Sunday Morning on the Plantation

Aug. 25th 2013


What a wonderful sight to behold, rising to blue skies and calm still waters of the Rappahannock River. The trees reflect in the water giving the appearance of a second line of trees. It is hard to know what is real and not real. The birds fly over the river as their reflection seems to chase them.


The plantation is starting to settle down after all the upheaval in landscaping and driveway work. Standing on the back portico I am greeted by the beautiful old Crepe Myrtles that have adorn the back bluff for years. Their branches of delicate pink blooms seem to bend with the weight of their fullness.


As do the newest additions of the knockout roses in the beds along the back portico. It seems is if they have found a perfect place and have grown both in size and number of blooms.


Looking to the other young Crepe Myrtle towards the side courtyard, it seems lonely standing there. We have decided to add a raised bed around its base and will be placing flowers to accompany it. Then it won’t be so lonely.


Just beyond it stands our poor Crab Apple Tree. Just this spring, it presented us with beautiful pink blooms that numbered in the hundreds to thousands. But this year hasn’t been as kind to our poor tree. It has lost two major branches to storms. But thankfully it has held a beautiful shape and hopefully will take no more hits from the weather.20130825_100334

Yes, today is going to be a beautiful day!

Wish you were here!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 19 Comments »

A New View

Jul. 26th 2013

We have taken thousands of photographs of Belle Grove Plantation over the last two years.

But one of them we haven’t gotten was from the river.

Last night, we were invited to come along on a boat trip by Jim from Port Royal.

He knew we wanted to see this view and took us out in his boat.

All I can say is….. WOW! 


It looks so much more beautiful looking at it the way the builders intended it to be viewed. You know, when it was built, all travel was by boat. So the riverside of Belle Grove Plantation is in fact the front of the Mansion. 

And what a view it was!






Just so you can understand the land between the Mansion and river.

Mansion’s Riverside is a River Plateau.

From the door to the first terrace is about a hundred yards.

Then we have two more terraces that are about 50 feet each.

Then we have a brush line that marks the drop off. This drop off is about 20 feet straight down to the waters edge.

Of course it didn’t hard that it was time for the sun to set too!


The James Madison Bridge.

Belle Grove is on the other side of the river and the other side of the bridge.

The Ferry that once worked from Port Conway is just to the right of the bridge on the other side of the river.





I normally don’t include out of focus pictures, but this one was just so pretty!


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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 36 Comments »

Caledonia Farm 1812

Jul. 16th 2013


Last week on Thursday, I took off on another adventure. This time, I was invited along on someone else adventure. My friend Tamara and his boyfriend Sam were going to see a Bed and Breakfast in Flint Hill, Virginia called Caledonia Farm 1812. Tamara is a Wedding Officiant and owner of No Ordinary Ordained. She has also become a very good friend and great sounding board. She was traveling to meet the owner, Phil Irwin and to talk about adding his location to her possible venues for weddings.


It was a beautiful ride! We didn’t take any of the real highway and got to see a lot of the back roads of Virginia. Caledonia Farm is at the base of the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. As we got closer, you could see rolling hills for miles!

It was just amazing!


When you pull into Caledonia Farm, you are greeted by this wonderful, old stone house sitting up on a small hill with field stone walls lining the driveway.  Just behind the house is a red barn and fields filled with cows. Beyond the fields is the upward slope of a rolling hill. We were greeted by Phil and Tamara introduced me as a new Bed and Breakfast owner. Phil quickly said, “Well come on in and sit down. Let me talk you out of it.” I kind of laughed. But he was serious. He explained later that he had been in the Bed and Breakfast Industry for 29 years. During this time, he served as the President of the Virginia Bed and Breakfast Association. He had met many new bed and breakfast owners and listened to their hopes and expectations. He said most new owners expected to have 50% occupancy their first year and then 100% their second year. I have done some research on this at the beginning and learned that most new bed and breakfast businesses start around 30 -35% their first year and that the national average is 47% after the first year or two. So no unrealistic expectations here. He also told me that most bed and breakfast businesses don’t last more than 5 years. He said that most owners quit after 5 years because they get tired of having people in their house and they are tired of giving up their weekends or want to travel.


After he welcomed us into the house, he showed us around. The first stop was the breakfast room he had off the back of the kitchen. What a view to enjoy breakfast by! It is a small triangle table for two in front of a picture window with a view of the rolling hillside. I would have a hard time finishing breakfast and leaving!

Our next stop was the kitchen where he keeps all the area attraction brochures. I couldn’t help but notice a brochure for Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, Virginia. Remember this is the home of James Madison’s sister Nelly Madison Hite. This Belle Grove was named after our Belle Grove.


Then we headed to the dining room. Here Phil quizzed us on a portrait hanging in the room.

Can you tell who it is?


It is a portrait of a young George Washington.


