The Limelight: Belle Grove Plantation

Driving up the oval driveway, one is transported to the past as the Belle Grove Plantation appears through the trees. The elegant building harkens back to simpler times; the history and stories this building would tell if it could talk. Luckily, the plantation has innkeepers and owners, Brett and Michelle Darnell, to tell the stories for it.

“It’s important that we remember the history; whether it’s good or whether it’s bad, it needs to be remembered,” Michelle said.

Many people didn’t know the important background  surrounding the land until the Darnells opened it as a bed and breakfast in late 2013. It has been the Darnell’s dream since then to make sure the plantation is remembered.

The land has been in use since 1670 and during its life has been through many owners, one of these being the Conway family in the early 1700’s. Eleanor Conway was one of the members of this family.   She married James Madison Sr. and in March 1751 gave birth at Belle Grove to James Madison Jr., penman of the Constitution and 4th President of the United States. Mr. Madison lived at Belle Grove until he was around two years old.

The plantation also played a role on both sides of the American Civil War. The land was owned by the Turner family who sided with the Confederates during the conflict. The family was forced out of their home and the land became a Union Army Encampment in 1862. The land was returned to the Turners after the war and remained in the family until 1894.
 
After the turn of the century, the plantation passed through many hands until The Haas Corporation, bought it in 1987.

Seeing the home in disrepair, the Haas family began a major restoration process from 1997 to 2003. Once completed, the house stood vacant for many years until the Darnells came onto the scene. Before owning the plantation Michelle Darnell worked at a bank. On her 10-year anniversary she received a small plaque to commemorate the moment. Right then she knew she wanted to do something more with her life; to leave a mark.

So Michelle began searching diligently to find the right area to open a bed and breakfast. When she discovered Belle Grove she knew she belonged there. After much time and struggle getting the homestead ready for guests, the house now stands as a fulfillment of Michelle’s dream. People come from all over the world to view it. Some come for the history, others the architecture, and some visit because it’s a quiet spot of land away from the bustle of life.

“We love people coming back and seeing it,” Michelle said, “We often get people saying, ‘I wished I could have stayed here longer, we don’t want to leave.’”

In just a few short years after opening, Belle Grove became one of the top 25 bed and breakfasts in the United States. While Michelle has been very pleased with where the business has gone, she still believes the best part of the job is the people she meets.

“We learn things, meet great people and make friends,” Michelle said, “They come as guests and leave as friends.”

Some of the visitors amongst the inn seem to be more of the ghostly variety. One reason for the plantation’s fame has been the large number of ghosts sighted on the property. All of the ghostly visitors are friendly and some even play harmless pranks. Michelle even has a trio of Confederate soldier ghosts who will turn on the garage lights as she comes down the driveway.
After years of being alone in the old homestead, the ghosts of soldiers, stately men and women, plus a cat or two now have company from the living. The work of the Darnells has brought this historical site back to life through hard work and determination.

While the journey has been long and difficult, Michelle believes that everyone has the potential to be successful, but they have to make the choice to continue on their journey.

“The way I look at this journey is we have a destination we are heading for, and it’s bright and sunny when you start your journey and all of a sudden you’re going to hit a rainstorm. So then at that point you have a choice, you can either turn around and go home or turn the windshield wipers on and figure out how to get to the next step. That’s what we’ve done the whole way. Turn those windshield wipers on and keep going. We’ve made it this far and I hope to make it even further.”

If you would like to learn more about the Belle Grove Plantation please visit their website or their Facebook.
Michelle's Tip Michelle attributes much of her success to having a lot of great help and resources. She said reaching out and asking questions to other bed and breakfasts has helped her avoid making many mistakes. "We're not in competition, everyone is a partner," Michelle said. She also spoke about the importance of having a presence on social media. She manages a number of Facebook pages to help promote her business and other events she holds
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