Sitting Down with the Madisons

Mar. 21st 2013


On Saturday, Brett and I headed to Montpelier to celebrate James Madison’s Birthday. We were excited since it was the first time we would see the wreath lying at his tomb. Little did we know it would be a day we would never forget.

As we drove down Constitution Highway, just before arriving at the main gate, the sky threaten us by dropping a few rain drops on the window. Brett and I looked at each other and it was as if we were communicating the same words, “We are going to get wet today.” But as we drove up the long drive with the Montpelier Mansion as a backdrop, the rain stopped and we both breathed a sigh of relief.



We parked in the overflow parking lot having arrived with just fifteen minutes to share. I quickly gathered my important items and Brett grabbed our umbrella. We made our way down the road to a side road. From here we could see the family cemetery in the distance. There was a crowd of people already there. We could also hear music. I smiled at Brett as we head to the path.

Just as we arrived at the path which is located across from the Slave Cemetery, we saw a gentleman talking to what we assumed were exchange students from James Madison University. He was explaining to them the roles of the slave on the plantation. I caught myself smiling thinking about the history that would be shared today.


As we walked down the path, you could see just over the ridge a small hill and fence line. I looked up just in time to see a herd of horses running over to the fence line. It was as if they too heard the music and wanted to come and see what it was all about.

When we arrived at the family cemetery, we realized that the ceremony was going to include the United States Marine Corps. If you have been following the blog and have read about us, you know that I am a former Marine and Brett is a retired Navy Corpsman. It was such a wonderful surprise to see these young Marine honoring such a great man.

Kat ImoffCEO of Montpelier

Kat Imhoff
CEO of Montpelier

The master of ceremony was the new CEO of Montpelier, Kat Imhoff. The ceremony started off with remarks from her followed by the Marine Color Guard and Invocation. There was a presentation give to James Madison and the people of Virginia by Governor McDonnell through one of his representatives declaring Saturday to be James Madison Appreciation Day. In the remarks it was really quite exciting to hear the governor state that James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. I looked at Brett who was video-taping the ceremony on the other side of the wall and gave him a smile and thumbs up.

Jonathan AlgerPresident of James Madison University

Jonathan Alger
President of James Madison University

The main speaker was Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University. In his speak, Mr. Alger called for a “Return to Madison”. There were birthday wreaths presented by several public organizations and locations in honor of Mr. Madison as well as a wreath presented by the Marines by order of President Obama.












After the ceremony and just a small passing sprinkle, Brett and I had a chance to meet Mr. Alger and Ms. Imhoff. We also had a chance to say “Hello” to some of the other staff members we had met during our visit in October. One of them was Tom Chapman, one of the staff that works with the archaeology department. We renewed our invitation for Tom and others to visit us at Belle Grove.

Afterwards we headed to the Visitor Center to purchase our tickets to tour the house. We have seen the mansion many times and could almost do tour ourselves. But we were more interested in seeing “Mr. and Mrs. Madison”. We skipped the film and headed to the Mansion hoping to get into one of the tours. There we were greeted by a staff member helping to direct people. When we asked where the Madisons were, he told us that they were meeting people in the Constitution Room located in Nelly Madison’s wing. We asked if we could skip the tour and go straight there and we were happy to hear that we could.

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

As we entered the room, we observed Mr. Madison sitting with a young girl on one side of the room deep in conversation. Her father was sitting across the aisle tapping the conversation on his cell phone. Mrs. Madison was on the opposite side of the room also holding a conversation with a young boy. It was really fun to watch the children interacting with these two actors as if they were the real people. Of course I can’t say anything about that. When I met them in December, you would have thought I was meeting the man himself then too!

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Once the conversations were done and the family made their way out the door, we sat down and spoke to the Madison. All I can say is, “Wow!” It was really a lot of fun discussing history with them and talking about our plantation and his birthplace. Both were just so knowledgeable about the Madison that I could see why other people have told us that these two re-enactors were the best. We talked about the possibility of them coming to Belle Grove for a birthday celebration next year. Mr. Madison even made the suggestion that we have them come to Belle Grove in September to celebrate his  and Dolley’s anniversary. He explained it would be good because his father and mother, James Madison Sr and Nelly Conway Madison were also married on September 15th. This would be one of many things I would learn from Mr. and Mrs. Madison during our visit. He even asked if he could provide a menu for the dinner!

I think the best part of the visit was when we were discussing our final upcoming public hearing on Tuesday, March 19th with the Board of Supervisors of King George. Mr. Madison offered to come and speak on our behalf. Now wouldn’t that be something! To have Mr. Madison walk into the board room and give his blessings for our business. We were so touched!

We also asked Mr. Madison if he would consider giving us a list of books he would like to see in our library. We most definitely need a shelf of “recommended reading” by James Madison. We also discussed our Cookie Contest that is currently going on. We explained that the theme is “a Cookie James Madison would like”. This seemed to please them both.

All told we spent the better part of an hour talking with them. For Brett and me, it was truly the highlight of our whole trip. While I know that this isn’t really Mr. and Mrs. Madison, it really makes me wish I could have really known the man and woman. What great things he must have said and what a wonderful personality she must have had. But if this is as close as we could come to the real persons, I have to say, we got the best that there could have ever been.

Flowers at Montpelier

Flowers at Montpelier

Please visit our Facebook Fan Page

Facebook Link

Don’t forget to get your Cookie Recipe Submitted!

Deadline is just 11 Days away!

Click on James Madison to find out how to enter!

Cookie Contest Image

No Entry Fee!

