The James Madison Belle Grove Foundation
shares a great story of our history and the people who have walked before us. The Belle Grove Foundation’s mission is to preserve, restore, improve, maintain and educate the public about Belle Grove and its amazing American History. Michelle Darnell, shared with us the many, exciting events Belle Grove is hosting including Haunted Ghost Tours, Witches’ Tea Party, Spirits Festival, Masquerade Casino Night and so much more! Learn more about Belle Grove in this week’s Friday Focus.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
The Story of Belle Grove Plantation:
The property known today as Belle Grove Plantation
, was established in April 1670 as a one-thousand-acre tobacco farm. On March 16, 1751, James Madison, future President and the Father of the Constitution was born in the home of his grandparents, John Moore and Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore.
The mansion that stands today was first constructed in 1791 for France “Fanny” Bernard and William Bernard II by Fanny’s father, John Hipkins of Port Royal. It center section, which still stands today consisted of the Grand Hall, both upstairs and down, one room on each side of the hall, both upstairs and down. This Federal style home is known as a Tidewater style plantation home or a “two over two” style home.
In 1839, Belle Grove was sold to the Turner Family. Carolinus Turner purchased the property and set about creating a home that would help him find a wife. Ten years later, interior and exterior had a completely new look. Porticos were added to the front and back. Extensions were added to the north and south wings. The architecture was converted to a Greek Revival style home, which can be seen today. Heart of pine floors and “six over six” lead pane windows completed the new look.
Over the years, Belle Grove Plantation
would see many owners come and go. After the Turners left in 1894, the Thorton Family would call her home. In 1906, Captain John Fremont Jack would purchase Belle Grove as a place to experiment with his idea of growing alfalfa in Virginia to replenish the depleted soil. In 1916, Belle Grove would be purchase as a partnership of Otto Brandt and William Allen as a dairy farm. After the partnership ended just two years later, William Allen would purchase the half share and hold Belle Grove until 1930. In 1930, the Hooker Family would purchase Belle Grove as a Summer Vacation home and would move in permanently after retiring. Mr. Hooker would pass away in 1974 and Mrs. Hooker would follow in 1981.
In 1987, the Haas Family from Vienna, Austria would purchase Belle Grove. By the time the Haas Family arrived, Belle Grove had fallen into disrepair. Most of the rooms had been damaged by leaks in the roof and the weight of the roof, which were blue shingles were crushing the house. The restoration started in 1997 and would be completed in 2003. The cost of restoration was $3.5 million.
During the restoration, the exterior was removed and numbered. Steel beams were placed in the basement with the floor joist to support the home. Steel beams were added to support walls to ensure the home would stand for another 200 years. Once the exterior was completed, the interior was started. Just as the exterior, the interior was dismantled and numbered. After replacing the original woodwork, a new coat of plaster was added. The entire restoration process was done under the watchful eye of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Techniques used, such as tuck work for the old bricks, were specialized as to not damage the original brick and woodwork.
After the restoration was completed, Belle Grove Plantation stood empty until 2011. On July 12, 2011, Brett and Michelle Darnell walked into the home at Belle Grove Plantation. Desiring to open it as a luxury bed and breakfast as well as a historic site and special event venue, Brett and Michelle spent the next year and half preparing for the biggest adventure of their lives. Leasing the property from the Haas Family in August 2012, Brett and Michelle spent the next year making minor repairs, running and repairing systems and purchasing the endless furniture and décor for Belle Grove. Michelle would spend thousands of hours researching and uncovering the lost history of Belle Grove Plantation. Brett and Michelle opened the door of Belle Grove Plantation to the public on August 1, 2013.
Since opening, Brett and Michelle have worked to preserve, restore, improve, maintain and educate others about Belle Grove and its long history. From working with master gardeners to reshape the grounds to working with archeologists to uncover artifacts that tell the story of its history, their goal is to bring Belle Grove and its history back to the world.
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
Our favorite moment comes every day we open our doors. Its seeing the faces of visitors discovering Belle Grove Plantation for the first time. From starting their tour of the mansion to shaking our hands after the tour with many saying that they just can’t believe how wonderful this place is and how our efforts so far, is amazing.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Like any historic location today, we face the challenge of getting our name and location out and finding the funding
to complete needed restoration and preservation efforts.
Q: Are there any upcoming events?
Spirits Festival – Saturday, September 8th, 12pm to 6pm
Art – Wine – Distilled Spirits – Cigars – Vendors – Food - Music
Come experience the pleasures of the palate from featured Virginia Wineries and Distilleries. Enjoy live music from regional bands, delicious food options, unique artisans and crafters. Beer will be available to purchase by the glass.
All proceeds from this event go to benefit the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation. This non-profit organization is committed to assist in the preservation, restoration, improvement, maintenance and education of the public about Belle Grove Plantation and its amazing American History.
National Ghost Hunting Weekend with Argos Paranormal
Friday, September 28th and Saturday, September 29th
7:00pm to 3:00am
“A Haunting is History Wishing to be Heard.”
Motto of Haunted Journey
On Saturday, September 29th from 7pm to 3am, the world will unite as one to tell its historic story through the haunted. Join us as we take part in the National Ghost Hunting Day’s “Worlds Larger Ghost Hunt”. Come be a part of this history making night at Belle Grove Plantation, one of the Most Haunted Plantation in Virginia.
National Ghost Hunting Day was founded in July 2016 by Haunted Journeys and is held on the last Saturday of each September. It noble intention is to globally observe the most haunted properties in the world while recognizing the novice, curious, experts and professionals that investigate paranormal activity in these iconic locations.