We headed into the living room where Phil told us that we had entered into the 1812 portion of the house. Here he pointed out books, furniture and architectural details. One furnishing he pointed out was a desk. He was unsure of the place of origin or the maker. He has been trying to find out, but has been unsuccessful so far. Does any one else know?


He then pointed us upstairs to the bedrooms. One point he showed us before climbing the stairs was the “House Mouse”. This mouse is a bronze mouse, but the sealed hole was a real mouse hole! Phil said that the mouse was painted grey before when he purchased the house and that several guests had screamed when they saw it on the staircase!


Upstairs are two rooms filled with wonderful old pieces of furniture. What I loved about it all was that there wasn’t any fancy bedspread on the beds. Just wonderful old quilts. You can just image people snuggling up under the blankets to guard against the cold and snow.



There is just one bath and a small “library” in the hall. I had to laugh when I saw the phone. Who knew that as an adult, the dial phone would now look like an antique!




After our tour of the house, we headed out to see the outbuilding. It is attached by a covered walkway to the main house, but only accessible by going outside and around to it. It is a small summer kitchen. Like most houses built during this time period, kitchens were built away from the main house. Kitchen fires were common so losing a Summer Kitchen would be better than the whole house. Inside we saw a wonderful old fireplace. The room wasn’t much bigger than our Summer Kitchen here at Belle Grove. But this kitchen had a staircase that went up to a small loft. We have a laundry attached to ours with a loft that slaves would have had to climb a ladder to get to.



After the Summer Kitchen, we head back down the walk to the basement of the main house. Here Phil has set up one amazing train collection! When you walk into the room, you first catch the fireplace.


It was just amazing the condition this fireplace was in! Built in 1812! Wow!


Phil, Tamara and Sam standing and admiring the fireplace.

As you turned around the room, you saw pictures from Phil’s past. The first one we saw was a newspaper article that told how Phil had been named “Citizen of the Year” for his work in conservation. He has work hard to conserve the Virginia Countryside from over developing and better practices to keep Virginia beautiful.


The next picture was an advertising poster from Voice of America Breakfast Show! Phil comes from a career in broadcasting including Armed Forces Radio in Europe and Voice of America in Washington D.C. He has traveled to 49 countries and all 50 states!


The next thing to catch your eye is his scale model train set! Hundreds of feet of train tracks run in and round his basement with scale cities along the tracks. It is just amazing to see!



After the tour, we sat and talked in the walkway for a spell. Here is where I told him about our Belle Grove and what we have been doing to get ready. He asked me if I had looked into the Virginia Bed and Breakfast Association yet and I told him that we were already a member. He was pleasantly surprised. At the end of our conversation, I got the feeling that he thought we were on the track and that we would do okay.



We headed back to cars and I got to get a good look at the fields and cows. I am not really a country girl so anything country amazes me. It was so cool to hear the cows mooing and to see them meander up the side of the hill to another area in the fields. I have to say, it is so peaceful there just like Belle Grove. It would be easy to go and relax and not do anything for a few days. Okay maybe adventure to an antique store or two. But what a magnificent place to come home to!

Thank you to Tamara and Sam for including me on this wonderful adventure and allowing me to meet Phil!

It was worth the drive!

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 19 Comments »

Captain Jack Sails the Rappanhannock

Feb. 3rd 2013

When I began my search for Captain Jack, there were very few leads on him. So I first turn my research to the internet. Knowing he was from California, I started my search there. Libraries and museums have been some of my best resources of information so I looked to those located in Los Angeles. This search would reward me with one of the best finds I have had in regards of Belle Grove’s history.

I found the Seaver Center located at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County. Here I found within its collections a group of photographs that were from John F. Jack. The photographs weren’t on the website to see. So I had to email the Seaver Center and request information on them. They told me that it was collection of photographs of Rappahnnock River and James River. I requested that they make copies of them and send them to me.

I have to tell you the wait was terrible. I didn’t know what they were of and I could only hope they would give me some ideas as to what it was like during this period at Belle Grove. Wild thoughts ran through my mind. Could there be a lot of pictures of the Mansion and grounds? Could there be pictures of Captain Jack himself? At this point, no one knew what he looked like. So I just held me breath and waited.

We were rewarded handsomely…

This collection was marked as 1906.

This would means they were taking during his search for the right land to try his experiment on alfalfa farming.

Emmanuel Church adjoining Belle Grove Plantation. We are assuming the man is Captain John F Jack.

Emmanuel Church adjoining Belle Grove Plantation. We are assuming the man is Captain John F Jack. 1906

Emmanuel Church adjoining Belle Grove Plantation. We are assuming the man is Captain John F Jack.

