In its three hundred year history, Belle Grove Plantation has stood witness to many of America’s greatest historic events and has hosted many famous and historical people. As the Plantation prepares for its first major fundraising event, a Blues Concert and Picnic Under the Stars on July 4, we caught up with representative Michelle Darnell for this week’s Friday Focus.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
A: Belle Grove Plantation, the birthplace of President James Madison, located in King George County Virginia, is now the home of Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast. Our Southern Plantation was established in 1670 on the banks of the Rappahannock River. Belle Grove’s stately, historic mansion has four master suites with private baths and views of the river and plantation. Each room is named after a family that owned Belle Grove Plantation through its history, and each is decorated with period antiques to reflect the period that a particular family lived at Belle Grove. Gourmet breakfasts await you in our formal dining room or on the riverside balcony. Social hour at 5:00pm will allow you to relax as you watch the sunset on the river.
Built in 1791, this mansion offers the charm of Southern days gone by. Here you will find the elegant Southern wedding of your dreams or a peaceful retreat for corporate and social gatherings. With historic and local attractions within easy drives and award-winning vineyards just around the corner, Belle Grove Plantation makes a great place to come home to after a day of adventure.
Just 90 minutes from Washington DC or Baltimore, 50 minutes from Richmond and less than a half hour from Fredericksburg, Belle Grove Plantation is a hidden jewel of the Northern Neck.
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: This one is a hard one to answer. We have had so many special moments since we opened in August 2013 and even before we opened. I have to say that one that sticks out in my mind was a very special visit we helped arrange for a local descendant of one of the owners of Belle Grove. Over the years, no access had been given to the public to allow others to come and enjoy the beauty of Belle Grove and to touch the ground where many of the local families’ forefathers once walked.
We were contacted by the wife of one of these families before we opened to arrange a very special birthday surprise. The family was about to move far away and the husband, who was a direct decedent as well as the family historian, had driven by this plantation many times, longing to come back and see where his forefather once called home.
His wife and I made an appointment on his birthday for them to come to the plantation. This was just a day or two before they were to leave for good. She blindfolded him and drove him to the plantation. As she helped him out of the car, you could feel the excitement of seeing his reaction once he knew where he was. When she removed the blindfold, his jaw dropped and I could swear I saw tears in his eyes.
That time with him was not only helpful to us as we were building the past history to preserve, but it was one of the most special times we had as we walked this decedent through the same halls his forefather had walked years ago.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Like with any business or historic landmark, our biggest challenge is money and fundraising. Our historic home, despite being here since 1791 and our plantation, founded in 1670, are really not very well-known landmarks. Most people assume that President Madison was born at Montpelier and don’t realize that he was actually born here; we have been working hard to get the word out to others who, like us, want to preserve this important landmark.
Our biggest challenge right now is the restoration and preservation of our three 1720 outbuildings. Our Summer Kitchen, Ice House and Smokehouse are the oldest buildings on the property and stood here when James Madison drew his first breath. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has even told us how important they are. Structures like our Summer Kitchen, which is half kitchen and half slave quarters, just aren’t around anymore from this time period, and it kills us as we stand by watching boards pop loose and bricks fall in, all while we rush to raise the needed funds to stabilize them and to restore them.
Our hope is to restore these structures back to the 1720 time period, and to make the Summer Kitchen into a small museum. We would like to use the kitchen side of to house the artifacts we have already found and to tell the story of the history of this elegant Southern plantation.
We would also like to take the slave quarter side of the Summer Kitchen and turn it into a memorial to the enslaved people of Belle Grove Plantation. While the slave cemetery has long been lost, we do have many of the names of the enslaved people from the early 1700s to just after the Civil War. We have uncovered them through death records, wills and inventories. Our goal is to place a bronze plaque in the slave quarter side of the Summer Kitchen to give these very important members of the plantation a name—to let everyone know that they were here, too.
Q: Are there any upcoming events?
A: On July 4, 2014, we will be having our first major fundraiser to help us restore, preserve and improve Belle Grove Plantation. This event will be a Blues Concert and Picnic Under the Stars at Belle Grove Plantation, starting at 6:00pm. We invite the public to bring their lawn chairs or blankets and come enjoy an evening of music, food and fun. There are no fireworks this year, but when you hear the voice of our main band, The Alexis P. Suter Band from New York, you won’t need fireworks—Alexis has a powerhouse voice that will not only excite you, but move you! We will also have an opening act, Mike Mallack from Maryland. His Southern-fried rock sound will make you swear that you are listening to and seeing Chris Daugherty.
Tickets are available through our online store or by calling us directly at 540-621-7340.
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
A: There are many ways you can help make a difference at Belle Grove Plantation. We have volunteers that help us in so many ways. You can see our list of volunteers on our website under our “Employment” page.
If you can’t volunteer, you can help us by spreading the word. ‘Like’ our Facebook page and share it with your friends and family. Ask them to share it with their friends and family. Help us by taking some of our postcards or brochures to local businesses and encourage them to display them.
Help us with our fund raising efforts. Besides donating yourself, you can help us in our upcoming donation drive to raise the needed funds to get us to the next steps in restoring, preserving and improving Belle Grove Plantation.
Support our public events, tours and bed and breakfast accommodations. By coming and enjoying our events, you are not only have a great time with us, you are helping to provide funds we so desperately need!