Wow what a week it has been! While we didn’t go to a wonderful location for rest and relaxation, we couldn’t have picked a better week’s worth of locations to go to. I will have to tell you that it is going to take me several days to cover all that we have done and seen this last week. So I hope you will be able to check back over the next few days!
After we returned on Monday from our time at the plantation, the Schooler House Bed and Breakfast and our meeting at Stratford Hall, we spent Tuesday just getting things done around the house in Chesapeake and preparing for the week of activities and meetings we had scheduled. It was near impossible to go to sleep on Tuesday night! With what lay ahead of us, I was eager to get it going!
On Wednesday morning, we rose at 6:00am (yes, 6am on a vacation day!) to get ready and head out to Richmond, Virginia. We had two appointments scheduled for Wednesday at two different locations. Best of all, we were going to meet up with our friend Terri, who lives in Richmond, for lunch. She was able to join us for the last meeting of the day.
Our first stop was at the Virginia Historic Society. I have been there before when I was doing some of my initial research on Belle Grove. It had been a whirlwind of a stop too! I had come in with just about one hour to view several pieces. I had pulled the reference information and had a list ready to go. These pieces were archive special collection pieces so I had to submit a request for each one. But thankfully, the librarians had worked with me and we were able to pull every one of them! I have to say a special thank you to Frances Pollard, one of the head librarians. She had pulled other pieces as well as the ones I knew about to help me complete some of the history of Belle Grove.
It was through Ms. Pollard that months later the Washington Post came calling for an interview on Belle Grove and my research. Most don’t know about the article in the Washington Post. It was during the early stages of our work on the lease contract and I wasn’t able to publish anything with Belle Grove’s name or location. I have to tell you it was really hard not to tell! The article was about researching family history. The Washington Post had come to the Virginia Historic Society to do the piece and Ms. Pollard had remembered my work and referred them to me. I never got to see the article, but how proud I was to tell about all the history we had uncovered by then.
When I visited the Virginia Historic Society before, there were several pieces I was not able to see because they were museum display pieces which required a special showing. Since we had the time during this working vacation, I decided to make an appointment to finally see them. Most of them were pictures of portraits that I had already seen. I had hoped to see the real portraits, but most were just copies of them. One piece we saw was a copy of the glass plate photo of Belle Grove in 1894. Their copy of the photo was a little clearer than ours and had more of the picture then ours. To our great surprise, it revealed more than we ever expected!
In the glass plate photo, you can clearly see more of the extension of the house. It also revealed that the third section of the house that we had long thought was added by the Hookers in the 1950s was in fact added a lot earlier. We now believe that it was added by the Turner family sometime between 1839 and 1876! Another reveal came in the way of who was on the portico. In the past, from our photo, we thought the person standing there was an African-American woman in a long white dress. We thought that she might be a former slave of the plantation that had decided not to leave. But as we looked at the photo, we realized that it wasn’t a woman at all! It turned out to be a man in a white suit sitting in a chair. We also found that he wasn’t alone! Sitting beside him is a small boy in a dark suit! Who have we found? I have a rough idea who it could be, but I am going to have to do some more research to find the true identity of both people. More to come on this discovery!
There was one more piece that we saw that was not on my list before. I had added it this time. It was the first piece we saw. Heather Beattie, Museum Collections Manager was our guide for this special viewing. When we arrived at the viewing room, she presented a small box. She opened the box to reveal a beautiful necklace made of gold and what looked like brown beads. It wasn’t very long, may be about 12 to 14 inches. But I knew what it was and was so overjoyed to have a chance to see it. This necklace was made by Nellie Madison Hite, sister of James Madison. What appear to be brown beads are in fact hair that had been twisted into the shape you see. The hair used for this necklace was that of President James Madison. I was so overwhelmed! Sadly we weren’t able to pick it up or touch it, but to come this close to the man himself! We could never be any closer to him unless we dug him up! It was truly very special!
