About Belle Grove Plantation

Belle Grove Main

Belle Grove Plantation is located in Port Conway, Virginia, across the Rappahannock River from Historic Port Royal, Virginia. Belle Grove Plantation is one of many historic plantations located in King George County.

Belle Grove Plantation started as a part of a 5000+ acre land grant given to Thomas Chetwood and John Prossor by the governor of Virginia, William Berkley in 1668. This was compensation for bringing 162 people from England to help expand the colonies in the New World. In 1670, 1000 acres was sold by John Prossor to Anthony Savage and his wife, Alice Stafford Savage. At the death of Anthony Savage, 700 acres would pass to his son-in-law, Frances Thornton and 300 was passed to Frances’s daughter, Margaret to help her establish her own farm with his first cousin, William Strother, II from the plantation next door. This family would hold that 700 acre plantation for 120 years and would become the Conway Family. The plantation received its official name from John Moore, second husband of Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore.

Nelly Madison

Nelly Madison

On January 9, 1731, Eleanor Rose Conway was born to Francis Conway I and Rebecca Catlett Conway on this plantation. She would grow up on the plantation and loved it dearly. This is where she would meet a handsome gentleman, who had traveled to sell and ship his tobacco at the shipping wharf located across the river in Port Royal. On September 15, 1749, she would marry James Madison Sr. of Orange County, Virginia. Shortly before giving birth to her first child, Nelly Madison, as she was called, traveled back to Belle Grove Plantation to be with her mother for the birth. On March 16, 1751, she gave birth to James Madison. “Jemmy” as he was later called, would grow up to become the fourth President of the United States and is known as the Father of the Constitution.

James Madison

James Madison

In 1783, Captain Francis Conway III set aside 13 acres of land from Belle Grove to lay out what would become Port Conway. In 1784, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act to establish it. Port Conway was set up into 1 acre lots and had a ferry that transported passengers and goods across the Rappahannock to Port Royal.

Belle Grove Carriage Side

Belle Grove Carriage Side

In 1790, Captain Francis Conway sold Belle Grove to John Hipkins of Port Royal. John was a wealthy merchant and ship owner. He purchased Belle Grove for his only child, Frances “Fanny” Hipkins Bernard and her husband, William Bernard. In 1791, John Hipkins built the center section of the current home over what is believed to have been the Conway house’s basement. Fanny would only live there for ten years. After her death, William remarried and moved his new wife and family to Mansfield Plantation in Stafford County, Virginia. Belle Grove would be rented until the second son; William Bernard III married and moved his family into the home. In 1822, William Bernard II passed and the home was once again leased until it passed to the husbands of his two daughters.

Fanny Hipkins Bernard

Fanny Hipkins Bernard

William Bernard III

William Bernard III

Belle Grove would be sold in 1839 to a very prominent family, The Turners. Carolinus Turner and his young family moved in and quickly made some significant changes to the house. It was this family that gave Belle Grove its porticos and wind extensions. Carolinus would also start acquiring the one acre lots of Port Conway until he had completely reunited the land to Belle Grove.

Belle Grove Riverside Portico and Balcony

Belle Grove
Riverside Portico and Balcony

Curved Porches on the Carriage side

Curved Porches on the Carriage side

One of the two curved doors on the Carriage side

One of the two curved doors on the Carriage side

Stone Curved Stairs on Riverside Portico

Stone Curved Stairs on Riverside Portico

He would donate part of that land to establish the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, which still stands near the entry to Belle Grove Plantation today. It was during the Turner family’s ownership that Belle Grove would be involved in the Civil War. Because of the narrowing of the Rappahannock River at Port Conway and Port Royal, both the Union and Confederate Armies saw this area as a strategic location for crossing. The area exchanged hands many times. Union Gunboats would patrol the river and it is believed that Belle Grove would serve as a Union Headquarters. Thankfully, Belle Grove Plantation escaped damage and remained intact after the war.

Emmanuel Espiscopal Church

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

In April, 1865, Belle Grove Plantation would once again become the backdrop for history. On morning of April 24, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and David Harold used the ferry at Belle Grove to cross the Rappahannock River to Port Royal and on to Garrett’s Farm just 3 miles away. That afternoon, the detachment pursuing Booth and Harold, arrived at Belle Grove Plantation. Here Carolinus allowed them to rest in the front yard and offered them a meal. One of the officers, Lt. Everton Congar, was even allowed to sleep in the front hallway of Belle Grove. A short time later, the detachment crossed on the same ferry as Booth and Harold, and on April 26, 1865, the detachment caught up with Booth and Harold at Garrett’s Farm, capturing Harold and killing Booth. The Turner Family would continue to own Belle Grove until Carolinus’ death in 1876.

Tombstone of Carolinus TurnerLocated at Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Tombstone of Carolinus Turner
Located at Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Belle Grove was sold to John Tayloe Thornton in 1894. He had purchase the plantation to impress a lady he wanted to marry. She wasn’t impressed. He would lose interest the plantation and would sell it to a group who wanted to turn it into an Industrial College for Colored Students. However the group defaulted on the loan and John Thornton had to take them to court to get the plantation back. By this time, he had married and was ready to settle down. He and his family would live at Belle Grove until 1901.