Please Consider Donating to our “Restoration Fund” 

to help us restore our 1700-1800 outbuildings!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 44 Comments »

A Night to Remember

Feb. 13th 2013

After so many days, months, even years to get to this point, going into the Planning Commission Public Hearing, we still felt the passion we had from the first day we saw Belle Grove. We arrived about 30 minutes early to prepare ourselves.

As we stood in the hall outside the board room, we watched as people started to arrive. One of the first was Jean, President of the King George Historic Society. We had met her and her husband early on in the process. She and the King George Historic Society have been wonderful sources of information for the history of Belle Grove. They also have checked in with us throughout to show their support for us. We chatted with her until the meet going on before ours ended just before 7pm.

As we waited with Jean, a gentleman exited the board room and stopped to speak to Jean. We weren’t introduced, but later Brett told me it was one of the Board of Supervisors members. What caught my ear about this conversation was a comment he said about approving Belle Grove as a Bed and Breakfast. He said, “There are pros and cons, just like any other.” From all those we have spoken with from the local area, we had not really heard any negative comments towards doing it. And while this really isn’t a negative comment, it brought the thought into my mind that there could be someone that didn’t like the idea. And that thought scared me to the bone.

We made our way into the room. At the front was a panel with board members seated. To the right of the panel was a small table with two ladies. One of the two was Heather, a staff member of the Zoning Department of King George. We had met Heather during our meeting at Belle Grove just weeks earlier. When I looked over at her, she gave me a warm smile and waved. That gave me some peace in knowing that there was someone in the room I knew approved. And it was nice to see a smiling face.

People filtered in and took their seats. The property manager for the owner arrived and sat behind us. All told there were about ten to fifteen people in the audience of the board room. I knew at least five of them by name. So that left another five to ten that I didn’t know; ones I didn’t know how they were going to lean. Worry creped in again.

Just as we got ready to go, in came the Zoning Director, Jack. Brett had been working with Jack to get all the required items done and on paper before this meeting. If it hadn’t been for Jack’s continued help and source of endless answers to our many questions, I don’t think we would have gotten this done so fast. Jack came in and turned on his projector and took his seat at the table before the panel. In the back of my mind as Jack sat down, I thought of how people go before Congress to answer questions about one thing or another. I thought of the “grilling” that the members of Congress are known to give to individuals before them and panic slipped in. Would they “grill” us?

The Chairman of the Board called the meeting to order. I stopped breathing. My first thought was, “This is either going to be the best meeting ever or its going to end my dream.” The Chairman called on one of the board members to lead us in the pledge of allegiance. After the pledge, the Chairman called on another board member to lead us in the invocation. We took our seats and it began.

The Chairman went through the required reading of past meetings minutes over December and January and held the vote to approve the minutes. During this time, I started watching each member. I wanted to watch their reactions to hopefully gage their feelings later. After the approval of the previous minutes, they move to our case.

Jack opened our case by explaining what we were there for. First he told how our plantation is zoned as “A1”, which mean agricultural. Our application is asking for a Special Exception to use the plantation as a Bed and Breakfast. He also explained that we could seek either a Bed and Breakfast Exception or a Bed and Breakfast Inn Exception. To get just the Bed and Breakfast Exception would mean we would run the Bed and Breakfast with overnight guests only. The Bed and Breakfast Inn Exception would allow us to do the Bed and Breakfast with overnight guests and have catered events such as weddings. So of course we are seeking the latter.

Jack also explained that we were seeking approval to use gravel on the driveway and parking areas instead of asphalt. He told the board that we had asked for this special exception in order to maintain the historic integrate of the property. He showed what County Ordinances allowed us to ask for both exceptions.

As Jack was going through his explanations and showing different slides, I again found myself watching the board members out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want them to see me looking them over so I tried to watch the slides as Jack spoke. Each time a picture of Belle Grove would come up, I felt a smile come over my face and the thought, “Look how beautiful.” would creep into my mind. It just gave me chills seeing them up on the screen. As for the members, I had a hard time “reading” them. No one gave me an approving look nor did they show their feeling of displeasure. My thought was, “This is going to be a hard night.”

Once Jack finished with his presentation, board members asked several questions. The first question was about the gravel. One member asked if using pavers instead of gravel would be better. For one the pavers would keep us from having to create a storm run-off area. Jack explained that we could use pavers or gravel, but due to cost he felt we had selected gravel. He also explained that if we wished to change it to pavers we could without having to make any changes to the plan or having to come back in front of the board for approval. Brett and I would later talk about this possible change. We are going to consult with our landscaping contractor, Arrowood Designs of Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg Paving to see which would be more cost effective. If we have to create storm run-off and have to pay an engineer to design it, the cost may come close to just using pavers. And we also thought that if we used pavers instead of gravel, later if we decided to move the parking, we could just remove the pavers and repurpose them somewhere else.

The next question was around what would happen to the other acres that we weren’t using. The member that asked this question looked as if he wasn’t leaning our way or at least that what I “read” in his look as he asked about the acres. Jack explained that we didn’t know what the corporation was going to do with the other acres and that it had no bearing on this application. I started to worry more. Was there going to be someone that would disapprove this application because of the other acres not being placed in historic easement?

After that, Jack took his seat with no more questions from the board. The Chairman then called Brett to speak for the applicants and owners. My heart jumped. Brett confidently stood up and approached the stand. He first introduced us to the members and told a little about our background. How we had been married for 26 years and had a daughter, who was 24 years and a son, who was 21 years and a dog named Hurley who was 8 years. We got a snicker or two from that one. Brett told of our military background, he being a retired Naval Corpsman and my being in the Marine Corps. He talked about our current positions and about my past culinary positions. He spoke about my catering business that we had several years ago with the kids were still very young.

