The Good, The Bad and The OMG!

Apr. 4th 2015

April 4, 2015

Where in the world has this week gone! The last I remember it was Tuesday. And here we are Saturday! Time just doesn’t stand still.

This week, we were filled with the good, the bad and the OMG! (Hint – the last OMG is a BIG One!)

After a very beautiful wedding last weekend, Monday, I set about cleaning the mansion. Brett had to travel to Ohio until Tuesday and with the Easter weekend approaching, I didn’t want him to worry about getting things back in order. So Monday became a marathon cleaning.

The Good –

The wedding party was here from Saturday to Monday morning. Before leaving, the bride and groom set a couple to be in charge of cleaning their things before we checked them out. This couple along with another couple went through this mansion in record time! They had all their checkout list completed and were ready to go by no later than 10:30am! (They need to be completed by noon) So thanks to their quick work, I was able to get to my things faster, making it easier to get things done.

The Bad –

With the wedding party leaving on Monday instead of the normal Sunday morning, this left me alone to clean. Brett was on his way out of town and I was left facing the mansion. Seven and half hours later, I had vacuum, cleaned seven bathrooms, flipped four suites, cleaned the kitchen, started the laundry and mopped all the first and second floors of the mansion.

The OMG –

I left mopping for last. As I normally do, I started with the back North Wing Suites and worked my way back to the South Wing. As I got into the Parlor, I started noticing my right arm seizing up. Then my right hand followed, curling around the mop handle tight. I calmly rubbed my arm until the muscle relaxed and continued my work.

Then when I got to the second floor, my left arm started seizing up. This time my ring finger was only curling. I sat down for a moment and rubbed to get my arm to relax. When it did, I continued my work. But this time, my arm started again and my ring finger curled in hard. I stopped again and worked the muscle to get it to relax. After several minutes, it finally let go.

Of course, I have never had this happen before. My first thought was to tell Brett. My husband, Brett is a retired Naval Corpsman with 21 years. He had taken such good care of us. He has even saved my life once. So I trust him first and for most. He first asked me if I had been drinking plenty while I was working. (Which I had). Then he asked me if I had eaten. Well … I did have an egg sandwich at 9:30am. Since then I had been too busy to think about eating. Then I got the speech … you have to eat!

After I finished my work, I decided I needed a good meal and headed over to Fredericksburg to grab a bite.

Tuesday – The Last Day I Remember!

On Tuesday, with all my work done, which I have to say felt really good, I headed to Warsaw, Virginia to meet with a member of the Northern Neck Tourism Board. I wanted to discuss with her my plans for a very special event in July that would involve her. After that, I would head back to Fredericksburg to visit our dear friend, Nancy, who has been in the hospital for over a week. Then it would be sushi dinner at Umi’s and back to the plantation.

The Good –

Tuesday was a wonderful day. My meeting with the member of the Northern Neck Tourism Board went really well. I was able to explain my hopes and by the time I left, you could see her wheels turning too. Likewise my visit with Nancy was just as wonderful. Nancy has been in ICU for over a week with a perforated bowel. Three surgeries later, she was in recovery and telling me that she might be able to go home on Wednesday! What wonderful news! When she went to the hospital, the perforation had been opened for at least two or three days. So it was really a bad start. But thanks to a lot of prayers from our “prayer warriors” on Facebook, she pulled through in record time! She is now back at home and working to get back on her feet! She is such an amazing person! And of course, a nice meal at Umi’s, my favorite sushi place rounded out a very wonderful day.

The OMG –

All good things must come to an end … Whoever said that should be shot!

While I was at the hospital, I started yawning. Of course my first thought was that I was still really tired from the marathon the day before. While at Umi’s, I have say I really didn’t enjoy it as I normally do. I again thought it was because I was tired.

