This story starts more than a year ago (and the blog post should’ve been written four months ago) – in the fall of 2012. A friend and I had driven out to Virginia for an AMC (Awana Ministry Conference) and had stopped at several historical places on the way … such as Monticello and Appomattox. When I got home, I blogged about our trip (as usual). I noticed that one lady in particular often liked my historical Virginia posts.
And so I went on her blog to see what she was all about. That’s when I first came in contact with Michelle Darnell and learned how she and her husband were renovating Belle Grove Plantation – the birthplace of James Madison. The plantation (in Port Conway, Virginia) was at one timed owned by the Conways – the family of James Madison’s mother, Nelly. (Nelly and James Madison Sr. didn’t live at Belle Grove, but she came back to her mother’s house to have her baby.) Although the current home was not built at the time of Madison’s birth, it is believed that the small house he was born in was on the same spot as the current home and it is officially recognized as James Madison’s birthplace. (The original house burned down and the current house was built in 1791.)
Then I learned that Belle Grove has another claim to fame – John Wilkes Booth and his companion, David Herold, escaped down to the Port Conway area and crossed the Rappahannoch River nearby. The detectives followed Booth’s trail to the river and some of them stopped (for a couple hours or so) at Belle Grove for food. One detective who had some serious wounds, spent the night in the front hallway.
This was all fascinating – and I would regularly check her blog to see how the renovations were coming along. With my “hobby” of visiting presidential sites – actually staying at the only one you can possibly stay at – would be very cool.
However – I figured it would be a long time before I got back to Virginia.
But then I got invited to another conference in Virginia in the fall of 2013 and this conference was very close to Belle Grove.
I emailed Michelle. The Belle Grove Bed and Breakfast would be open by then. I made reservations.
My friend Sue was with me and we arrived at Belle Grove on a cloudy afternoon. We drove down a long driveway to the circular drive. Michelle was out front, sweeping the steps and immediately came over to welcome us. The B&B had only been open for a few weeks … and we were the only guests there that night. (I don’t think that will happen too often.) She gave us a tour of the house (it’s huge) and then showed us to our rooms.
My room had a bedroom, a hallway with a couch (straight from the set of the Lincoln movie) and a black and white bathroom with a claw-foot tub.
Sue and I were hungry so we got back in the car and headed across the river to a place Michelle recommended – but first we also did the John Wilkes Booth “tour” – seeing a house in town where he had stopped and also the marker on the highway at the place where he was caught (which is now in the median strip).
We went back to the house and sat out on the second floor balcony for awhile, watching the lightning flash above the river … but then the rain started blowing on us, so we went in.
We went to our separate rooms. I sat on the bed, the sconces on the wall giving a warm glow to the room as I listened to the rain splattering on the windows. I could imagine it being 1800 and sitting there and writing a letter to a friend or family member on another plantation. Or maybe it’s 1865 and I’m writing in my journal about the events of the day …
The next morning we woke to a delicious breakfast of baked plums and lemon blueberry pancakes. As we ate, we chatted with Michelle …
We took a final walk around the grounds and checked out the summer kitchen – still very much like it was back in the day. The Darnells hope to make a museum about life at Belle Grove.
So, if you happen to be in Port Conway (Port Royal) Virginia – I highly recommend you stop by. Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can take a tour of this beautiful home.
With much sadness we had to leave … but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience … and to think I discovered Belle Grove because of my blog.