Merry Christmas!

Dec. 25th 2013


Belle Grove Plantation would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

We hope today you will enjoy a peaceful and relaxing time with friends and family!


Brett and Michelle Darnell
and Hurley the “Official Plantation Dog”

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Merry Christmas!

Have a Happy Holiday at Home by Guest Blogger Kendra Thornton

Dec. 22nd 2013

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Today we have opened our blog to a guest blogger!

Kendra Thornton is a Travel advocate, TV Spokesperson, PR Buisness Woman, a proud wife and mother of 3.

Kendra is an expert on travel, having been the Director of Corporate Communications at Orbitz prior to founding Thornton Public Relations ( in 2005.

You can find Kendra on Twitter at or Pinterest at or Gogobot at

Kendra talks about her Christmas Family Tradition in Chicago.

It is Christmas time again! Everyone has pep in their step and the music is more magical than any other time of the year. People are scurrying to put presents under the tree before Christmas morning. It is always a winter wonderland here in Chicago! There is an endless amount of fun and excitement to be had. Since my family is Norwegian, there are certain traditions that are part of our heritage. Some of the best are the traditional foods and drinks we serve.

The family gathers every year on Christmas Eve. We work together and make lefse and kringla. Everyone must ‘shoot’ a raw oyster down his or her throat simultaneously, which is always a laugh. We follow that with a hearty bowl of oyster stew. Then we have a toast with a shot of Akvavit, which is a Scandinavian spirit that is very strong and warms the stomach. No toast would be complete if we did not shout ‘Skol,’ which is the Norwegian way of saying ‘Cheers!’

Kendra Xmas Kids

There are many traditions that my kids enjoy as well. They like to go ice-skating and help decorate the tree in our bay window. They always help me prepare the huge Norwegian feast and we always leave a plate of cookies for Santa. Their favorite tradition is to make reindeer dust, which we sprinkle outside their windows to help the reindeer find our house. Once everything is done, we cozy up to a mug of hot chocolate and then we head to bed.

In a former job, I traveled all over the world. I know now that there is nothing that compares to being home for the holidays. What would Christmas be without my wonderful family and the beautiful Chicago snow? On Gogobot, there was an article talking about warm holiday and cold holidays. Since I have been to a variety of warm places over the holidays, I know that it does not do Christmas justice. I could not give up the snow, evergreen trees and ice skates for sand, palm trees and roller-blades. What is your hometown like for the holidays?

We grew up with a cold Christmas and that is what works best for the Thornton family. This year we are blessed to be able to stay home and welcome our wonderful family to our dinner table. Everyone came over for Thanksgiving and it was an unforgettable holiday. Hopefully you enjoy lots of good food, great laughs and wonderful people this holiday season. Merry Christmas from the Thornton family!


Tell us about some of your Family Christmas Traditions!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Travel | Comments Off on Have a Happy Holiday at Home by Guest Blogger Kendra Thornton

Look Who Has Joined the Party!

Dec. 21st 2013

Santa Display

Over the past ten years, I have been collecting Santa Dolls at Christmas. Each year, we pull out our collection to display from the day after Thanksgiving to the day after New Years. The best part of this tradition is when we pull them out, it is almost like buying them new. You get to remember all the details that you purchased each for.

When I go out each year, I look for Santa’s with details in their face or in their clothing. And I am a sucker for glasses detail or a warm, kind face with true to life facial details. While I do try to buy one or two each year, there has been years that I didn’t purchase any. This was because I didn’t find one with the details that I want. For the past two years, we have not added any to the collection.

When we decided to decorate Belle Grove Plantation, I made a run back to Chesapeake to bring our Santa Dolls up to share with all our new friends! I knew exactly where to place them . . . in the Upstairs Grand Hall on the sideboard. They fit perfectly.

It was so much fun pulling them out, seeing those that have been with us for years. From our “Baker Santa” with his little helpers to our “Toy Maker Santa” with his little helpers, each has such meaning to me.