Belle Grove was sold in 1901 to Captain J.F. Jack, an experimental farmer from Los Angeles, California. Captain Jack had already purchased the Walsingham Plantation next door just a year earlier. His goal was to see if he could raise alfalfa in Virginia. He would sell Belle Grove in 1911 to Otto Brant and William Allen, also from California, who would use it to raise corn and wheat. Just a couple years later, Otto Brant would sell his interest to William Allen, who would turn Belle Grove into a dairy farm.

Belle Grove Plantation1906

Belle Grove Plantation

Belle Grove PlantationJ.F. Jack on the RIverside Portico

Belle Grove Plantation
J.F. Jack on the RIverside Portico

In 1929, William Allen sold Belle Grove to John Palmer Hooker and his wife Mary. John was a wealthy real estate broker from Chicago. They had purchased Belle Grove as a summer home. Mary quickly set about restoring Belle Grove back to the grand old plantation it once was. She installed landscaping and gardens, which she would use later as part of her well known garden tours in the spring. John would later join her and this would become their primary residence until his death in 1974. Mary passed away in 1981.

Belle Grove stood empty until 1987, when it was purchased by the Haas Family of Vienna, Austria. In 1997, the Haas Family started on a large restoration project that would completely restore and preserve Belle Grove for future generations. They took special care to ensure that the house was not damaged down to a special mortar that was used to keep from damaging the bricks of the house. The slate roof that once topped Belle Grove had to be removed because it was becoming too heavy for the frame of the house. It was replaced with a lighter copper roof. In the basement, steel beams were added to the subfloor to shore up the base of the house.

Restoration1997 to 2003

1997 to 2003

In July, 2011, Brett and Michelle Darnell found Belle Grove Plantation through an online advertisement. Just two days later, they were walking into the front hallway that Lt. Congar slept and many others passed through. It was love at first sight. Since that time, Brett and Michelle have worked tirelessly to create a business that will be worthy of this historically significant home. It is their hope to open Belle Grove Plantation as an elegant Southern Bed and Breakfast in the spring of 2013.

Formal Parlor2011

Formal Parlor


Library 2011

Formal Dining Room2011

Formal Dining Room

View from the Riverside Portico2012

View from the Riverside Portico

View from the Riverside Portico2012

View from the Riverside Portico

Sunset from the Riverside Balcony2012

Sunset from the Riverside Balcony

Riverside at Sunset2011

Riverside at Sunset

Sunset from the Riverside Bluff2012

Sunset from the Riverside Bluff

Ospery Babies2012

Ospery Babies
Wild Turkey2012

Wild Turkey

Please follow us on our blog as we work towards opening this wonderful plantation. Read as we make our own history and become a part of this glorious property.

We hope to see you one day at the plantation!

Keep up on our status on our Facebook

Facebook Link

70 thoughts on “About Belle Grove Plantation

  1. joan says:

    Such a beautiful place! Best of luck for the future; sounds as if the plantation landed in the best of hands. and…Thank you for stopping by my blog A Passion for Creativity. It is much appreciated.

  2. You have been awarded the Illuminating Blogger Award. 🙂
    For more info on what that is, go here: http://preservationandplace.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/illuminating-blog/

  3. Thank you for dropping by my blog. I have enjoyed looking at your blog. I know exactly where your plantation is located. We lived in Lee’s Hill off of 17 in Spotsylvania Co. for 10 years. We miss Virginia. Such a beautiful state. I hope we will be able to visit your B & B someday. Good luck!

  4. Barbara says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love to read about plantations because there is always so much history. I wish you well and will follow you on your journey.

  5. Kevin says:

    You have such a beautiful home! All the best for its continuing development.

  6. melmannphoto says:

    Congratulations on your passion to preserve such a piece of history. I’m sure everyone who visits will benefit from your efforts.

  7. ccblittle says:

    Hey! Thanks for the visit and the “like.” I’ve been looking around your site here — what a gorgeous plantation! When do you open? Best wishes on this new adventure — I look forward to hearing about your experiences!

  8. elizjamison says:

    Now that’s a place I’d like to visit.

  9. wow! so glad to see this restoration. will definitely come visit in person.

  10. A stunning property. You do it much justice in the “about” portion. Thank you for sharing. I wish you well in your endevour. -Sincerely

  11. inkspeare says:

    Oh, what a glorious place. I hope one day I can visit and see its beauty. Many blessings to you and yours.

  12. TamrahJo says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and I’m following you so I’ll know when you all are open! – I’m a Colorado native born to a southern Ohio mom and a western Kentucky dad – so I KNOW better than to visit in the summertime – – :>) This arid mountain baby can’t deal with the humidity anymore! LOL

    – – Here’s hoping you’re open by Spring Break this year, or I’ll see you next fall – the only Plantation I’ve ever been to was Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” and they had much of it shut down for renovations. I hope to rectify this short ‘Plantations I’ve seen” list by coming to visit Belle Grove!
    Loved reading the history and can’t wait to visit in person!