Then Brett explained how we decided five years ago to start actively looking for a home to start a bed and breakfast. He explained how we had always wanted to open one and how we knew it would have to be historically significant. He told how we came across the first Belle Grove in Middletown, Virginia, the home of Isaac and Nelly Madison Hite, sister of James Madison. How we later visited Montpelier, James Madison’s home and fell in love with the Madison History. How we came across an ad on the internet for our Belle Grove and saw it for the first time two days later. He told of our endless hours of research into the history of Belle Grove using the internet and visiting the Virginia Historic Society, The Library of Virginia, the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary and even finding information at the Seaver Center at the Natural Museum in Los Angeles County, California.

He told how through our blog we had been able to connect to past families that lived at Belle Grove and retrieved history that could have been lost to time. He told how we had started our blog in May, 2011 and that we were just sly of 100,000 hits in just nine months, been viewed in 146 countries and have around 3800 followers. He told how we had a Facebook Fan Page that at that time had 906 Likes. He told of our presents on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. He explained how we connected with area historic sites such as Montpelier, The James Madison Museum and Stratford Hall and set up to cross promote each other. How we were added as a Virginia Historic Home in the Governor of Virginia’s “Year of the Virginia Historical Homes” Campaign. How we have been reaching out to local farmers and vineyards to serve local Virginia products at Belle Grove.

As Brett finished up, I looked over the members of the board. I looked for expressions of emotion and got none. Brett did a great job. I was so proud of him. He took his seat and the Chairman opened the floor for comments from the audience. I held my breath again.

First up was a gentleman named Jim from Port Royal, Virginia, which is just across the river from Belle Grove. We met Jim first on Facebook and then at a local event. We invited him and his wife to come to the plantation to tour it several months ago. As he spoke, he told the board that he was a member of the Board of Supervisors for Port Royal and there as a representative of Port Royal. He talked about how important it was that Belle Grove be opened and occupied instead of standing empty as it has been since 1987. He told how he felt that we would be good stewards of the property and how it would be a benefit for King George County as well as Port Royal.

The next up was a gentleman named Ed from King George, Virginia. We had met Ed through the King George Historic Society and had also given him and his wife a tour of Belle Grove several months ago. Ed is a former Naval Officer and served on the James Madison submarine. He spoke about the importance of Belle Grove and how this would be a benefit to the local community. He also said, “This couple is the embodiment of the Navy-Marine Corps team. This couple has attacked this project with the strategic planning of an amphibious assault.” I have to say that was our favorite comment of the night.

The next up was a gentleman from a plantation next door to Belle Grove named Andrew. We met him and his wife early on as we research the area. They are wonderful people and even gave us a tour of their plantation home. He spoke about the fear they have had with other possible projects for Belle Grove. But through this, they felt that Belle Grove would be best used.

The next up was Jean, the President of the King George Historic Society. She talked about the historic importance of Belle Grove and through the Bed and Breakfast how it would be a benefit to the community.

She was followed by three more individuals. Each spoke of the same historic importance of Belle Grove and how the use as a bed and breakfast would benefit the community. One was even from the Northern Neck Tourism Department.

After they spoke, the Chairman called for any more comments. When no one came forward, he closed the floor. I could feel my muscles tensing, bracing for the impact from the board. The Chairman opened the board for comment. The first to speak was a gentleman I had been keeping my eye on all night. Of all of them, he looked like he might not like the idea. He was also the one that was concern about the rest of the acres. At first he reminded the board of the misgivings he had had with the last project that the owner had presented, one that had be rejected by the Planning Commission. But then he said that this project was different. He felt that this project was a slam dunk. He even started to give a motion to accept the applications until the Chairman stopped him to allow others to speak.

There was one other member that spoke. He too agreed that it was a slam dunk and thought it would be a benefit to the area. With that the Chairman closed the comments. Then the first gentleman put a motion on the floor to accept the two applications. The second gentleman seconded the motion. With that the Chairman put the motion to a vote.

The vote was unanimous….

The Motion was passed to approve the applications to be moved forward to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The meeting with the Board of Supervisors will be on March 19, 2013.

If approved, we will have our Zoning Permit. At that point, we will get our business license and could start having guest the next day. Of course we can’t do that because, well, we don’t want our guest sleeping on the floor or eating on paper plates! We have to get the mansion filled and get the ground started. Once we have the parking and driveways complete, we have to have one on site approval and the Zoning process will be complete. At least until we want to expand!

I have to say when the vote came and we were approved, I fought back tears of joy. How far we have come! I can’t tell you how many “pot holes” we have encountered on this journey; ones that would have easily stopped us. But it has been through support of all our many blog and Facebook friends, our families, our friends in Chesapeake, King George, Fredericksburg and other parts of Virginia that has helped us around those “pot holes” and on to smoother road. We thank each of you with all our hearts.

We have taken the path less traveled and have blazed a path that has led us here. Our strength has come from those that loved and cared for us. Our determination from those that came before us. And our passion that came from the One and Only.

Thank you!

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 77 Comments »

Tomorrow’s the Day!

Feb. 11th 2013
Belle Grove in the Morning

Belle Grove in the Morning

Can you believe it??

Our first Zoning Permit Public Hearing is tomorrow!!

It seems like forever to get here! 

We are so excited to be here.

As of tomorrow, we have been working on this project for

580 days!!

But what this means for us is the start of the race to the finish line called “Opening Day“.

Once we finish with this meeting (and if we are approved) we will have one more Zoning Permit Meeting on March 19th.

If we are approved on March 19th, we are a “go” to start filling the house and doing the landscaping.

If we get all of that done in time

Opening Day will be

May 1, 2013!

We are excited to have gotten on Twitter and Instagram too!

Now if you are following,  you too can see the purchases we are making and the work we are doing in “real time”!