Santa Baker with helpers

Santa Baker with his elf helpers

Santa Toy maker with helpers

Santa Toy Maker with his elf helpers

Santa Bunny Slippers

Santa with a Fennel Shirt and Bunny Slippers

Santa Courtney

Mini Santa

Santa elf basket

Elf Santa with basket

Santa elf birdhouse

Elf Santa with birdhouse

Santa elf fur coat

Elf Santa in a fur coat

Santa elf on a shelf

Elf Santa on a shelf

Santa elf with holly coat

Elf Santa in a Holly Coat

Santa Father Christmas Tall

Father Christmas

Santa first

My First Santa

Santa Floor Fur Coat

Floor Santa in a Fur lined Coat

Santa floor lantern

Floor Santa with lantern

Santa Glass Tall

Santa with glasses

Santa plain face

Santa in a Fennel Shirt

When I made a run back to Chesapeake this last week, I made a stop to look for a Santa. I was well rewarded!

I found them at Michael’s Craft Store during one of their great sales. When I walked down the aisles, I noticed that the shelves were really bare. I got a little nervous that I might have waited too long.  After two or three aisles, I found the last of the Santa Dolls on one shelf with several Angels. As soon as I walked up, these two Santa Dolls caught my eye. Each of them had such wonderful faces. They both seemed to be “talking” to me; asking me to take them home.

Each of their clothing details was wonderful. One looked like it stepped out of the movie “The Hobbit” or “Harry Potter”. The other just looked like a joy Father Christmas. So I started debating which was the right one. These Santa Dolls general run about $4o for each, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take both home.

I picked up each and examined them. When I picked each up, they seemed to smile bigger knowing that they may be going home with me. I finally placed both back on the shelf and took a step back.

Then is when I realized that they were on sale!

Who needed to chose? I could have both! They were 70% off!

Santa joins the party

Father Christmas and Wizard Santa

Santa 2

Wizard Santa from the side

Santa Wizard face

Wizard Santa

Santa 1

New Father Christmas from the side

Santa New Fur Coat Face

New Father Christmas

So welcome to our newest Santa Dolls! We look forward to seeing them among our others for years to come!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Look Who Has Joined the Party!

Santa and Mrs. Claus Makes an Early Stop at Belle Grove Plantation!

Dec. 20th 2013

We were so excited to have a very special visit during our Christmas Candlelight Tours from


Santa and Mrs. Claus

Looking back in the history of Belle Grove Plantation, we know that Father Christmas has made past visits. In 1906, the Daily Star reported the following:

Daily Star


This visit was just as special!

Santa arrived at 5pm on Saturday, December 14th in style!

Santa gave his reindeer the night off and chose to arrive in a customized, red, Ford, F-100 Pick-Up.

Santa 1

Santa 2

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Brett and Michelle and all their guests received Santa and Mrs. Claus.

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They were ushered into the Grand Hall to be greeted by a very special young girl who had traveled one and half hours to see Santa and Mrs. Claus!

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Santa and Mrs. Claus took their place in the Upstairs Grand Hall and prepared to meet their special guests.

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Before Santa and Mrs. Claus left Belle Grove, they spent a few minutes visiting others in the Ladies Parlor.

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We would like to thank our very special guests

Gene and Diane Mullins

for donating their time and giving our young guests a very special time at the plantation.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Santa and Mrs. Claus Makes an Early Stop at Belle Grove Plantation!

Where in the World was Michelle?

Dec. 20th 2013

I am sorry this has been delayed in getting out to everyone. I just took so many pictures and it took a long time to edit all of them!

I do have to say that I think I stumped most everyone this time! And believe me it was really hard to do that because where I was is very well known! So I had to find pictures to take that won’t give it away so fast!

So this trip is one that I look forward to each year. It is somewhere that I have talked about and love to go to.

On Tuesday, December 17th, I took a day trip to . . .


Colonial Williamsburg!

I love going to see how they decorated their colonial homes and the festive “spirit” really gets you in the mood for Christmas.

My first clue is one of the places I love to go to . . .


Wythe Candy Store.

Like Mary’s Cupcakery and Candy, they specialist in candies of all kinds. This is the first place that I discovered sugar free chocolates that really tasted good!

My second clue was someone that I found painting . . .


Mr. Green

My third clue was a sign located close to the James Geddy House.