Emmanuel Church adjoining Belle Grove Plantation. We are assuming the man is Captain John F Jack. 1906

A Tenant and His Family on the Walsingham Plantation, next door to Belle Grove Plantation1906

A Tenant and His Family on the Walsingham Plantation, next door to Belle Grove Plantation

Barns on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Barns on the Walsingham Plantation

Barns on Walsingham Plantation1906

Barns on Walsingham Plantation

Barns on Walsingham Plantation1906

Barns on Walsingham Plantation

Building on the bank of the river on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Building on the bank of the river on the Walsingham Plantation

Farm Building on the Bank of the River1906

Farm Building on the Bank of the River

Granary near the old home site on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Granary near the old home site on the Walsingham Plantation

Granary on the Back Field of the Walsingham Plantation1906

Granary on the Back Field of the Walsingham Plantation

Old sheds on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Old sheds on the Walsingham Plantation

Old Tenement House on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Old Tenement House on the Walsingham Plantation

Showing Mill for shelling corn and apparatus for discharging grain into schooners on the river1906

Showing Mill for shelling corn and apparatus for discharging grain into schooners on the river

Showing method adopted by the Government Engineers for deepening the channel of the river1906

Showing method adopted by the Government Engineers for deepening the channel of the river

Teams plowing on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Teams plowing on the Walsingham Plantation

Tenants Quarters on the Walsingham Plantation1906

Tenants Quarters on the Walsingham Plantation

Tenement House on the Back Field of the Walsingham Plantation1906

Tenement House on the Back Field of the Walsingham Plantation

The Spring House at Walsingham Plantation1906

The Spring House at Walsingham Plantation

The steamer Middlesex passing the Walsingham Plantation1906

The steamer Middlesex passing the Walsingham Plantation

Walsingham Plantation on the Northerly Shore of the River. Lumber on the Port Royal Side1906

Walsingham Plantation on the Northerly Shore of the River. Lumber on the Port Royal Side

Loading of Freight on a Steamer at Port Conway1906

Loading of Freight on a Steamer at Port Conway

Loading of Freight on a Steamer at Port Conway1906

Loading of Freight on a Steamer at Port Conway

Looking up the Rappahannock. Railroad Bridge in the Distance1906

Looking up the Rappahannock. Railroad Bridge in the Distance

Preparing for Departure1906

Preparing for Departure

Schooners loading grain from the Walsingham Plantation1906

Schooners loading grain from the Walsingham Plantation

Showing Port Royal Wharf and Lumber Ready for loading opposite Port Conway. If you look to the left on the high bank you will see Belle Grove. Across the river is Port Conway's Ferry and Wharf. Today this area is lost to the wooden area around Belle Grove and the James Madison Bridge.1906

Showing Port Royal Wharf and Lumber Ready for loading opposite Port Conway. If you look to the left on the high bank you will see Belle Grove. Across the river is Port Conway’s Ferry and Wharf. Today this area is lost to the wooden area around Belle Grove and the James Madison Bridge.

Belle Grove viewed from the river1906

Belle Grove viewed from the river

Belle Grove seen from the river1906

Belle Grove seen from the river

Belle Grove from the Carriage side in the Bowling Green. Some of these trees are still standing there today.1906

Belle Grove from the Carriage side in the Bowling Green. Some of these trees are still standing there today.

North View Belle Grove1906

North View Belle Grove

North View of Belle Grove1906

North View of Belle Grove

River side of Belle Grove1906

River side of Belle Grove. The tree to the far right is still standing there today.

River side of Belle Grove. We are assuming this is Captain John F. Jack.1906

River side of Belle Grove. We are assuming this is Captain John F. Jack.

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Captain Jack

Feb. 2nd 2013
John Taylor ThornBelle Grove 1894

John Taylor Thorn
Belle Grove 1894

I thought it would be good to get back to the history of Belle Grove and continue this journey. When we last spoke, it was 1906.  In an article from the Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg dated October 4, 1906, we learn that the Thornton Family’s time at Belle Grove has come to an end. John Thornton would sell Belle Grove to Captain J.F. Jack of Los Angeles, California. Captain Jack already owns Walsingham, the plantation just next door. In the time of the Turners, Walsingham was owned by George Turner while Carolinus Turner owned Belle Grove. George was Carolinus’s cousin. By combining the two plantations, there would be 1,400 acres of farm land.

Captain Jack will not take Belle Grove until January, 1907. He would live at Belle Grove in the mansion. Walsingham had lost its beautiful home years before.

In the second article from The Times-Dispatch of Richmond dated October 4, 1906 we find out that Captain Jack purchased Belle Grove for $22,000. Not a bad profit for John Thornton of $13,000.

Belle Grove Sold
Free Lance Star Fredericksburg 10-04-1906
Belle Grove Sold to Californian
The Times-Dispatch Richmond 10-04-1906

But who was this Californian that purchased these two beautiful plantations? This has been a question for us for a long time. In all the research I have done on the plantation, this is one of the owners whose past has been hard to uncover. Believe it or not, I found more on the Colonial Period of this plantation than I have with the owners of the early 1900s.