After arriving home, Brett called to let me know he had made it back to Virginia. That is when I started feeling bad. So I told Brett that I was going to lay down early and try and get some rest. Two hours later, it happened …

At first I thought it was food poisoning. I have had food poisoning before (on an airplane for three hours no less) and being that I had had sushi, that was what I thought it might be. Then it really hit about midnight. Every half hour … All I could think was how much more could come up? I hadn’t eaten that much. But it seemed like it would never end. One hour became four and four become eight and eight became sixteen. In the middle of it all, I started shaking. Then is when I knew I didn’t have food poisoning. It was a stomach virus. Great …

For eighteen hours, alone at the mansion, I would run back and forth and would text poor Brett almost each round to keep him in the loop. Why shouldn’t he have some fun with me? Then is when I realized that Brett had had a stomach thing a few months ago. He had gone to Patient First and gotten a prescription for Onadnsetron. It was to help with the nausea and vomiting. He had not needed it, but I have to say someone up there was thinking ahead for me! One pill later, it started to lighten up. Two pills later, I was just churning. Three pills later … Oh why had I not remembered these sooner!

By the second pill, Brett arrived from Chesapeake. It was Wednesday midday, but it felt like an eternity. He came up and took over. He got me something to drink and helped me clean up. He ran out to get me crackers and anything else I needed. By Thursday morning, I had settled down to drinking a few slips and drifting in and out of sleep. He then drove back to Chesapeake (two and half hours) to do a day of work at his office and returned at 9:30pm Thursday night to make me comfortable again. Friday, he worked and watched over me, making sure I didn’t need anything.

I love this man …

Friday came and went, and I slept. I can’t really say I remember much about the last few days. And what I do remember, well I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. Not even my worst enemy.


It’s Saturday … already?

So we arrived at Saturday. I made it through the last week of whatever you want to call it.

The Good –

Friday night, we had overnight guests check in. Brett took over and showed them around. They completely understood. (We have some of the nicest people stay with us!) They were here to visit friends in the area, so they didn’t require us to be with them or to share as much as we normally do.


The Bad –

While I have been able to get up today and get some food down (if you call Cheese Its, Lime Jello and Pedilite food) I still feel pretty weak. Brett says that there is a new stomach virus that is stronger and lasts a little longer than most going around. I did get my appetite back somewhat last night, but my stomach wasn’t agreeing to what I wanted.

We did try a few errands this morning too. I grabbed some things at the grocery only to find that my legs were too happy to be up and going again. It feels like I am running in quicksand. Add that to my voice being almost gone, Brett encouraged me to rest more. So we decided to call off all tours this weekend. It’s not something I like to do. I love to share Belle Grove with anyone that wants to come. And the first weekend of Spring Break, well … it hurts. I had to turn away three phone calls today.

The Biggest OMG –

After spending the day working on the computer, which doesn’t require me standing or talking, I received some very exciting news.

Back with Brett and I started looking at opening Belle Grove Plantation as a Bed and Breakfast, we knew that we needed some help from people that have already done what we wanted to do. So we went from one place to another in Virginia, looking for that one special couple who might be able to mentor us.

We found it in a wonderful couple, Kathleen and Troy of Chestnut Hill Bed and Breakfast. Kathleen and Troy have been in business six years now and were one of the only ones that spent real quality time with us. They answered our questions, give us advice, pointed us in new directions and were just there to listen. These people, as successful as they are, could have hidden away their knowledge and forced us to learn it on our own, but instead given wholeheartedly to us. Something we hope we can do for someone else one day.

I had been away from my phone for a moment. When I got back, I saw that I had missed a call from them. Being that we are both very busy, it isn’t often we get a call from them. So I called back. Troy answered and said that he had in fact called me … to congratulate us!

Okay, most of you know me. If there is any rankings, voting or any way I can draw attention to Belle Grove Plantation, I am all over it. But what in the world is Troy talking about? He kind of laughed and said, “You really don’t know?” Okay, now I am really wondering what it could be? Did I win the Nobel Peace Prize? An Oscar? What?

Well …

Unknown to me, Tripadvisor rankings Bed and Breakfast Inns not only by city (which I know- we are ranked number one in King George because “surprise” we are the only ones in King George), but they also rank them by state.

Troy watches these rankings pretty closely. He stated that Belle Grove Plantation had been on the move up the rankings for quite some time now (a little over one and a half years). He finally asked me, “With 706 Virginia Bed and Breakfasts listed on Tripadvisor, where do you think Belle Grove Plantation is today?”