My fourth and final clue was a dessert I love from the Trellis Restaurant . . .


Death by Chocolate!


As I was walking around taking pictures I also met some really nice people!

Here is Ranger, a Golden Retriever! He and his “dad” were sitting outside of the Governor’s Palace.

I also loved seeing everyone riding around in the horse carriages!


But the best part of my trip was the decorations!

While these are not “true” Colonial Style decorations, you have to admit they are very creative and beautiful!

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Wreath 2

Wreath 3

Wreath 4

Wreath 5

Wreath 6

Wreath 7

Wreath 8

Wreath 9

Wreath 10

Wreath 11


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | Comments Off on Where in the World was Michelle?

Colonial Christmas Candlelight Tours and Grand Opening Recap

Dec. 16th 2013

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It is so hard to believe that two weeks have just flown by and that Christmas is just NINE days away! The last two weekends have been so wonderful! We had our Grand Opening and first Christmas Tours this year and I have to say it was a great success!

But I know that many of our followers weren’t able to come and see us, so we wanted to share some of the highlights with you!

On Friday, December 6th at 6pm, Belle Grove Plantation had its “Official” Grand Opening. We have been opened and operating in a “Soft Opening” stage since August 1st, but as of Friday, we have all our curtains in place and most of the furniture. We do need to get some decor and area rugs in place, but that will come as we find it. That has been one thing I wanted to do with the mansion… take my time and find just the right pieces. It gives the rooms and their furnishings so much more meaning.


Our Grand Opening had to take place in the Grand Hall instead of outside. The weather was cold and rainy so it wasn’t the best time to be out. We started the ceremony with Brett opening and welcoming all that had come to see this historic event. We were honored to welcome Dale Sisson, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors as our guest speaker. We also were honored to have Reverend Bland from Salem Baptist Church of King George attending and offering a prayer of blessing on the plantation, mansion and business. And to top the event off in style, we were honored to have Sarah Snow, solo vocalist sing during the ceremony.


Mr. Sisson, Chairman of King George Board of Supervisors

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Reverend Bland of Salem Baptist Church of King George

Mr. Sisson welcomed everyone and welcomed Brett and I to the county of King George. He also read a letter from the Governor of Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, congratulating us on opening the plantation and wishing us well as we move forward in the future.

Cindy's Corner

100 South Main Street Bowling Green, Virginia 22427

After Mr. Sisson spoke, Brett recognized the ladies from Cindy’s Corner in Bowling Green, for lending their amazing talents to decorating Belle Grove Plantation. We truly could not have been ready or as beautiful if they had not stepped up and donated the better part of the last two weeks before the opening. They are just amazing!!


Then the big moment arrived!! The Ribbon had to be placed across the Grand Hall Staircase due to the weather. But what a wonderful moment it was. Brett and I, together cut the ribbon and announced that we were on our way. The emotion of the moment still chokes me up. As Brett and I cut the ribbon, it was as if in one moment, the last 879 days of our journey flashed before my eyes. How far we have come in such a short time! Brett and I sealed the cutting with a kiss. Without each other, we would have never made it so far. In fact, we have so many to thank for all that we have and for all the support we have received. Thank you all!!


The ceremony ended with a song from Sarah Snow. She sang a very fitting song for us, “Come All Ye Faithful”. What a wonderful voice; so sweet and clear. We were so blessed to have her with us.

Afterwards, the tours opened. . .


The Parlor

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The Parlor looking to Formal Dining Room and Grand Hall

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Grand Hall Staircase

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Grand Hall

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Curved Door

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Window Swag with Osage Oranges

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Curved Porch

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Grand Hall

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Our Santa Collection

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Grand Hall

The Tours were Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the first two weekends. Due to the weather on the first Sunday, we had to cancel though. We had ice for most of the day. No snow.

During the tours, we had musical talent from near and far come and donate their time to helping us make the season bright. Thanks to JJ& T Entertainment (  our first weekend was pretty amazing!

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After Sarah Snow opened the tours, Mike and Desiree Mallick from JJ&T got everyone jumping with their soulful tunes!