From what I have uncovered, Captain Jack was an experimental farmer from California. He arrived in Virginia in the early 1900s with the goal to find out if alfalfa would grow in Virginia. As far as the personal side of Captain Jack, the only information I have is that he was from Los Angeles, California. Once again I had to turn to newspapers to build something of a history of him.

The first time we found Captain Jack in the newspaper was in February 1907. He would have owned Belle Grove for about four months at this point. In this article, it reports that Captain Jack has shipped a “carload of very handsome young mules”. It even gives us how many are in a “carload”. There were 24 total and they came from Kentucky.

1907 February 22  Shenandoah Herald

1907 February 22 Shenandoah Herald

The next article gives us more insight into why Captain Jack moved to Virginia. We know he was an experimental farmer, but from reading this article, it seems that he was also here to teach. In the summer months of 1909, The Farmers Institute put on a cruise down the Rappahannock River with the goal to give local farmers the opportunity to hear about new and more modern methods of farming. This cruise which started in Fredericksburg was headed by “Commodore” George Wellington Koiner, Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration and several instructors. Touring on the good ship “Gratitude” they would touch eight counties and their farmers along the Rappahannock River.

One of the speakers was Captain Jack of Belle Grove. They speak of how Captain Jack of Port Conway was a successful alfalfa hay-maker. He was to “explain to the farmers how he came to sell out his possessions in California to come to Virginia soil to make alfalfa and what wonderful success has followed his efforts.” Known locally as “Alfalfa Jack”, he would tell how he came to Virginia in 1906 and spent several months traveling the area and observing “the general conditions with the respect to alfalfa growing.” He had observed that alfalfa could be grown in small quantities, but what he wanted to know is if it could be produced for commercial purposes and in large enough quantities to make it profitable.

Once he had determined that the area was sufficient to justify the venture, he set forth to find the right place to do it. The land he was looking for “must be slightly undulating, but not rough or steep, that would not wash, that was not too sandy or too loose, too stiff or cold and clammy, not too stony, not too spongy, that was not too wet or too dry, that was well drained, not so badly “worn” as to be unresponsive to treatment, that was on good water transportation, within easy access of some of the great markets of the East and where lime could be obtained at a cost that would admit of its use in liberal quantities’.” Whew… He wasn’t too picky was he?

He would find this land in the two plantation estates of Belle Grove and Walsingham. He states that the soils of these plantations were greatly depleted, but he felt that they had a character that would respond quickly to treatment. With the aid of crimson clover and cowpeas and a liberal application of fertilizer and lime, he felt that he could create alfalfa fields that would compare to the best in the East or West.

After two years, however, he found that the soil was more depleted that thought and it was taking a lot longer to ready the soil. At this point Captain Jack had only 300 acres of alfalfa, but was expecting to plant 200 acres more next fall. Plus he had several hundred more filled with crimson clover and cowpeas ready to be plowed under for future fields. Captain Jack felt that with crimson clover and cowpeas as aids, if used throughout Virginia, the state would soon stand “in the front ranks for fertility and production.”

It states that Captain Jack was still working on adding to his acreage and that by one year he was expected to have over 1,000 acres. He stated that the coming year of 1908, he was expecting to yield just under 4 tons an acre and without advertising or marketing and through shipment by steamer from the Port Conway wharf, he felt that the price would be better than most. He also saw that in the coming years the demand and price would increase as the product became better known in the East.

He explained though that before undertaking this crop, one had to know the plant and everything that it needed. He states that alfalfa has a “mind of its own” and it knows what it wants and needs. And if a farmer took on this crop without the right knowledge, he would lose his investment.

Captain Jack summoned up his thoughts:

“For him who understands its language and unsparingly supplied it needs, it will clothe his fields in beauty, supply his herds with food, enrich his soil, multiply the value of his land and lay its richest treasure at his feet in grateful acknowledgment of his toll and care. I believe that before many years Old Virginia will have many income producing alfalfa farms. It is a result well worth striving for. It is the crop which more than all others will redeem the lands of the Southern and Eastern States – lands which in so many ways have been so wonderfully favored.”

1909 May 30 Richmond Times Dispatch

1909 May 30 Richmond Times Dispatch

In 1909, we find our next piece which is more of a social note in the newspaper. It doesn’t talk about Captain Jack, but it speaks of Mrs. C. Shirley Carter who is a guest at Belle Grove. She is visiting her son, C. Shirley Carter. I haven’t had a chance to research this name, but it is strange to me to see both mother and son with the same name.

1909 October 18 Richmond Times Dispatch

1909 October 18 Richmond Times Dispatch

Almost three years has now gone by since the article about how Captain Jack was building his alfalfa fields. By 1910, we see from this article that Belle Grove has become a noted success in alfalfa.