Instead of my stomach, my mind is now swimming! Could I be in the 500s? Maybe 300s? All I could think was no, we haven’t been around long enough. So finally I told him I had no idea.

“Well out of 706 Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inns listed on Tripadvisor, Belle Grove Plantation is ranked NUMBER 2 in the State!”


My mind was gone. I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was to thank them for letting us know, but also for being there to help us get there! I know in my heart, their guidance helped us so much.

Then, my next thought … I don’t have an acceptance speech ready …

Brett returned from an errand and a Subway sandwich stop, which I am very jealous of, and I let him know the OMG news. I couldn’t call him to tell him over the phone. I needed to see his face, to see the expression. When he came in, he had sunglasses on and I asked him to take them off. Then I told him … his face was priceless.

Now, for that acceptance speech … if you can call it that. But know it is truly from the heart.

We would like to thank everyone for all the support and encouragement that we have received over the last year and a half. Some of you have been with us from the very start, others have come along as you have discovered us. All of you mean so much to Brett and I. You have prayed with us and for us. You have stepped up and volunteered for us. Some have worked even in the hottest of weather to help us get Belle Grove up and going. You continue to write reviews, vote for us and spread the word through brochures and word of mouth.

Without you, we would be nothing. And because of this, Brett and I truly grateful.

Now … what about that number one spot??

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on The Good, The Bad and The OMG!


Mar. 29th 2015

March 29, 2015

This weekend has been really busy with getting ready for another wedding here at the plantation. Tammy Anderson, our Wedding and Events Specialist has been working hard to ensure that every thing comes off without a hitch. With that and the University of Mary Washington here this morning, starting their archaeological survey, Sheldon, our Civil War Weekend Coordinator dropping a second load of fire wood for the Civil War Weekend in April and tours most of the day on Saturday, it really has been like a bee hive here this weekend. We have really had to shift gears quickly to move into the next thing each day. (Is it Monday yet? I am ready for my day off!)

On Saturday, we were so excited to receive a very special delivery! One of our fans from Facebook messaged me last week about taking a donation. Since we have been open this last year and half, we have received several donations. From books for the library to Victorian Candelabras to pieces of furniture and china, each piece has become a prized treasure to us. The best part is that they generally come with a story or history. This donation is no exception.

Ellen, our fan has given pieces of her family history. These are local pieces that are from around us here. So this makes them even more precious. Here is what we received:

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A basket that was used by her grandmother, Edith Travis as a laundry basket. She used it during the 1920s while living in the Mica Community, which is now Fort AP Hill.


The chaise belonged to her grandfather, Dr. John Randolph Travis. She was told it was located in his medical office either in the Mica Community or when he practiced in Fredericksburg, Virginia during World War II.


chair close up

spinning wheel

The chair she was inherited from her aunt. The spinning wheel with given to her about 12 years ago. She believes her aunt purchased them from a local antique store in either Richmond or the Northern Neck.

We have decided to place them in the Winter Kitchen in the basement for now. We are working towards opening that space as a small museum to display some of our artifacts from Belle Grove Plantation. This would be added to daily tours we current have. One of the things we wanted to do was to display information about our enslave community here at Belle Grove Plantation. So I think all but the chaise would work really will in telling that story.

We would like to express our deepest gratitude for the wonderful donations from Ellen. These pieces will always be a part of our Special Collection and will be treasured for years and generations to come!

If you would like to make a donation to our Special Collection, please contact us at Any piece that we receive will stay at Belle Grove Plantation and will be listed in our Special Collection. It will also be treasured by us as one of the most special gifts given to us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Treasures

And then there is light… finally!

Mar. 26th 2015

March 26, 2015

On the night of July 3, 2014, the day before our Red, White and Blues concert with the Alexis P Suter Band, we experienced a very high wind strong. It blew limbs down and made quite a lot of noise that night. But the worst part of this storm was that it brought down our back portico lantern. Just so you know, the door you enter when you arrive at the plantation is our back portico. Lucky for us, it didn’t hit anyone.


When it came down, the copper structure was damage and needed to be reattached. Believe it or not, it is next to impossible to find someone to do it. After looking locally, we finally found someone in Gordonsville, Virginia that could do it. Laurie Holladay Interiors ( had someone on site to do the repair. We just had to get this huge lantern to them.