On Saturday, Greg Eldridge from JJ&T spent the day, playing and singing with both his guitar and piano.

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On Saturday Night, we were honored to have the King George Colonials at the plantation. This trio performed with drum, guitar and piano forte. It was as if the music of the past was echoing through the whole house!


Saturday Night, we also had Tom Weiner perform with his wonderful bagpipes! We hope to have him back sometime during the summer to fill the night with the beautiful music!


Our last musical entertainment was on the last Saturday evening. We were honored to have Emily Elizabeth of Emily Elizabeth Music and her family perform downstairs in the Ladies Parlor. Emily played the harp and all I can say is …. WOW! In her period dress with the sweet sounds of the harp flowing from room to room, our guests were given a glance back in time. We are so excited to have Emily with us and truly can’t wait to have her here again soon!

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Besides Musical Entertainment, we had King George Historical Society on hand. They were here to help answer questions about the other history in King George and to volunteer as help during the tours. They brought along their wonderful gift ideas as well! Can you believe we already have a Christmas Ornament available!!


Speaking of volunteers, we had some really wonderful people step up to help. We had volunteers that helped us plan the event, helped us find local musical talent, helped us guide guests and greet guests and to helps us escort guests to and from their cars during the cold rainy days. To each of these volunteers, we would like to take a moment and say thank you. Without you, this would have never have been so wonderful!

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These two young ladies were here for most of the events and are always on hand to volunteer for us!

Thank you Rachel and Madison!

We would also like to thank all those who ventured out on those rainy, cold days to see Belle Grove Plantation in all it’s glory. This tour was so special to us because you came to be apart of this historic event.

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Come back tomorrow for the final recap . . . Santa and Mrs. Claus comes to Belle Grove!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 2 Comments »

Natural Christmas Tree Decorations

Dec. 15th 2013


When we were planning our Christmas Decorations, we knew we wanted to keep it simple and natural. So when it came to our Christmas Tree, we wanted to limit the store bought decorations. How best to take us back in time.

Our Christmas tree choice was something we had to really consider. We would have loved to have a natural tree, however, with the age of the floor, we needed to be careful of floors and possible pine resin. So after much thought, we decided to pull our fake tree from our home back in Chesapeake. We purchased our tree a few years ago in Williamsburg at the “Christmas Mouse Christmas Store”. It is a 9 foot tree that is with white lights.

At the base of the tree, we placed a beautiful tree skirt, but I wanted something that filled it without having allot of wrapped presents. Remember some of our Christmas past, I pulled the idea of surrounding it with beautiful Poinsettia. It really dressed the tree and kept it natural.

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For the Christmas Tree Decorations, I found the greatest idea! Dried Lemons, Oranges and Grapefruit. After doing some research online, I found a simple way to making it without costing me too much.

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Step One – Cutting your fruit into 1/4 slices.

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Step Two – Place in your oven (right on the rack) at 225 degrees for 2 -3 hours.

Step Three – Flip the fruit half way through to keep it flat as it dries.

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Step Four – Remove and allow it to cool for 24 hours.

Step Five – Using a wooden dowel – make a small hole in the flesh of the fruit closes to the rind.

Step Six – String with off white or tan yarn.

Step Seven – Hang on the tree.

The lemons didn’t do as well as I had hoped, so we didn’t use them this year. They were a little too “juicy” and wouldn’t dry well. The fruit needs to be completely dry or your decorations will start molding.

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I loved the look of the fruit on the tree! With the lights behind and around them, their color really does come through. We added small bundles of cinnamon sticks and some pine cones. We were going to add a string of popcorn and cranberries, but honestly, it looked so good without them, we didn’t bother.

The topper was a hard consideration. We had an angel, but it just didn’t work. I had thought about craving out a Pine Apple from the bottom to preserve the shape and top greenery. But after some thought, I was worried that the outside structure wouldn’t hold up and would mold. So this time, we settled on a red ribbon with flowing strings. Yes, it is store bought, but the color really did match the fruit.