1910 May 19 The Free Lance Star

1910 May 19 The Free Lance Star

In the summer of 1910, another social note in the newspaper talks about a visit from Miss Minnie King of Richmond. She is to be a guest of Miss Lille Taylor of Belle Grove. While this is another name I haven’t done research on yet, we can assume that they are farm hand workers and their families on the plantation.

1910 June 04 The Free Lance Star

1910 June 04 The Free Lance Star

Also in the summer months, not only were farm hands and their families getting visitors, by is seems Captain Jack received a guest too. A local Stafford farmer traveled to Belle Grove and Walsingham to see Captain Jack and his successful alfalfa fields. There had already been a 400 ton cutting that was waiting to be shipped. And in only ten days another 400 tons was to be cut. Captain Jack amazed his visitors with his success and his modern farming methods.

1910 June 25 Free Lance Star

1910 June 25 Free Lance Star

Another article in the summer of 1910, just three years after the “Farmers College” tour down the Rappahannock, the first report of the success of that “teaching cruise” had started coming in. It talks about the apparent success of farmers all the way from Fredericksburg to the Chesapeake Bay giving evidence of this success from the appearance of houses, barns, fences and fields along the river.

In Port Conway, after proving his modern method, Captain Jack has also started showing signs of success. He has built a new wharf for shipping his alfalfa and a new more roomy warehouse. He has also installed an ornamental lake on the property.

1910 July 15 Irvington’s The Virginia Citizen

1910 July 15 Irvington’s The Virginia Citizen

It seems that the summer of 1910 was attracting many to Belle Grove and Walsingham to marvel at the success of Captain Jack. Another visitor, Professor Carrier visited the plantations in August. There he found that Captain Jack had already two cuttings of alfalfa that season and was already cutting a third. He also explained that Captain Jack was expecting to get two more cuttings before the season was out.

In his inspection of the plantations, Professor Carrier reported that the word of the success of the crop had not been exaggerated. He praised Captain Jack’s method of farming and expected if others in the State followed suit, they too would meet with the same success.

1910 August 23 The Free Lance Star

1910 August 23 The Free Lance Star

In October, 1910, another social note from Belle Grove. Miss Annie Gwathmey paid a visit to her cousin, Miss Lille Overton Taylor at Belle Grove. I have noticed that the social notes of what I think are farm hands and their families seem to appear in smaller columns, while visitors of Captain Jack are writing in stand-alone articles.

1910 October 02 The Times-Dispatch

1910 October 02 The Times-Dispatch

Here we see that Captain Jack has received visitors in November, 1910. This large party of seven from California paid a visit to Fredericksburg to see the sites. I wonder what locations they would have seen. Was Kenmore Plantation open at that time for visitors? Or did they stop at the Rising Sun Tavern, owned by Charles Washington, brother of George. Or did they visit the battlefields that lay around Fredericksburg to see where past family and friend fought the Civil War?

1910 November 05 The Free Lance Star

1910 November 05 The Free Lance Star

In February, 1911, Miss Lilly Tayloe of Belle Grove had family from Richmond visit. Again, it is in a smaller column so I am assuming a wife of a farm hand. We will have to see with some more research.

1911 February 23 The Free Lance Star

1911 February 23 The Free Lance Star

The last newspaper article I found on Captain Jack was that of a fire in the barn at Belle Grove. The barn and 250 tons of alfalfa were lost along with a large amount of farming equipment. The origin of the fire was never known. It resulted in a $10,000 loss. Captain Jack did not have insurance on the barn or equipment.

1911 July 20 Free Lance Star

1911 July 20 Free Lance Star

From here the trail grows cold. I have not been able to find any other information on Captain Jack. We know that he sold the plantations in 1911, but do not know what month. Could this fire have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back”? Could he not recover from this loss? Maybe he was ready to do move to the next venture. Only time will tell as we hope to under the mystery of whom Captain Jack was and where he ended up.

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Update to Yesterday’s Mystery Posting

Oct. 9th 2012

Thank you to all of you for the help you are giving me on this mystery. Today I did some more research today following the new insight I got from some of your comments yesterday. I started looking at Vandenburgh and Vanderburgh. I was able to find a link with the National Park Service that allows you to search for a soldier by name and side. So I searched both names on both sides. Here are my results:

For the Confederate side:

R.K.W. Vanderurgh – General and Staff Officers -Non-Regimental Enlisted Men, CSA

For the Union side:

Minard A. Vandenburgh – 2nd Regiment, Wisconsin Cavarly

Martin Vanderburgh – 168th Regiment New York Infantry

Martin Vanderburgh – 2nd Regiment New York Heavy Artillery

Martin Vanderburgh – 9th Regiment New York Heavy Artillery

William Vanderburgh – 20th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps

William Vanderburgh- 22nd Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps

William C. Vanderburgh- 3rd Regiment California Infantry

William H. Vanderburgh – 177th Regiment New York Infantry

William J. Vanderburgh- 56th Regiment New York Infantry National Guard

William H. Vandenburgh – 5th Regiment New York Infantry

William H. Vandenburgh- 125th Regiment New York Infantry

William Vandenburgh- 22nd Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps

William Vandenburgh- 15th Regiment New York Cavalry

William Vandenburgh- 1st Regiment Engineers and Mechanics Michigan

William Vandenburgh- 91st Regiment New York Infantry

William C. Vandenburgh- 3rd Reigment California Infantry


The good thing about this link is that it lists the service duty stations of each of the Regiments. So I pulled all the information on the service duty station and I was able to narrow it down to just two that could have come close to the plantation and would have had a chance to meet Carrie.