So on Monday, March 16, 2015, on our way to Montpelier for the Wreath Laying Ceremony for James Madison’s birthday, we made a side stop to drop it off. When I arrived, the gentleman who was going to do the repairs asked me how old I thought it was. Not knowing when it was brought to Belle Grove, my best guess is that it came sometime during the Hooker Family period (1930-1987) My best guess was somewhere in the 1940s. Brett would receive a call later the next day letting him know that they could repair it, the cost and when to expect it. He also let Brett know that the age of the lantern wasn’t the 1940s. He said that this lantern started out as a gas lantern around 1900. It would have later been converted to the electric as so many other would have.

Within one week, I was on the way back to pick it up. I was so excited to get it back. First to know that it came in during the Thornton Family period (1894-1906) instead of the Hooker Family. What a great surprise that was! Second to finally get light back on the back portico. It truly gets so dark here and I have been so afraid of people tripping down the stairs because they couldn’t see them.

Front Porch Lantern

Today, it was finally reinstalled! What a great joy to turn on the lantern and see the light! Tonight is going to be such a great joy seeing our lantern back again!

This weekend, Brett will have another item added to his “to do” list. We are going to chain the corners to keep it from swinging back and forth in the winds here. In fact we are going to chain all of the portico lights. We need to protect these treasures for others to enjoy.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on And then there is light… finally!

Belle Grove Plantation and President Madison Make Press!

Mar. 19th 2015

March 19, 2015

When we started Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast, we had a vision for what we wanted for the plantation. We didn’t want to just be known as a luxury bed and breakfast or just an elegant wedding and special events venue. We wanted to honor the history that has occurred here and to help educate others about it.

From time to time, we have children coming with their parents to see “the Birthplace of President Madison”. The parents wish to show the children where history happened in hopes of touching something inside them as well as teaching them about their history as an American Nation. On two occasions we have had young students come in hopes of getting information for school projects. The first happened just after we opened. The young man came with his mother and siblings with a desire to learn more about President Madison. Later after the project was graded, the young man’s mother sent me a message on Facebook letting me know about his final grade, an A+.

Back in January, when we were recognized by the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, a received a call from another mother in North Carolina. Her daughter was doing a school project and she wanted to get more information about President Madison. After I returned home, I was able to provide her with information about James Madison and his mother’s family.

Last night I received an email from this mother with the final grade for her daughter, Lani Williamson’s project. She got a 100%! But the best part was that she appeared in their local newspaper! She dressed as President Madison for her project and from all views, it looks like she did a fabulous job! We offer our heartiest congratulations to a job well done!

Lani JM Newspaper

(Lani Williamson is dressed in the white wig)

After our President Madison Birthday Celebration at Belle Grove on March 7th, we too made the newspaper! The King George Journal and report Richard Leggitt placed us on the front page of this week’s newspaper! Below is the article for those of you that can’t get the King George Journal.

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James Madison – King George native son, Founding Father
King George Journal – Richard Leggitt – March 18, 2015

History buffs and area residents recently gathered at Belle Grove Plantation on the banks of the Rappahannock River to celebrate the birth of James Madison – patriot, American revolutionary and father of the U.S. Constitution.

The marking of Madison’s birthday – March 16, 1751 – was a celebration fitting a founding father.

With actors playing the roles of Madison and his wife, Dolley, the historic venue literally rang out in honor of America’s fourth president.

“It was an amazing weekend with President and Mrs. Madison,” said Michelle Darnell, operator of the luxury Belle Grove Bed and Breakfast. “It is such a joy to bring such fine historic performers to the plantation and share them with both students and adults.”

Belle Grove Plantation, Madison’s King George birthplace at Port Conway, across the Rappahannock from Port Royal, was first purchased by Captain Anthony Savage in 1670. The house was later acquired by Madison’s grandparents, Francis Conway and Rebecca Catlett Conway.

Their daughter, Eleanor Rose Conway, returned to the plantation in December of 1750, three months before the birth of her child, who would grow to become one of the world’s foremost political thinkers. Though born at Belle Grove, Madison is more closely associated with Montpelier, the Orange County plantation where he grew up, spent his retirement years and died on June 28, 1836.

