This weekend was the start for our week long vacation. We decided to start it off by spending Saturday and Sunday at the plantation. After a restful night’s sleep, I rose for a walk around the plantation. This time I ventured farther into the farm fields. The farmer that leases the fields planted corn and soybean this year. He has harvested the corn and I am sure will be harvesting the soy bean soon. I walked along the road way that once lead to the barns. The barns are long gone and all we have left are three silos. From what I understand, those will be coming down some time this winter to improve the view of the farm. After passing the silos, I walked along the wooded area between the farm field and the river. I could hear several birds calling to each other. I am not really good at identifying birds at the plantation with the exception of the osprey, eagles and buzzards that we see so often flying overhead. But I am sure as I spend more time there, I will be able to identify them better.
Just a little ways into the fields, I made a turn onto a farm road that headed towards the middle of the field. From what I understand, these dirt road ways are as old as the plantation and were used by the slaves and later the field hands as they worked the fields. I was told that there was a slave quarters that use to be located in the middle of the fields for the slaves that worked the fields. I haven’t been able to confirm it yet.
As I reached the road way that lead to the front gate, I could see the manor house and caretaker’s house in the distance. Suddenly above me I could hear the screaming of eagles. I looked up to see two bald eagles flying over at a very high distance. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of them, but you could see them riding the wind currents. It was just amazing.
I made my way back to the front gate and stood in the shade of one of the trees located there. As I looked at it, I tried to image who may have sat under this very shade and what they may have been thinking. I looked towards the manor house and at the trees around the bowling green. One thing about this plantation is the beauty of its trees. I image that when John Moore, step-grandfather of James Madison named it Belle Grove, he must have had the same feeling.
Our trees haven’t really started to turn yet for fall, with the exception of one. But I am sure they will soon. I thought about that change and about when they would be green again. I could feel my heart jump as I realized the next time they were green again, we would be open for business. What a great way to start!
I made my way around through the house and stopped at the dining room window to see we had a “visitor” on the riverside of the house. A small groundhog was enjoying his morning salad of dandelions. Our yard is filled with them. Too bad our little “gardener” couldn’t eat more. One day, we will have a beautiful yard of green grass and our guest will have to find another location for breakfast. But for the time being, we are glad to see that we can provide him a hearty meal.
After he scampered off, I walked out on to the riverside porch and sat down on the craved stone steps. The sun was bright and warm and it danced off the Rappahannock River as it passed by the plantation. The sun’s light was like thousands of little diamonds sparkling on the surface. The warmth of the light was just so relaxing. I tilled my head back and just sat there absorbing the light and feeling the rush of my busy life just melting away.
After spending another wonderful night at the plantation, we headed out on Sunday morning to Fredericksburg. We wanted to spend a night at our favorite Fredericksburg bed and breakfast, Schooler House in the Historic Downtown. Andi, the innkeeper and her trusted side kick, Enzo makes staying there great joy. Enzo has been to “puppy boot camp” and had just returned over the last week so we wanted to welcome him home.
After we arrived, Brett crashed in the room to watch some football and nap while I head to a book sale I saw as we drove in. This sale had been going on over the weekend, so I was sure I missed some of the good books, but I was delighted to see that there were still some very nice selections still to be had. We have a library at Belle Grove that I will need to fill so book sales are always good. I was able to find fourteen books that covered literature and one autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Most were printed in the 1940s and were in wonderful shape.
After my purchase, I made a stop at a local bakery called Eileen’s Bakery. Andi had told me that it was one of the places we needed to stop at when we returned last time. I was so glad I did! The bakery is in an old church and has such a wonderful atmosphere. It serves both bakery items and has a small deli counter. I wanted to get a little something for Brett and me to have after our dinner, but when I arrived at the bakery case, I found it impossible to select just two. So I just ordered one of everything they had! When I got them back, I showed Brett the selections. He said we should just skip dinner and eat dessert.
But we didn’t. We headed over to the Capital Ale House on Caroline Street and enjoyed a wonderful meal. You may remember us talking about this place in two past postings.
This morning, Brett and I got up and headed to the first of several meetings we have set up on our vacation. I know, it’s a vacation, but it these meetings are important too and it helps being able to do them during the week while we are off. The first meeting was at Stratford Hall with Jim. Stratford Hall is the home of the Lee Family and Robert E. Lee. It is located just 29 miles from Belle Grove. We talked with Jim about how we could work together with Stratford Hall and how we could be of benefit to each other. After our meeting Jim was gracious in showing us the gardens of Stratford Hall. I have been viewing gardens at different locations to get ideas for our landscaping and walking gardens at Belle Grove. We viewed three gardens today at Stratford. The first was the east gardens which were the formal boxwood walking garden and the cutting garden. Then we walked over to the west garden which is more of the working garden for the kitchen. I got a lot of really good ideas for our kitchen garden there.
After our meeting at Stratford Hall, we headed over to Westmoreland Berry Farm to get more details on their vendor service for the local fruits, vegetables, jams, preserves and sauces they have. It is our goal at Belle Grove to use as much locally grown produce in our dishes as possible. We want our guest to be able to experience all that Virginia has to offer. We tried one of their samples they had on display, Apple Salsa. It was very spicy, but yet had a sweet under tone to it. It was very good.
From here, we headed back to Chesapeake to regroup and get ready for our trip and meetings in Richmond and Charlottesville on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Thursday we will celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary as well. Then it will be back to Belle Grove for the end of our glorious vacation on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It may be something of a working vacation for us this year, but what a wonderful “job” it will become!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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