1. William H. Vandenburgh – 125th Regiment New York Infantry – Served in Washington DC. Was ordered to join the Army of the Potomac in the field and joined 2nd Army Corps. Served on the lines of the Rappahannock and Rapidan. Served in Spotsylvania.

125th Regiment New York Infantry Soldier                (not Vandenburgh)

2. William H. Vandenburgh – 5th Regiment New York Infantry – Was in Baltimore, Maryland. Served in Falmouth, Virginia. Was in the Battlefield of Fredericksburg December, 1862 Back to Falmouth. Was in the Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5, 1863. Mustered out on May 14, 1863, expiration of term.

5th Regiment New York Infantry      (not Vandenburgh)

Of the two, I am thinking number 2. He had more time in the general area. He was never stationed at Port Royal or Port Conway from what I could see. But Fredericksburg is only 20 miles away. Could they have meet in Fredericksburg?

Also the first William was a private and the second William was a drummer. When I read that, my first thought was that the second couldn’t be it. My thought was that most drummers were between the ages of 13-15. But in doing some research into drummers during the war, the average age was 17-21. That would place him closer to her age during that time. Carrie would have been 14-15 between 1862 and 1863.

Cavalry at Rappahannock

But then could it be the first William who served on the lines at the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers? It doesn’t say just where they were on the Rappahannock. Could they have been at Port Conway?

So the question is….

Could it be the Private that served at the river’s edge or was it the little drummer boy?

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

Berry Fun Weekend

Oct. 7th 2012

Bowling Green Farm

This weekend Brett and I headed up to Fredericksburg and did some side road traveling to get to know the area a little better. What is so much fun about doing this is you tend to come across places you never knew where there. It’s like little surprises around each corner.

The first surprise came as we traveled over to Bowling Green, Virginia. Bowling Green is a small town just outside Fort A.P. Hill along Route 301. It is the location that the Union detachment found Willie Jett, the Confederate soldier who assisted John Wilkes Booth and David Herald across the Rappahannock River and sent them to Garrett’s Farm. Garrett’s Farm is just a few miles from Bowling Green.

Bowling Green is lined with beautiful old homes and a quaint small town square. As we were driving along, I would point out each of the houses and say, “Look at that one! I think I must have been saying that through most of the trip through town. As we came out of town just by the exit to I-95, we decided to turn around and go back through. That is when I caught sight of a home I missed just minutes before.

Sitting back behind a beautiful entry gate and a long drive and green sat what looked like a colonial home. There was a sign on the gate saying “Estate Sale” with Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s date. I quickly asked Brett to turn around. I told him we had to go. Not to buy anything (unless I found something) but to see the inside of this house.

Bowling Green Farm

As we walked up to the front door, you could see that it was in fact a colonial home. The sidewalk leading to the door was lined with tall boxwoods and the drive was lined with beautiful old trees. On the porch was a board with some of the history of the home. I would later find out it was called “Bowling Green Farm”. One of the owners informed us that the main house had been built in 1740 and the back kitchen section was built in 1791.

Bowling Green Farm

Front Porch Lantern
Bowling Green Farm

The main house was four room downstairs and four rooms upstairs. In the middle was a beautiful old stairway that turned its way up to the second floor. Through the dining room was the door that leads to the kitchen area. You entered a small room that could have been a small dining room. Through a door at the back of the room you walked into a small stair case area, more than likely a servant stairs. On to the back room which would have been the kitchen with its larger fireplace.

Door in the small kitchen area
Bowling Green Farm

Dining Room looking back into the front parlor
Bowling Green Farm

Small Dining Room in Kitchen Section
Bowling Green Farm

Kitchen Fireplace
Bowling Green Farm

If you heading up the servant stairs, you come upon two more rooms. These could have been servant rooms or children’s rooms. They were very plain and no detail, as most of the house. The only rooms that had more details where the front hallway and parlor. We didn’t get a chance to see the back yard, but through a window you could see a small sitting garden. I am sure there was a lot more if we had been about to see it. In the front windows, you could see the view of the front drive. Just beautiful.