After we finished with our special viewing, we headed up to the museum at the Historic Society. If you have never stopped by there, you are really missing something special! And best of all, it is free! Their collections are arranged by time periods. You can see items from the Native American’s who called Virginia home before the first settlers arrived to items from the Civil War to famous Virginians such as Arthur Ashe and Thomas Jefferson.
After our visit to the Virginia Historic Society, Brett and I headed over to an area in Richmond called Carytown. We were to meet Terri there for lunch at a place called The Can Can. But we arrived a little early so we took advantage of the extra time and hit some of the antique stores. Carytown is a town inside the city of Richmond. They have been revitalizing this area in what looks like a small town main street area. The shops are wide ranging from antiques to wine to consignment shops to places to eat. It all has the home town feel and it is easy to forget you are in a large capital city.
Our first stop was at Thomas Hines Antique Store. This store covers several store fronts and is what I would call an upscale antique store. When Brett and I entered, it took my breath away. I quickly told Brett that I would “take one of each”. The owner who was behind a shelf quickly responded, “Good, I’ll wrap it up for you.” Mr. Hines has been in the antique business since he was seven years old. Now in his seventies, he was able to point out pieces that would fit our needs for periods of the families various families that lived at Belle Grove. But the one thing that he told us that I hope to remember when we start making our purchases is this. He told us, “Make sure you buy the real thing. Because the people your plantation will attract will be the ones who will know the difference.” What a wise man he is.
From there we headed down the street looking into windows and enjoying the warmth of the sun. The next antique store we found was on a side street about a block away from Thomas Hines’ place. It was called the Sheppard Street Antiques Store. It isn’t a large as Thomas Hines’ place, but it has some really nice accent pieces. One of the first things that drew my attention was a small silver plated tea pot. It wasn’t big enough for an Afternoon Tea Social, but it would have been great for a one or two person tea. I didn’t get it and of course now I wish I had. Maybe I can make it back there again soon.
There was one piece that I got very excited about when I saw it. It was a set of spoons that were of the “Old Colonial Times” style. It is sterling silver and is made by Towle. This is the style I want for Belle Grove Plantation. It has that old charm and classic look that I feel would just be perfect for the dining table. As most of you noticed on the spoon bowls, the bowls are fluted like a pumpkin. I have used this style before at Schooler House Bed and Breakfast and just love the feel and look. I wasn’t able to get this set of spoons though. They are for chocolate dessert service and there were only a few pieces. Maybe soon I can find that set I need.
I did however find one piece that I was able to get. They had a box of items headed to auction and they allowed Brett and me to look through it. I came across a small silver-plated creamer with small feet and a tiny lid on top. When I asked about the price, I couldn’t say no. So one day when you are sitting at our dining table enjoying breakfast, as you reach for this creamer to fill your coffee or tea, you will know how it came to grace our table.
After shopping we met up with Terri at the Can Can. This brasserie is done in the style of a 1920s French Café. We decided to sit outside and enjoy the warm day and soft breeze. Our waiter, John was a lot of fun and very helpful in selecting a dish from their wonderful menu. And believe me it was really hard to select something! It all looked so good!
Brett selected the Croque Madame. This is a variation of the Croque Monsieur, which is an open face ham and cheese sandwich. For the Croque Madame, they add a sun-side up fried egg. But I have to tell you that it is no ordinary ham and cheese sandwich.
The ham is fresh made (no deli slices here) and Gruyere Cheese.
Terri selected the Chicken Crepe. This crepe is filled with chicken and
topped with braised Lentil and Mushroom Ragout and an Apple Brie Fondue.
I selected the Cheese Plate. I didn’t want a lot to eat but this plate was filled with such delights! It has Camembert, Saint Andre and Fourme de’Ambert Cheese with slices of Smoke Sausage and Pate and a side of Green and Kalamata Olives and a Blueberry Compote.
As we sat there enjoying our meal, I could almost swear we were sitting at a road side café in France!
Tomorrow – On to the Virginia House!