What a cool way to share the fun!

We want to thank all of you who went to our Facebook Fan Page over the last few days, “Liked” Us and “Shared” Us with your Facebook Friends! This will help us show the Planning Commission and the locals that will be come to our public hearing that we are well on the way to opening a successful Bed and Breakfast in their county!

We are almost to 1000 Likes!

Just 114 more!

Hurley and Brett at the Plantation

Hurley and Brett at the Plantation

I think Hurley deserves that Monster Chew Bone!

We will share the pictures of him getting it once we give it to him!

Facebook Link

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Hurley | 37 Comments »

One Week!

Feb. 5th 2013

important date

A week from today, almost to the minute, Brett and I will be heading to our first public hearing for the Planning Commission for our Zoning Permit. I can’t tell you how long this has felt like, but I can tell you that we are so excited! We are asking anyone in the area of Belle Grove (Fredericksburg, Stafford, King George, Port Royal and others) to please consider coming to support us! The Meeting will be held at the follow:

King George County Planning Commission Meeting

Board Room of the Revercomb Building

10459 Courthouse Drive

King George, Virginia 22485

 7:00 pm

Thumbs Up

We could use all the support we can get!


Want to see the Plantation before we open?

Here’s  you chance!

This weekend we are heading up to the plantation on late Friday night. Then on Saturday we are going to be tackling the bricks that lay around the house in the old walkways. We are going to pull them and stage them for use in walkways and the front gate entry when we start working on the landscaping. Anyone that would like to join us, we welcome the help! Just come by the plantation! We should be getting started around 11am. Who knows, we may find an artifact or two! Free tour of the plantation to those that join us!


Donations Needed!

We have added a donation button located at the top left side of our blog! We are working really hard to put together funds to do the needed improvements on the outbuildings. These priceless pieces of living history are still standing and have an awesome story to tell! We have three buildings; Ice House, Smokehouse (in the worse condition) and Summer Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen is half kitchen and half slave quarters. We hope to open the Summer Kitchen as a small museum. The kitchen side will tell the story of the plantation and the families that lived there. The slave quarter side will tell the story of the slaves that lived, served and died on this plantation. Please help us by making a donation, big or small, it means the world to us and this plantation!

The Donations are through Paypal. But if you don’t have a Paypal account, look to the bottom left side of the Paypal page. You can may a donation using your credit card! Secure and Safe!

Thank you for any help!

Facebook Link

Help Us Reach 1000!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Hurley | 33 Comments »

Day Off for Meeting

Jan. 9th 2013


On Tuesday, Brett and I had a meeting back at the plantation with several of the key people we need to get through our zoning process. As we drove up to the plantation, I spent the time playing with Twitter and learning some of the functions on my Twitter app. By the time we arrived at the plantation, I think I have figured some of it out.



I am not sure if you notice, but we also got “Pinned”!


The first person to arrive was Doug from Fredericksburg Paving. He is going to be doing the paving we need at the entry from the highway. Then we had two officials from King George arrive, followed the representative from the Virginia Department of Transportation. As we were waiting, we were talking with everyone about the history of the plantation. And just as if it were on cue, over our head flew five eagles.


As we walked down the long driveway, I was talking to the VDOT rep and Doug. I asked them if they knew who all had rode or walked down this plantation drive. It was so much fun watching their faces as I told them about General Ambrose Burnside during the Civil War and the escape route of John Wilkes Booth and the detachment that followed and had stopped at the plantation to rest. I have to say for me, I still get chill bumps knowing the history that has passed through our plantation.

After viewing the drive and entry and reviewing the plan for the parking area, we got our answer as to what we needed to do for each. For the entry from the highway, we are not going to have to move the entry twenty feet to the north…whew! We just need to widen it as far as we can without adding a new covert or moving any utilities. As for the long driveway from the entry to front gate entry, we will be expanding the drive to 18 feet. We are currently at 14 feet. We may have to trim some of the limbs of the Red Cedars that line the drive, but at least we won’t have to cut any of these historic trees down. As for the circle drive around the bowling green, we will need to expand it out to 16 feet. It is also at 14 feet like the long drive. We will use the circle drive as a one way so we won’t need to have places for two cars to pass.

After all the zoning talk, Brett and I walked everyone through the Mansion. Only one of the visitors had ever been in the house. He had come during the restoration, but had not seen it since it was completed. As we walked around, we shared history and our ideas for each room. Giving tours of this grand house is one thing I have to say I just love. To be about to share the history that walked these halls is just…. priceless.

Ferry FarmBoyhood Home of George Washington

Ferry Farm
Boyhood Home of George Washington

After we said our “good-bye” we decided to head to Historic Fredericksburg for a bite to eat. But being that we were here during the week, I talked Brett into stopping at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home to see our favorite archaeologists, Mara and Jason. WE also got to meet a new friend Melanie. I brought along our new finds to see what we had. Of course, all the small items were all 2oth century, so no excitement there. But I know Mara is really into bottles, so I couldn’t wait to see if our bottle was something special.



First intact artifact!  Bottle with screw top

First intact artifact! Bottle with screw top

After examining it, she thought it could be an extract bottle or medicine bottle dating somewhere around 1925-1928. Ok, so it’s not Civil War or Colonial, but I could take that. Plus it was the first item we had intact. After we arrived home, she had sent me an update on the bottle. Here is her final outcome:

The bottle is indeed an extract bottle, although from what company remains to be seen.  It does not appear to be utilized by Sauers, however. The reason we can never be sure of what company utilized this bottle is that the form is still prevalent today. So, the company that made the bottle was the Brockway Glass Company.  This mark was utilized since 1925 so the bottle dates anywhere after that.  They merged with Owens-Illinois Glass Co. in 1988 and that’s when that mark when out of use.”