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With this tree added to our Parlor, it really does feel like Christmas at Belle Grove Plantation.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Natural Christmas Tree Decorations

Decking the Halls

Dec. 14th 2013

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This year will be our first Christmas at the plantation. We are having several events here during December so it was important for us to dress the mansion in style. After giving it a lot of thought, we decided to go back into the history of the mansion to find a way to dress it as it had been in years past.

In a past blog, I talked about Christmas in Colonial Days. When we think of Colonial Period Christmas, one thought always comes to mind… Colonial Williamsburg. Now before you say anything about their decorations, I want you to know I love visiting Colonial Williamsburg anytime during the year. But during the Christmas season, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg is just one of those special times that really helps us get into the Christmas Spirit. But yes, I know they use fruit in their decorations, which is something that would not have been done in the Colonial Period. But it is still just beautiful. So I knew I wanted to go in that direction with our decorations.

I did have a guide of sorts from Belle Grove Plantation’s past. In January, 1906, a newspaper article from the Daily Star gave us a glance into what Christmas was like for the Thornton Family and Belle Grove Plantation.

Daily Star


Article Text

When we started looking into decorating the house, I knew my talents were never going to get us far. I can make a dinner plate into a work of art, but don’t ask me to arrange flowers or make a swag. It just wouldn’t be pretty. So our search began . . . I knew I wanted someone from the local area to help us. Using local talent is important to us, not just because is supports our community, but because most of the families in the area have been here for many generations. These families, whether they know it or not, have connections to the plantation. So for me, it is like bringing the “spirit” of the past back to the mansion.


After several weeks of searching, we met with a wonderful lady named Cindy. She came to us from Bowling Green, Virginia which is about 15 miles from us. She is the owner of a wonderful craft store called “Cindy’s Corner”. In this store, you can find many other talents ladies who range from floral designers to woodworkers.  Cindy and several of these ladies came to meet with us with the understanding that they were going to just decorate one room. But by the time they left, they had committed to decorating the whole house . . .  inside and out!

After only two weeks, they arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start decorating. Cindy and the ladies knew we wanted to keep it as ‘Colonial’ as possible. That meant that they had to go into wooded areas and cut fresh greens and hollies to make our window swags. They even found a wonderful center point for the swags with Osage Oranges. How unique that was!! They pruned our Southern Magnolia trees to use the leaves in our decorations.

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After just in a few days, they turned our mansion into a festive place that hearkens back to days gone by.


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Brett and I would like to thank each of the ladies for all their hard work and for giving of their talents to help us make our first Christmas at the plantation very special.

Cindy's Corner

100 South Main Street

Bowling Green, Virginia 22427


Please help us show our appreciation to these ladies by stopping by their store when in the area or by going to their facebook page and giving them a “like” or leave a comment.

Thank you to Cindy and the ladies at Cindy’s Corner!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | 4 Comments »

Counting Down!

Dec. 9th 2013

Vote Countdown

Just 12 Days left to vote! Voting closes on December 20th!

Please don’t forget to vote for us and help us become one of the top 100!


VCA Announcement

The Virginia Center for Architecture selected us as one of 250 works of architecture in the Commonwealth of Virginia that they felt best represented Virginia’s rich architectural heritage.

The structures featured were nominated by architects throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia as they look toward the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects in 2014.  They ask that you choose your favorites based on design, innovation, history, or the spirit of your community and Virginia. More importantly, select structures that hold a special place in your heart and mind.

Once the votes are tallied, the Virginia Center for Architecture will announce the top 100 structures — Virginia’s Favorite Architecture. These favorites will be featured in an exhibition at the Center opening on April 10, 2014.

 The poll can be found at and will run through Friday, December 20, 2013.

Ext View of Porch of left wing from ground

We are up against some serious competition!

We desperately need your help if we have any hope to be one of the top 100 structures featured!

Please take a moment and go to  to vote for us!

While you are there, please leave a comment on our profile!

By leaving a comment, it will encourage others to vote for us. They also list the most recent comments on the home page. This will grab other voters attention and may help direct them to our profile to vote for us.

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Once you have voted, please share this blog with your friends and family and on Facebook!

We need all the help we can get to come in as one of the top 100!

Back Belle Grove

We appreciate all of your help and support!


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on Counting Down!