Still Darnell described Belle Grove as a great spot to toast Madison’s 254th (264th) birthday.

“Where better to celebrate James Madison than at the plantation where he drew his first breath?” she said.

The festivities include a James Madison Essay Contest sponsored by the King George American Legion.

“We look forward to future events with the American Legion and hope this is the beginning of a long standing annual event.” Darnell said.

While Madison never attained the popularity of fellow Virginians and Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the King George native son was a leading American statesman.

A Princeton (University of New Jersey) graduate, Madison skillfully argued for ratification of the new representative form of government at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he co-authored the Federalist Papers, which helped swing popular support behind the new Constitution.

Winning election to the House of Representatives, Madison authored the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1791. In 1794, he married Dolley Payne Todd, who served as Washington D.C.’s leading socialite during the early 19th century.

Madison would serve as Secretary of State during the presidency of his friend, Thomas Jefferson, during which time the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the new United States.

Madison won election as president in (his) own right in 1808. His tenure coincided with a time of prosperity of the nation, but he also presided over the War of 1812, which saw the British burn the White House.

Copyright Kathi Isserman 2015 (2)

Two things I do want to note about President Madison. He is the last Commander in Chief to see combat. He also left the Office of President more popular than when he entered it. Not many Former Presidents can boost those honorable distinction.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Belle Grove Plantation and President Madison Make Press!

Remembering Mr. Madison

Mar. 19th 2015

March 18, 2015

Where does the time go! It just seems like yesterday that I last wrote in our journal. Things are getting busier with the start of Spring. While the days get longer, it just doesn’t seem like I have enough time to get everything done. Our Special Events have kicked off as of February 28th and our Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt called Get a Clue. It was a great success and we are looking forward to kicking off our Amazing Race in July. Our next event has become an annual one that we look forward to each year. Our President Madison’s Birthday VIP Dinner and Social.

Each we plan to come together and celebrate President Madison’s Birthday with a VIP Dinner for just 15 people. We invite “Mr. Madison” (John Douglas Hall) and “Mrs. Madison” (Dr. Lynn Uzzell) to join us for a table of fine food, good conversation and living history. After dinner, we conduct a Social with additional guests to meet the Madisons.

Last year, we had a nice showing for this event. But this year… Wow!

It started about a week before the event. I received a call from a local mother who home schools her children. She was looking for an outside field trip for the kids and thought of us. When I informed her of the Madisons arriving in just about a week, she and I formulated a plan to not only get her children there, but to let other parents of homeschool students know. By the time we were on the date, she had over 30 people scheduled to come. We decided to have them come before the event, during the day. Low and behold, we didn’t have 30 people show up… we had 50! It was an amazing hour or so in the parlor with the kids asking questions and Mr. and Mrs. Madison sharing their insight and knowledge.

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Dinner time arrived quickly after the days event with the home school children. Denson’s Grocery from Colonial Beach provided the meal of Herb Roasted Chicken with White Wine Sauce served with Sautéed Green Beans with Shallots, Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Sweet Potato Biscuits. Dessert was something special for one of our dinner guests. Her birthday was the same day so we had Chocolate Birthday Cake to celebrate with her.


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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

Copyright Kathi Isserman 2015

 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

After dinner we moved to the parlor where we met other guests that came to meet the Madisons. Last year, the Social was just a gathering to meet and see the Madisons. This year, it was a little more special. The American Legion had approached us early in January about partnering for a James Madison Essay Contest for local 6th, 7th and 8th graders. We were so excited and suggested that they present the winners to the Madisons during our Social event.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

What a great pleasure it was to see and hear each of the essays entitled “James Madison is a hero because”. Each of the student meet the President and First Lady and President Madison presented them with their certificate and prize money.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

But this event wasn’t the only event that we remembered Mr. Madison this year.


On Monday, March 16th, Tammy Anderson (our Wedding and Event Specialist) and I went to Montpelier to represent Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison during a Wreath Laying Ceremony. This was Tammy’s first visit and I was so excited to be able to share and point out all the wonderful things at Montpelier. This year was also the first year Belle Grove has been invited to lay a wreath at the tomb of this great man.