So it could be anywhere from 1925 to 1988. Darn! But that’s okay. We are going to find so much more as we start doing landscaping!

Capital Ale HouseFredericksburg

Capital Ale House

We decided to stop at Capital Ale House on Caroline Street in Historic Fredericksburg for a bite. We have been here several times and it didn’t take long to figure out what we wanted.

Bavarian Pretzel with Sweet Bavarian Mustard

Bavarian Pretzel with Sweet Bavarian Mustard

Fried Potato and Cheese Pierogies with Onion and Applewood Bacon Bits topped with Melted Havarti Cheese and Herb Sour Cream

Fried Potato and Cheese Pierogies with Onion and Applewood Bacon Bits topped with Melted Havarti Cheese and Herb Sour Cream

The best part was that we were able to see the manager we had meant the first time we came. Because it was in the middle of the afternoon and everyone else was at work, we were able to talk and catch up on things. When you come to see us, you have to stop in and see Jason and grab some awesome food!

As we headed home, we took a road that cuts through our plantation called Port Conway Road. We made a quick stop in an area called Dogue. Down the road from this area is another old plantation that dates back to the Colonial period called Cleves Plantation.

Cleves Plantation

Cleves Plantation

I had found it one day when I was exploring the area. You can’t really see the plantation house, but you can just image what it must look like. I found out today though that the original Colonial home burned down and that the house we saw was built in the early 1900s. I may have to do some research to find out more for you later.

As we arrived at our plantation and headed over the James Madison Bridge, I was able to catch the sun slipping down behind the trees across the river from our plantation.

Sunset as we cross the James Madison Bridge. Belle Grove is to the right on the opposite bank.

Sunset as we cross the James Madison Bridge.
Belle Grove is to the right on the opposite bank.

The sunset continued as we passed through Caroline County into Essex County.

Sunset across the Virginia  Country side in Essex County

Sunset across the Virginia Country side in Essex County

It was just so beautiful and wonderful end to our day of skipping work.

See more pictures and updates about Belle Grove on our Facebook Page!

Facebook Link

Have you sent in your Cookie Recipe? 

Don’t forget! 

Deadline is January 31st!

Cookie Contest 2013

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Food and Recipes | 40 Comments »

An Exciting Day at the Plantation

Jan. 6th 2013


Yesterday, we headed back to the plantation to meet with our landscape contractor, Linda from Arrowwood Landscape Design from Fredericksburg. We need to start the work on our driveway, entry to the plantation, sidewalks, parking area and grading of the grounds.

When we arrived at the plantation, the air was cool but the sun was shining and the sky was blue. As I got out of the car, to our delight, five eagles were cruising the currents, circling over the Mansion. Of course, my small camera just couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture of them. But in the picture I did get, you can see them just over the house. It was amazing to see them.

Eagles flying over the Mansion at Belle Grove

Eagles flying over the Mansion at Belle Grove

Once Linda and her helper, Rick arrived, they got with Brett to start discussing the ins and outs of what we want for each of those areas. I wasn’t really needed to talk with them, so I left to do some walking around the grounds and taking pictures.

Brett, Linda and Rick planning the driveway and parking area

Brett, Linda and Rick planning the driveway and parking area

I wanted to show you some recent pictures of the trees we have in the Bowling Green. A lot of you made the suggestion for us to add some Magnolias. Well, we have two beautiful ones in the Bowling Green.

Hickory, Sweet Gum and Magnolia (l to r)Trees in and around the Bowling Green on the Carriage side

Hickory, Sweet Gum and Magnolia (l to r)
Trees in and around the Bowling Green on the Carriage side

Our Second Magnolia

Our Second Magnolia

We did talk about which trees we are going to remove. There are three that we feel the need to remove, possibly four. The first one is the Hickory that is located just in front of the house.

Hickory in front of the house on the Carriage side. It is within 40 - 50 feet  of the house

Hickory in front of the house on the Carriage side. It is within 40 – 50 feet of the house

Hickory in front of the house - Check out the size of this truck! It has to be 200 - 300 years old!

Hickory in front of the house – Check out the size of this truck! It has to be 200 – 300 years old!

The second is a Maple that is just behind another Maple in the center of the Bowling Green. This Maple has lost a lot of its top and is mostly a straight truck with little limbs.

The Second Maple we are going to have to remove is the second tree from the left.

The Second Maple we are going to have to remove is the third tree from the left not counting the Magnolia.

The third is the Walnut located towards the front gate entry. It has lost most of its top and sides. It also has insects in the truck eating away at it.

Walnut located just beside the front entry gate

Walnut located just beside the front entry gate

The fourth is a Sweet Gum located just to the left of one of the Magnolias. It is a really health tree, but it throws off a lot of gum balls. It’s not on the “ax list” yet, but we are talking about it. You can see it in the first picture of tree with the Hickory and Magnolia.

This is an Elm that is the first large tree you see as  you enter the gate. This old man will be staying.

This is an Elm that is the first large tree you see as you enter the gate. This old man will be staying.

This is a Holly Tree. It still has its berries on it. It will be staying too.

This is a Holly Tree. It still has its berries on it. It will be staying too.

I am not sure what kind of tree this is. Does anyone know?

I am not sure what kind of tree this is. Does anyone know? The rest of the driveway is fulled with Cedar Trees.

It has these little balls on it. I don't have a clue.

It has these little balls on it. I don’t have a clue.