Servants Stairs
Bowling Green Farm

Top of Servants Stairs looking into on room
Bowling Green Farm

View of front section of home from servant stair case window
Bowling Green Farm

Sitting garden view from Servant Stair case window
Bowling Green Farm

Front Stair Case
Bowling Green Farm

Front view from upstairs window
Bowling Green Farm

Front walk leading to front drive and green
Bowling Green Farm

From Bowling Green, we headed down Route 2 heading towards Fredericksburg. It had been my hope to see a sign that showed us where Mount Sion Plantation was located. This is the plantation that Captain Francis Conway and his wife Elizabeth moved to once they sold Belle Grove to John Hipkins. It is my hope to find out where it is and who lives there. I would like to see if there is a family cemetery and if so if Captain Conway is buried there. We didn’t find it… yet.

From there, we headed back down Route 17 towards Port Royal, then up Route 301 passing by Belle Grove. They are working on the highway, so traffic was really busy so we decided not to stop at the plantation. We are going to be there next weekend, so I was okay with not seeing it up close. We then turned onto Route 3 (Kings Highway) heading towards the historic site of George Washington’s birthplace and Stratford Hall, home of Robert E. Lee and his family.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

As we made our way down the road, we came up on a sign for Westmoreland Berry Farm. We have passed this sign many times, but today we decided to stop. As we pulled into the farm, we were greeted with fields and fields of fruit trees. I loved the signs at the front of each one of the fields informing the public that these trees were not open for “pick your own”. Immediately Dorothy and the Scarecrow came to mind as they picked apples from someone else’s trees.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

The farm was just beautiful. The main shop sits at the top of a ridge and overlooks a small valley that leads down to the Rappahannock River. It was breath taking. Then we saw the biggest entertainment located just to the side. On top of a pole was a platform and standing on this platform was a small goat. He was eating feed that kids from below where sending up along a rope pulley. The platform was connected to a walkway that crossed over the road way and down into the goat enclosure. There at the fence line were more goats enjoying feed from adults. It was sweet!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We were drawn over to the fence where we too feed the goats and admired their wonderful horns. There was one larger goat who did bully his way into getting most of the feed, but after he would move on to others with handfuls feed, the other goats cleaned up the feed that had dropped from the hands as the larger one fed. My favorite was a smaller goat just relaxing on another platform with no care in the world.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We turned to head back as a tractor came up the road from the small valley. Behind the tractor were smiling faces of people who had just enjoyed the beautiful views of the valley and crops and the view of the river. From the opposite side came another tractor pulling a small line of cow painted cars with small kids enjoying a short ride along the road of the farm.

Westmoreland Berry Farm

Inside the shop we found some wonderful surprises. Along the wall were homemade preserves, jelly and jams as well as sauces made by Westmoreland Berry Farm from their own crops. There were homemade pies and baked goods made from the berries and fruits from the farm. We even found honey that was made locally!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

We made a point to mean the store manager and farm manager while we were here. We found out that they not only grow local fruits and berries, but they also produce a wide range of local vegetables. Brett and I were so excited to hear this. The farm isn’t but 10 minutes from Belle Grove and will be a wonderful vendor for our fresh fruits and vegetables! The only time we will have to find another vendor will be during their down season of December to March. I can just see the wonderful dishes I will be able to serve to our guest using these local produce! Yum!

Westmoreland Berry Farm

From there we head back down Route 3 admiring the many small Virginia towns. Places that had been there for centuries. Farms and Farm homes lined the highway and gave you a sense of what this area is really like. While Route 17 and I-95 will get you to where you are going fast, Route 3 will show you what life is like in old Virginia. It was nice to slow down on the way home. What we would have missed if we hadn’t done so.

View of the Virginia country side along Route 3

View of the Virginia country side along Route 3

Sunset over the Rappahannock River just outside White Stone, Virginia

Don’t forget to check out our Silent Auction!

Lots of Virginia Antiques and Vintage Items!

You can see the items under our Silent Auction page located just to the left under the”About Us” page!

Email us at with your bids!

Auction closes on Friday, August 2nd!



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

Friends of the Rappahannock

Sep. 16th 2012

View of the Rappahannock

Saturday, Brett and I went up to the plantation and attended the Rappahannock River Fest.

This was a benefit for a group called “Friends of the Rappahannock”. According to their website they were formed in 1985 as a non-profit, grassroots conservation organization. Their common goal is to maintain the water quality and scenic beauty of the Rappahannock River and its tributaries. They work with a wide variety of stakeholders, from local governments to elementary students, to educate about the river and to advocate for actions and policies that will protect and restore the values that make the Rappahannock River so special. They promote environmentally responsible planning through active participation in the civic process. Their professional staff provides technical support to local governments, developers, and teachers in areas of special expertise, including Low Impact Development codes and ordinances, Watershed Planning, Water Quality Monitoring, Invasive Species Control, and Streambank Restoration. They believe that community education is an essential tool for promoting environmental awareness and protection. As a result, they lead a variety of public education programs which focus on understanding and protecting the river’s unique natural, scenic and historic resources.