    • Thank you so much! We really appreciate you joining us for this journey! We hope to be open by May 1st. So it may be next fall before you can experience this wonderful plantation! Please don’t forget to check out Hurley’s post from today. 🙂

      • TamrahJo says:

        So sorry, I don’t Facebook – sent a very modest donation, instead – hope my Facebook boycott doesn’t ruin any Zoning Permits or anything! :>)

      • Thank you so much! We have received the donation! It really means so much to us! We want to save those outbuildings for future generations.

      • TamrahJo says:

        Rest assured, that donation in no way represents my donation wishes – just the reality of my checkbook! But if I win Powerballl – – you all are SET! LOL What you are doing is so important and if I can help in any small way, I’m glad too.

      • Please, we appreciate all that is donated! Big or small it all counts the same! Thank you for give to us from your heart! We really appreciate it!

  13. Nick Neagle says:

    So excited to find this! I have many relatives who passed through or lived there. I hope to visit one day since I am not too far. Look forward to following this even more.

  14. wildsherkin says:

    First of all, thank you for dropping by. It’s along way from your beautiful plantation! I wish you every success in this exciting venture.

  15. craftgypsy says:

    Oh It’s wonderful! I wish I could bring my kids to see! 4th graders in Virginia have to study Virginia history for the SOL’s-it would be a perfect field trip! Best of luck:)

  16. Mark S says:

    Brett and Michelle,

    Thanks for checking out my site.
    I like your page and I am looking forward to follow your work on the mansion.
    I was stationed down in Norfolk for several years and my family is from the area. Hopefully, we can come visit when you complete your work.

  17. kelseylange says:

    What a beautiful plantation! I’ve got to find more pictures now. I have a love of historic homes! Thanks for stopping by my page!

  18. Sonu Duggal says:

    Thanks for stopping by and liking my blog.

  19. lauriebest says:

    Thanks for stopping by our blog. Even though I live in Canada, I have always been fascinated by American history in general and southern history in particular. My Master’s degree specialized in American lit. One of my favourite trips was a recent one to Savannah. It was heaven, wandering from one magnificent house and square to another! I envy you your beautiful plantation house and wish you every success with it. (I don’t think I’d recommend putting my Bird Balls on the menu, though…might scare away potential guests. Maybe the ospreys would appreciate them! Hope you’ll keep enjoying our blog musings…)

    • You are so welcome! We hope to see more of your blog! Thank you! We have a lot of wonderful Canadian “friends” here! We are glad we can now count you among them! We hope that one day you might find your way down to our plantation to see how wonderful it really is!

  20. Thank you so much for stopping by Aprons and Cammies! I absolutely LOVE checking out all of your posts. You’ve harnessed my life-long dream of opening up a historic bed and breakfast, and right here in my own back yard! Please keep posting! It’s so fun to share the journey with you 🙂 Mr. Marine and I will be some of your first guests when you open! Keep up the great work!

    • You are so welcome! We hope to see more of your blog in the future! We are happy to share our journey! Its more fun with a load of friends along! And we will be happy to see you and Mr. Marine at the plantation soon! You know, I was in the Marines too. Brett served in the Navy.

  21. Rachel Ennis says:

    What a beautiful story. Best wishes on your journey to re-open this magnificent piece of history. I know my USMC husband and I would love to be one of your first guests :).

  22. kittybee9 says:

    What an amazing history – and a beautiful place!

  23. harasprice says:

    Thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. I, in turn, am so impressed with your site, the current and historical detail, and your willingness to take on important topics like slavery and indentured servitude. Well written and interesting blog…makes me want to plan a little road trip to visit 🙂

  24. auntyuta says:

    Yes, your blog is very well written and interesting to read. Thanks for liking my blog. Wishing you the best of luck with this beautiful B & B!

  25. […] we are ending this particular post by virtual visit to Belle Grove, a historic plantation bed & breakfast. I am so excited to know about this particular B&B and hope to visit in person one of these […]

  26. topitaliantranslation says:

    Dear thank you so much for your visit!
    I won’t miss your plantation when I’ll come back to the States! Seems amazing!

  27. […] lengthy treatment of Madison covering most aspects of his life – from his birth in 1751 at Belle Grove Plantation (more on this interesting site in a later post) until his death at Montpelier in 1836.  While […]

  28. […] Madison was born on March 16, 1751 at Belle Grove Plantation located on the north side of the Rappahannock River near what is now Port Conway, Virginia. The […]

  29. mjsamuelson says:

    I know exactly where I want to come stay when I finally make it to Virginia. Thanks for following my blog, too. You’ve got great information here – so much history!!

  30. Hi, Might I suggest a map app somewhere on you blog? I THINK I know where you are but a map would make it a bit easier for folks to find you (especially those folks coming from far away.)

    I’ve really been enjoying watch the progress of the B&B.

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