National Ghost Hunting Day is an event that promotes an annual Worlds Largest Ghost Hunt. This event serves as the engine to encourage Paranormal Research including skills and techniques used in Paranormal investigation, Public Education and Historic reservation of these Historic Sites. Over 150 Paranormal Teams will investigate these historic sites during this event.
Through this event, Haunted Journey will shine a spotlight on historic sites. The proceeds raised by these locations will return 100% to the historic site for preservation.
Fundraising Gala – The Center of the Arts – Glen Allen, Virginia
Friday, October 12th, 6pm to 9pm
Enjoy an evening of great music, great food, auctions and raffles and featuring Psychic Medium JMarie for an hour group reading. Ticket and Information will be posted soon on our website.
Not So Wicked Witch’s Tea Party
Saturday, October 27th, 1pm
Halloween is approaching and it time for all good witches to enjoy the delights of the season. Dress in your favorite witch’s hat and take a sip from our cauldron!
Bring along your best ghoul, goblin or other worldly creatures and enjoy the trick or treats we will have in store for you! Enjoy Ghostly Stories of Belle Grove and a few other special surprises.
Halloween Ghost Hunting with Argos Paranormal
Friday, October 26th and Saturday, October 27th
7:00pm to 3:00am
#1 Most Haunted Plantation, with exclusive access to the most haunted areas!
Thursday, November 22nd, 1pm
Nothing compares with the rich tradition of gathering together and celebrating the abundant of the season. Belle Grove Plantation is a great place to share that special meal with your family and friends. Thanksgiving Dinner is set in our historic mansion in a family style tables. Bring family and friends or make new friends as we break bread together.
One of the best meals is one that you don’t have to worry about. Let us handle all the details from turkey to pumpkin and pecan pie.
Deck the Halls
Monday, November 26th to Friday, November 30th
Each year, we decorate Belle Grove Plantation’s Historic Mansion with fresh greenery and lots of love. In 2017, we opened our doors to the public to come and take part in a decorating contest. Groups select one of the 13 rooms in the mansion as their project. Lots of planning goes into creating beautiful spaces using fresh cut greenery and classic decorations.
Through the month of December, we open the mansion for our Christmas Tours and Afternoon Teas. Those who come to visit Belle Grove are asked to vote for their favorite room. On January 2nd
, we total up the votes and announce the top three winners. The winners not only get bragging rights for the year but will receive specially selected prizes for the group.
Registration will begin soon. Watch our Calendar page on our website for the announcement.
Brunch with Santa
Saturday, December 1st, 11am to 1pm
Come have brunch with the kids and meet Santa! Ticket and Information will be posted soon to our website.
Saturday, December 8th and Saturday, December 15th, 1pm
Come join us for a delightful afternoon in our historic mansion fully decked out for Christmas. Tea and delicious foods will help get you into the holiday spirit. Enjoy our Afternoon Tea and take a tour of our historic mansion is one of the most delightful times of the year. Our special menu of two flavors of scones, three flavors of tea sandwiches and three flavors of petite desserts will be served with our special blends of loose-leaf tea.
After your Holiday Mansion Tour – VOTE for your favorite decorated room!
New Years Eve Masquerade Casino Night
Monday, December 31st, 6pm
Hosted by the James Madison Belle Grove Foundation
The James Madison Belle Grove Foundation is hosting our Annual New Year’s Eve charity event – The James Madison Belle Grove Foundation Casino Masquerade Ball.
Belle Grove Plantation’s Masquerade Ball is famous for its intriguing party guests and excitement during the evening as everybody will show off their most fabulous masquerade masks and New Year’s party attire!
New Year’s Day Good Luck Dinner
Tuesday, January 1st, 1pm
After a fun filled night at our New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball, join us for New Year’s Day Good Luck Dinner.
According to Southern tradition that dates to the 1700s, this meal with Southern- Style Collard Greens, Black-eyed Pea, Cornbread, Hoppin’ John and Ham will bring you fortune in the year to come.
Belle Grove Plantation is a great place to share that special meal with your family and friends. New Year’s Day Good Luck Dinner is set in our historic mansion in a family style tables. Bring family and friends or make new friends as we break bread together.
More events to be adding this week! Check our website for more details.
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
The Spirits Festival is one of our biggest fundraising events during the year. We bring hundreds possibly thousands this year from Washington DC and Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Maryland, Richmond and the surrounding areas.
We are currently looking for:
Volunteers to work the festival for one or two shifts (11am to 3pm and 3pm to 7:00pm) – volunteers would be helping check people in (must be 21 or older to work the welcome tent), walking around checking trash cans, directing traffic and parking, set up (11am to 3pm shifts) and break down (3pm to 7pm shift). For those who volunteer, we are giving two free tickets to the festival and a free tour of the mansion (if space is available for tours).
Vendors to set up and sell their products or services during the festival. Arts and Craft, Direct Sales, Charity Organizations. If you want to be a vendor, complete the Spirits Festival Application and have it turned in by September 1, 2018. For those who come through you, we are offering a special price of $25 for their space of 10x10. This is 50% off the normal price.
Sponsorships are still available for companies and organizations to help with the Spirits Festival or our Fundraising Gala on Friday, October 12th
in Glen Allen, Virginia. Sponsors just need to contact us so we can send a Sponsorship Application.
The more people that come and enjoy our Spirits Festival, the bigger it becomes the following year! And most of all the more people learn of Belle Grove and the more funds are raised to help us with the PRIME Mission of preservation, restoration, improvement, maintaining and educating the public about Belle Grove and its amazing American History.
Facebooks – Belle Grove Plantation at Port Conway and James Madison Belle Grove Foundation
Twitter - BelleGroveVA