The Ceremony was made even more touching with the Marines conducting the Color Guard, Firing Squad and Presentation Wreath from President Obama. President Obama wasn’t able to be there, so the Commanding Officer of Quantico, Col. David Maxwell, presented the red, white and blue wreath for the United States. He also deliver on of the best speeches I have ever heard.




As someone that was presenting a wreath, I was seated in a special reserved section of the audience. In fact I was on the front row seated next to the Congressman’s representative and the City of Orange Board of Supervisor. They placed the wreaths in several rows within the family plot. At one point, we were asked to stand. As our names were called, we walked to stand behind our wreaths. It was a proud moment with our name was announced. It was such an honor.


After we were recognized, we returned to our seat. We were addressed by a history professor and 2 time Pulitzer Prize winner, Alan Taylor, one of the nation’s premier experts in Colonial America and the early U.S. republic.

I don’t want to say I didn’t listen to him, because I was truly interested in what he had to say. But something kept pulling my attention away. I would glance over to the large tombstone and see the word “Madison”. Then my eyes would wonder over to the view between the trees and just beyond to the Blue Ridge Mountains. No wonder Mr. Madison loved this place. I would try to imagine what it might have been like here with Mr. Madison walking or riding around the property. What thoughts would run through his head. How he must have rushed to his library to write them down before they “escaped”. I tried to imagine the day that he was laid to rest. Dolley was so overwhelmed with grief that she didn’t even attend.

Before I knew it, time was up. We stood to prepare for the retiring for the Color Guard. But before they left, we received a three shot salute from the Firing Squad. Then two trumpets, one on each side of the family plot, began playing “Taps”. It was so moving that one couldn’t help be shed a tear. Then the Color were retired.



After the ceremony, Tammy and I made our way to the mansion for a tour. Being Tammy’s first time, I tried to remain quiet through the tour (though it was very hard and I didn’t really make it without making some comments) and allow her to experience the tour in all its glory. I did have to laugh a moment under my breath when she leaned over and whispered, “Montpelier is beautiful, but Belle Grove is much better.”

And as we toured the mansion, we arrived in the formal dining room. Just as the docent started her talk, I looked up to see “Mr. Madison” (John Douglas Hall) coming from the hall. I swear to you, it caught my breath as if a Rock Star was entering. Tammy later told me she hear my reaction and had to laugh too. John Douglas Hall has been to Belle Grove many time and we have become good friends. But when we first met during Montpelier’s Candlelight Tour in December 2012, I was over come with joy and excitement. It was as if I was meeting the great man himself! But to see him again in the Montpelier mansion, it brought back that tender memory. Brett laughs because I get so excited.

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 copyright by Kathi Isserman 2015

After we headed back out to Orange, Virginia for a quick stop at the James Madison Museum. We had to do a quick walk through because they were getting ready to close. But I wanted Tammy to see some of the artifacts that belonged to James and Dolley. Most especially Mr. Madison’s favorite chair, the Campeche Chair. I do so lush for that piece of Madison history.

This year’s celebration of Madison wouldn’t have been complete unless we posted a special shout out for President Madison on our Facebook page. We encouraged others to “Shout Out” and Share the post. It was just amazing! To date the original post has received 506 likes and been shared 70 times! This is the most that any of our posts has ever gotten! It reached over 22,000 people!

For me, it was just wonderful that over 22,000 people took a moment to remember this great man and all that he did for our country. We celebrate Washington and Jefferson and Adams has had a mini series done on him. President Madison tends to be overlooked. I hope in the future that someone will take the time to teach more about this man, about what he believed in, what he dreamed of and how it has inspired others today.

I think it would be well worth the effort.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Remembering Mr. Madison

Surprises around every corner

Feb. 4th 2015

February 4, 2015

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


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

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

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

Super Hits

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You can see the whole article at:

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

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


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

Its How the Cookie Crumbles

Feb. 2nd 2015

February 2, 2015

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

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

Modern Molasses Cookies - Alyssa D'Alconzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendra Thornton Picture (1)

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!