One of the requirements that we are facing to get our zoning is to expand the driveway into the plantation. Currently it is 14 feet across, but the county has requested that we make it 20 feet across to allow for two car traffic. This could be an issue as there are ancient trees that have lined this drive that may have to be cut down if they are in the way of the expansion. So we needed to get out to the drive and walk it to see what might need to moved. We found that in most places we could move the drive on a slight curve to avoid cutting any of them down, with the possibility of only one that might need to go. But it isn’t looking really good so it could be a blessing.

The entry from Highway 301

The entry from Highway 301

We are also going to be required to move the entry twenty feet to the north of the curr entry to match up to the cut through on the highway. This doesn’t sound like much, but the cost could be an issue. We are also going to have to pave that entry back twenty feet. This isn’t much of an issue. The cost isn’t too bad either.

But I look at it like this. Right now, you can drive past the entry of the plantation and see the Mansion at the end clearly. If we move the drive to the north and put in the curves to make the twenty feet across, you won’t be able to see the Mansion from the road. I kind of like this. It makes it more of a “Wow” when you do come up on it.

Looking down the current driveway towards the Mansion from the entry at Highway 301 (James Madison Highway)

Looking down the current driveway towards the Mansion from the entry at Highway 301 (James Madison Highway)

While Brett, Linda and Rick walked the grounds, I kept myself busy by walking the grounds by myself. I have to say I love this time of year to walk the plantation. The grass has turned and thinned so I can see more of the ground and less of the grass. This makes it a lot easier to see artifacts laying in the grass. I have found so much so far just walking around. Yesterday was not expectation. I found two pieces of glass, one bottom piece that I think is kind of modern and one that is a lot thinner than modern glass and has writing on it. I also found another green and white plate shard. It looks like pearl ware and if it is, it could date in the late 1800s.

Bottom of a bottle artifact.

Bottom of a bottle artifact.

Bottom of a bottle artifact.- reverse side

Bottom of a bottle artifact.- reverse side

Thinner glass with writing on it - artifact

Thinner glass with writing on it – artifact

Thinner glass with writing on it - artifact - Looks like Ls or Es - I'm not sure

Thinner glass with writing on it – artifact – Looks like Ls or Es – I’m not sure

Green Plate Shard - Maybe pearlware - around late 1800s

Green Plate Shard – Maybe pearlware – around late 1800s

Green Plate Shard - Maybe pearlware - around late 1800s - reverse side

Green Plate Shard – Maybe pearlware – around late 1800s – reverse side

But the most exciting piece was my first intact piece, a bottle. Of course it does have a twist top, but it looks like a medicine bottle. Could it be from the late 1800s? Or maybe early 1900s? I will have to do some research and see. Or I might need to consult with Ferry Farm to find out. Either way, it was so cool to find it in one piece.

First intact artifact!  Bottle with screw top - Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact! Bottle with screw top – Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact!  Bottle with screw top - Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact! Bottle with screw top – Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact!  Bottle with screw top - Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact! Bottle with screw top – Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact!  Bottle with screw top - Maybe early 1900s

First intact artifact! Bottle with screw top – Maybe early 1900s

Another issue that I am going to have to face is the parking area. They are going to have to remove several layers of top soil to put in the gravel we are going to need for the parking area. The top soil that is removed will be moved to another area of the grounds to help fill in when it is graded. The issue that I have to face is what if there are artifacts in the ground in this area? Everyone kind of got a laugh when I said for them just to pile it up in the Bowling Green and I would sift through it all. But I am serious! I don’t want to lose anything we might find. So I guess I need to find a metal detector to start doing some sweeps in this area. Then I will have to do some test holes to see if we have anything there. Wow, I’m starting to sound like an archeologist.

Linda and Brett looking over the parking area

Linda and Brett looking over the parking area

On our way back home from the plantation, we made a stop at the House Key in Yorktown. The owners will be doing our interior design. We had stopped there a week ago and saw a bed that we were drawn to. It is a beautiful walnut bed that was from the late 1800s. But what drew us to it was the craving in the headboard. It is a Dogwood design. This is one of the interior design elements in some of the door entries. After talking with them, we placed it on hold! We are going to put this bed into one of the Junior Suites called the “Hipkins-Bernard” Room.

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard RoomLate 1800s - Eastlake Style

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard Room
Late 1800s – Eastlake Style

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard RoomLate 1800s - Eastlake Style

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard Room
Late 1800s – Eastlake Style

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard RoomLate 1800s - Eastlake Style

Bed for the Hipkins-Bernard Room
Late 1800s – Eastlake Style

Dogwood Pattern in Head Board

Dogwood Pattern in Head Board

Dogwood Pattern in Door Frame

Dogwood Pattern in Door Frame

They were also able to show us two chairs that we really liked. One was a small love seat and the other was just a chair. Both are Victorian style and will go into a Master Suite upstairs called the “Turner” Room. Of course we will have them reupholstered to match the room. But they were great prices!

Victorian Period LoveseatRococo

Victorian Period Loveseat

Rococo Chair - Victorian Period

Rococo Chair – Victorian Period

And I think we are going to be able to get the “Wheat Back” Shield style chairs I want for the Formal Dining Room. They will need to be reproductions since we will be using them so much, but I just love this pattern and style!

Wheat Back Shield Chairs

Wheat Back Shield Chairs

Close up of the Wheat Back Design

Close up of the Wheat Back Design

This week we have a few things on our plate. Brett is meeting at the plantation on Tuesday with several people that are involved with the Zoning Approval.

I will be working on the website and getting us started on Twitter. Since we are now going to be doing a lot more things, I thought you might enjoy some up to date pictures and status of what is happening for us. If you have Twitter, please leave me your account in a comment so I can add you as a follower!

twitter logo

I am also going to look into starting a Pinterest account and a RSS feed. I am still learning how RSS works. I feel so lost with it. But give me some time to do the research, I will figure it out.