Their Vision:

“A Rappahannock River…that is clean and safe for fish consumption and recreation from its H2waters to its confluence with the Chesapeake.

A Rappahannock River… that supports a healthy and diverse aquatic ecosystem, with submerged grasses, oysters, crabs and other species returned to their historic levels and productivity.

A Rappahannock River Watershed… where land use and runoff is managed to protect and enhance our riparian habitats, downstream waters, scenic viewsheds and historical resources.

A Rappahannock Community… where the citizens and local governments are educated about river stewardship, where they take a sense of personal stewardship over the river resource, and where they take action in their own backyards and communities to protect it.”

With Belle Grove sitting on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock, Brett and I want to make sure we are being good stewards of the river and preserving the beauty and nature of this river.

Farley Vale Farm

The River Fest took place in King George County at the Farley Vale Farm. This farm sits on a very high bluff and has a wonderful view of the river as it bends and curves downstream. We arrived just as it was getting started. The first person to greet us was Rob Wittman, Congressman for this area. As we checked in, we were surprised to see out caretaker, Jimmy working as a volunteer too!

Congressman Rob Wittman, Michelle and Brett

Jimmy, Caretaker of Belle Grove

After everyone arrived there had to be a least 1,000 people there. For the cost of the ticket, we were served some of the best steamed crabs and delicious BBQ you have ever tasted! There was plenty to eat and lot of refreshments. There were several bands that played as we enjoyed our meal.

When Brett and I first sat down to eat, we met a father and daughter from King George. They showed us the ins and out of eating steamed crabs. The crabs were delivered to the table in a pile and there were small wooden hammers for you to us to crack them open. They also had small cups of “Old Bay” seasoning for you to dip it in. The band finished their song and all of a sudden everyone started hammering the table with their little hammers. This was something new to us so we are quite surprised. But of course we realized that because everyone’s hands were so messy from eating the crabs, this was their way of applauding. It was such fun!

After we ate, we headed into the barn to view the Silent Auction Items. There was so much to choose from! I didn’t know where to start! They also had items that they were going to auction off in a Live Auction later. Brett found one that caught his eye!

We then walked down to the river to the boat dock where they were giving free boat rides. As we waited, we met another father and daughter. They were from Stafford. We had a very enjoyable conversation with them and learn more about the area. We also met the volunteer working the boat rides. She was from Alexandria and works with an Outdoor Recreation company called “Virginia Outdoor Center”. They provide canoeing, kayaking, tubing, climbing and many other activities for people of all ages. I was very excited to meet her because we had already found them online and wanted more information on their activities so we could offer them to our guests.

Heading down to the River for a boat ride

When we got onboard the boat, we had a very pleasant surprise. Several of the other riders were from Port Royal, Virginia. In fact, one of them, we had been talking to through Facebook! It was so nice to meet him finally face to face. Our ride was so wonderful! The River is just beautiful. Our tour guide, Richard, talked about the view we were seeing. He pointed out that this would have been the view Captain John Smith would have seen as he sailed the Rappahannock River.

Friends from Port Royal

We found the Loch Ness Monster!

After our boat ride, we headed back up to the tent for some refreshments with our friends from Port Royal. They walked us over to their reserved table and we met up with their mayor, Nancy. I had met Nancy during the July 4th Port Royal Days Celebration. It was really nice to see her again. We updated her and the rest group on our progress. Nancy offered us a letter of recommendation from the city of Port Royal when we have our public hearing for our zoning approval! We can’t wait to become part of this wonderful community!

After we enjoyed some sweet treats and chatted for a while with the group, we headed to our car. We had one more stop to make before we headed home. We needed to stop at Belle Grove to measure the basement room areas. We have a sauna, soaking Jacuzzi and full restroom down in the basement of the manor house. We also have room to put in a small exercise room. We wanted to measure the height of the room though to see if we could place a treadmill in there. The jury is still out on that one. The room is 7 feet so with the treadmill, you may not be able to stand up. We may have to look at other options.

Wild Turkeys at Belle Grove

Wild Turkeys at Belle Grove

As we pulled into Belle Grove, we were greeted by our small flock of wild turkeys. How much they have grown in just a few weeks! We had a chance to chat with the caretaker’s wife about the appointments we have next weekend at the plantation. After we measured the rooms, we headed back outside to say good-bye. It was already dark and the caretaker’s daughter was running around with her light up shoes dancing around. What a sight to see. It was like a small fireworks show. This was also Brett’s first time at the plantation during the night. It was just so peaceful.

Caretaker’s Daughter lighting up the night

As we headed back home, we spent the time discussing our next weekend.

We have a lot going on next weekend at the plantation! We can’t wait to share all the fun with you!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 34 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 »