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Historic site could have a B&B future
Couple hopes to open bed-and-breakfast in King George County at Belle Grove, the birthplace of President James Madison

 The Darnells have big plans for the future of Belle Grove Planation, the birthplace of James Madison.
PHOTOS BY REZA MARVASHTI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 9/29/2012

By CATHY DYSON

Michelle Darnell wants people who visit Belle Grove Plantation to have the same reaction she did when she pulled into the driveway for the first time.

She gasped in awe.

And she wasn't even looking at the grandest side of the house, which is the "river side" that faces the Rappahannock.

Darnell had arrived on the "carriage side," accessible off U.S. 301 in the Port Conway area of King George County.

Still, she was amazed by the elegant grace of the home built in 1791 as a basic farmhouse, then later complemented with extended wings, curved porches and porticos, as well as a balcony that runs along a portion of the second floor.

Darnell and her husband, Brett, want others to feel the same rush at Belle Grove, the birthplace of President James Madison.

The Darnells, who live in Chesapeake, hope to open a bed-and-breakfast at Belle Grove. They plan to apply for a special exception from the county and are in the process of gathering paperwork. They've been told it can take up to four months to get approval.

Michelle Darnell would like to open the suites at Belle Grove by March 16, Madison's birthday.

"When you think about the history that we carry and the men who might have walked here on this property, it's mind-boggling," she said, adding it's a history that others can share. "How many presidential birthplaces can you go to and spend the night?"

'A FORTRESS NOW'

The Darnells don't own the plantation; they have a lease to operate the bed-and-breakfast. The property is owned by the Austrian company Franz Haas Machinery. Company officials said they didn't want to be quoted.

According to a 2003 story in The Free Lance-Star, the company bought the home in 1988 and later undertook a renovation to strip the walls down to the studs. Years of neglect and weather had taken their toll, and the Austrians spent $3.5 million to restore Belle Grove.

"This house is a fortress now," Michelle Darnell said.

Madison wasn't born in the home that faces the Rappahannock and the Caroline County town of Port Royal. That structure burned and the current home was built.


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