Don’t forget to submit our Cookie Recipe for the First Annual Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation Cookie Contest! Deadline for entries will be January 31st.

Cookie Contest 2013

To see more pictures of Belle Grove

Facebook Link

Please visit our Facebook Page!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 84 Comments »

Update on the Process

Jan. 2nd 2013


Well it is given and now it is taken away….

We just got word this afternoon that our Christmas Miracle has been reversed. We will not be in the January 8th public meeting for our zoning process as we had hoped. We are now scheduled for February 12th. This means that we not make our goal of the “Soft Opening” on March 16th, James Madison’s Birthday. We are looking now at our opening date to be around May 1st.


It’s time to make lemonade!

BUT…we aren’t going to look at this as a set back, but instead a gift of time to get things ready for the opening. We will plan for the first years end celebration on March 16, 2014 instead.

In the meantime…


Ladies and Gentlemen…. start your OVENS! 

We have kicked off our first annual “Official Cookie of Belle Grove Plantation” Cookie Contest yesterday!

What a “sweet” way to start the New Year!

Grab your favorite cookie recipe and enter to win a $100 Visa Gift Card! The winning cookie will serve as the Official Cookie for one year at Belle Grove Plantation! Remember to use unpublished recipes. Copyrighted recipes will not be accepted. If you have posted a recipe on your blog only, they can be used.

The Theme is:

“A Cookie James Madison Would Like.”

Cookie Contest 2013

Just click on James Madison to find out how to enter!

Facebook Link


Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 39 Comments »

Navigating a New Web Site

Dec. 28th 2012
Belle Grove Carriage side Balcony

Belle Grove Carriage Side Balcony

Since we are playing a waiting game with the Zoning Process, Brett and I are trying to get things done that we can do now. Besides finding vendors that we want to work with, we also need to start thinking about a website for the Bed and Breakfast.

I don’t know about you, but this is all new to me. I thought I was doing really well just managing a blog! So I knew that I was going to need to find someone that I could work with and that would have the patience to explain that different parts to me. I also wanted to find someone that I could trust. Someone that could see our vision for this Historic Plantation and would be able to help me convey it our visitors.

Thankfully I didn’t have to go far. We have someone that we have known for years. His name is Adam. We have known him since he was just a teenager. So when I went to him and asked for help, he was onboard with us.

Bull and Companywww

Bull and Company

Adam works with a company called “Bull & Company MediaWorks”.

From Bull & Company Media Works:

The Internet has forever changed the world of media.  Recognizing this fact, Bull & Company MediaWorks is positioned to maximize your company’s potential with our expertise in Internet marketing.  We true full-service Internet marketing under one roof, designing and executing Internet marketing plans that leverage all forms of media.

Adam started his career in the flooring business as a Project Manager / Sales Associate / “Do whatever needs to be done” Person. He gained a lot of experience mostly as a Project Manager.  Knowing nothing about web design, he started working for a company called Bullaka Productions (a full service web marketing company) as a part time project manager.  Through the years, he gained the knowledge on how to build websites (imagine that) using the most up to date technologies.  He has worked for companies such as Bull and Crowley MediaWorks, Regent University and Dominion Enterprises doing Web Design and Development.  One of the things he really loves about this field is it combines his love for technology and his heart to serve others.  Learning how he can serve others is a true joy!  On a more personal side of things, Adam’s family is one of the most important things to him. For Adam, there’s nothing better than to be a father and a husband!  For us, family is very important and having it be a big part of his life speaks volumes to us.

Adam Woods and Family

Adam Woods and Family

To contact Adam please email him at

or call him at 757-621-9194.

Please let him know that Michelle and Brett sent you!

So we have a web designer, now we need to put together the information they will need to build our website. Have you ever thought about all the information you need to put together a website? It’s almost mind blowing! So as I am sure you have figured out from my past postings, the first thing I did was research.

I started by looking at lots and lots and lots and lots of website. I didn’t just look at website that had to do with bed and breakfasts, though they were the most that I looked at. I wanted to get a good idea of what I liked and what I thought would work well for us. So I wrote down the web addresses of those that I want Adam to look at and what about them I liked.

Then I had to figure out how someone would navigate our website and what information I want our visitor to see. Talk about endless possibilities! I have seen all kinds of tabs and links in other websites. One thing I don’t want is for it to be too much information. I have seen websites that try to give you too many choices and you end up lost. I don’t want that.

The last thing we talked about is pictures. Adam tells me that it is generally this that holds up a website from being launched. He has suggested that we get someone professional to take them. While I have tons of pictures of the plantation and Mansion, they aren’t what I would want on the website. So now we have to find a professional photographer. Any Suggestions?

One of the things I have been thinking about doing to help me “see” our website is to make a mockup of the website using sheets of paper. This way I can see and adjust that I want. I am a simple person sometimes and need to use simple processes.

Now here is your chance to help us!

Tell me what you like or don’t like about websites for bed and breakfasts.

What do you feel is most important to you when you look at the website?

What could you do without?

Your opinion and advice will help us build an awesome website

that will serve this Historic Plantation for years to come!

Facebook Link

See more pictures of this Historic Plantation

on our Facebook Page!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History | 71 Comments »

No Christmas Miracles in Sight

Dec. 20th 2012


Well, short of a Christmas miracle, it doesn’t look like we are going to make our deadline for the Zoning Package submission.  There was one government agency that we needed to get their notes on the site plan from, but they didn’t give their notes to our surveyor yet. From what Brett heard from them, it is doubtful we will get their notes before the first of the year.

