle Grove… not.

Children’s Room – Note how plain this fireplace is compared to the downstair rooms

Children’s Room – Children’s Doll House

Children’s Room – Children’s Doll House

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

Black Mourning Dress

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

What to know what it was like during the Civil War in this area? Here is a good resource.

If you find yourself in Petersburg, I would recommend a stop by this plantation. But make sure you have a good GPS system. Hopewell is laid out in winding roads, not grid blocks. So it takes a little looking to find it.

Summer Kitchen

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 25 Comments »

Back to the Beginning

Jun. 19th 2012

Belle Grove Plantation – Plantation side – Front Portico

Since we skipped ahead for Father’s Day, we need to return to the beginning to fill in the first part of the story. The history of this land that would become Belle Grove started hundreds of thousands of years before the arrival of English settlers. This land was inhabited by primitive people known by the artifacts found in the surrounding area. On the plantation next door to Belle Grove, primitive tools, shear heads and pottery have been discovered. One of these items has been examined and is considered to be over 10,000 years old.

Stone Tool

Leather Tanner



Captain John Smith

In 1608, Captain John Smith, explorer and soldier, sailed up the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers searching for areas to expand the new colonies. In his log, Captain Smith spoke of weather, the waterways and land around him.

Sunset view of the Rappahannock River from Belle Grove Plantation

“The temperature of this countrie doth agree well with English constitutions.”

“There is but one entrance by sea onto this country and that is the mouth of a very goodly Bay, the wideness of which is near 18 or 20 miles.”

“Within is a Country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places of Europe, Asia, Africa or America for larger and pleasant navigable rivers’ Heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s being of our Constitutions were it inhabited by industrious people.”

Captain Smith also noted the many Indian Settlements along the river banks. These Indians were part of the Powhatan Nation.  This was a confederation of Indian tribes within Virginia. At the time of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, it is believed that there were about 14,000 to 21,000 people in this nation. Wahunsunacawh, also known as Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas had brought together this nation of 30 tribes within the eastern side of Virginia in an area call Tsenacommacah (“densely-inhabited Land”). Each tribe had its own chief, but all tribes paid tribute to Chief Powatan.

Chief Powhatan

It is believed that the Nanzemond Indians were the tribe that inhabited the land, but I have not been able to confirm this. Since we have never had any archaeological digs at Belle Grove, I can only go with what has been passed down through local lore.  The closest tribes I do know that were in the area were the Potabago Indians of Essex County, Rappahannock Indians of Tappahannock and the Nanzatico Indians of King George. In my research, it looks more likely that it would have be one of these tribes that inhabited the land. The Nanzemond Indians seem to have been primarily located in and around the present day cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Maybe the name Nanzemond got confused with the name Nanzatico as it was passed down from generation to generation.

Sir William Berkeley

The next mention of this land came when a royal land grant was given by Governor Sir William Berkeley to Thomas Chetwood and John Prossor. Under the Royal Charter of 1649 on September 28, 1667, 5275 acres of land, known as “Nauzem” was granted to Chetwood and Prossor in consideration for transporting 163 persons from England. Of these 5275 acres, it is said that the land that would become Belle Grove was the heart.

On April 13, 1670, John Prossor sold a 1,000 acre tract to Anthony Savage. I have found two names for this tract, one being “Mangecemuzen” and the other being “Mongoheocala”.  Anthony Savage was thought to be the son of John Savage of Castleton, Debyshire, England. His birth date is unknown. The earliest record of him places him in Gloucester County, Virginia in 1660, when he was commissioned as a Justice or Sherriff. Anthony Savage (died 1695) was married to Alice Stafford Savage (died 1701). The Savages had two surviving children, daughters Dorothy (1635-1702) and Alice (1653-1692). By the time, Anthony had purchased this tract, his daughter; Dorothy was already married to William Strother I and was living next door on a 500 acre plantation that they had purchased just six months before. His other daughter, Alice would marry Francis Thornton (1651-1726/27). Dorothy and William had six surviving children. Alice and Francis had seven surviving children. Two of these children, Margaret Thornton and William Strother II would marry.

One small note, I have been told that Lawrence Washington, grandfather of George Washington, grew up at Mattox Creek, just 9 or 10 miles from Belle Grove and he was childhood friends with William Strother II and Margaret Thornton.

Belle Grove Plantation

At the death of Anthony Savage, the 1,000 acre tract was divided into 700 acres for the Thornton family and 300 acres to be given to Margaret Thornton Strother and William Strother II. By this time, Alice Savage Thornton had passed and Francis Thornton had remarried. Francis Thornton, an attorney and land owner, was a very prominent attorney. In my research of archived items, I came across a large number of items with his signature. He also increased his land holding into Stafford County. At his death, most of his Stafford County land holdings went to his sons, but the 700 acre tract went to his eldest child, Elizabeth Thornton Gibson Conway (1673/74-1732). I believe she was already living on the tract prior to his death. She first married Jonathan Gibson (1672-1729) and had two surviving children. At Jonathan’s death, she married Edwin Conway (1653-1698). With Edwin, she had one more child, Francis Conway I (1696-1736).

(To Be Continued Tomorrow – the Conway Family)

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 30 Comments »