So what does this mean for us? Well, this means that the dates will have to be moved forward by one month. We will now have until January 19th to get our Zoning Package submitted to the County for them to place on their agenda for February. Then the first public meeting with the Planning Commission will be on February 12th. If we get the approval from the Planning Commission on February 12th, then we have to go to the Board of Supervisors and have a public meeting with them on March 19th. If they approve us, then we can get started and get our business license.

Sadly this means that we will not make our goal of having at least a “Soft Opening” on March 16th, James Madison’s Birthday. And that means we will not open on April 1st as we had hope. It looks like we won’t be able to open until May 1st.

Of course this makes us a little sad. We had hoped that we would have been a lot farther along by now, but when you have to work with others, not everyone has that sense of urgency you do. It’s just the nature of doing business. The number one rule for all business owners is to be FLEXIBLE.

So we could have a meltdown or let this ruin our weekend and holiday to come. But it is what it is. We can’t change it and there is no use in wasting energy on something we can’t change. We have been at this now for 526 days. We had to learn to be patient and flexible through this whole journey. I can’t say I haven’t shedded a tear or two. If I said that I would be lying. I have shedded many tears over this business, but in the end, it was only because we have wanted this so much.

I have known from the beginning that this was meant to be. I have seen the impossible happen as if it were confirmation of what we are doing.  Every time I cross that bridge and catch the first sight of Belle Grove, I know that we are supposed to be there. I feel that electric charge every time, just like it was the first day we saw it. I can’t explain why, but it was meant to be.

So we have another detour and it will keep us from opening as we had hoped. But it’s not going to keep us from finishing this journey. It will only slow us down a little. And what I have found out is that when these little detours happen, there is a reason for it. Somewhere down the line, we will find out that it was a good thing we were delayed. We just have to be patient and see what the next bend in the road has in store for us.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 50 Comments »

Its a Mad Rush!

Dec. 17th 2012


Two weeks ago, Brett met with the Zoning Director. At that time, he gave us some additions that he was going to need for our Zoning Package. These additions need to be submitted by December 20th. So over these last two weeks, we have been working with our surveyor, with Virginia Department of Transportation and the owner of Belle Grove to get those additions done and ready to be submitted. Today, I contacted Commonwealth Architects out of Richmond, Virginia. They completed the restoration work on Belle Grove between 1997 to 2003. One of the things we are going to is a letter from them that states the house was completed in a historic manner. We should have the letter tomorrow. Check one more off the list. But there are still just a few more things that need to come together for us to submit this one time.

Cross your fingers and say a prayer for us!

Curved Carriage side Porches

Curved Carriage side Porches

Once we submit this package on the 20th, we have some steps we will need to go through before zoning is done. On the 20th of December, the package will be delivered to the Board of Directors for the County. They will send the package to the Planning Commission from there. Once the Planning Commission gets it, they will hold a meeting on the 2nd Tuesday of January (which is January 8th) for the public. During this meeting the public is invited to come and give their views on the bed and breakfast. We will be present at this meeting too. We will have an opportunity to speak as well. If the Planning Commission approves it, then it will go back to the Board of Directors. They will hold a meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of February (which is February 19th) for the public. Again the public will be invited to come and give their views on the bed and breakfast. If the Board of Directors approves us, then we have our zoning approved.



All while this is going on, we are going to get busy with the improvements needed on the grounds and in the house. The house has been completely restored, but since it hasn’t had a residence since the restoration, all the systems will need to be tested. That includes the elevator. Yes, we have an elevator. We will also need to install the parking area and upgrade the driveway. Then there is the landscaping and hardscapes such as the sidewalks and such. We are hoping to get a lot of this started so we can jump quickly once the approval is done.

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

Riverside Portico Stairs Detail

If we get the approval done, we are hoping to do a “soft opening” on March 16, 2013. This will be James Madison’s Birthday. What better day to do our first “opening” than on his birthday. We are hoping to have a wonderful open house that day with possibly James and Dolley in attendance. And maybe a few more surprises.

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

Riverside (Front of the house) at Sunset

Then if we can get things completed on time we would like to have the Grand Opening on April 1st. This is going to be a lot of work and we are going to have to push hard, but I believe it can be done. That is if we don’t run into issues with the approval of the zoning. If we do, it could delay us a month or so. But I am going to stay positive and keep our nose to the grindstone.

The Scots holding their young king's nose to the grindstone

The Scots holding their young king’s nose to the grindstone 1651

By the way, did you ever wonder where that phrase came from?

Keep your nose to the grindstone” means applying yourself conscientiously to your work. There are two possible explanations as to where it came from.

One is that it comes from millers who check that the stone used for grinding wheat wasn’t overheating and burning the flour. They would do this by putting their nose to the stone in order to smell for any burning. The other is that it comes from when knife grinders would sharpening blades. They would bend over the stone or even lie flat on their fronts with their faces near the grindstone in order to hold the blade against the stone.

The first is likely not true. The stone used by millers were commonly called millstones, not grindstones. The two terms can be interchangeable but the distinction between the two was made at least as early as 1400. In a line from Turnament Toenham “Ther was gryndulstones in gravy, And mylstones in mawmany.”

While Middle English language is difficult to interpret it certainly shows that grindstones and millstones are distinct from each other. If the phrase came from milling you would expect the phrase to be “nose to the millstone“.

The second is be most likely correct. This is more in keeping with the notion of the continuous hard labor in being strapped to one’s bench.

The first known citation in 1532 is John Frith’s A mirrour or glasse to know thyselfe: “This Text holdeth their noses so hard to the grindstone, that it clean disfigureth their faces.”

Another thought too is that it refers to holding someone’s nose to the grindstone as a form of punishment. It is a cartoon from 1651 showing Charles II being lectured by his Scots subjects.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 44 Comments »