Monday, November 14, 2016

Belle Grove Plantation, Virginia

Belle Grove Plantation was founded by Joist Hite in 1731. He came from Pennsylvania with many other families and settled in the verdant Shenandoah Valley. In the late 1700s, the property was developed by Major Isaac Hite (Joist's grandson) and his wife Nelly, who was sister of President James Madison. They grew wheat to sell as flour and to make whiskey. They were highly prosperous, in part due to the use slaves. During the American Civil War, a battle raged on the very doorstep of the Hite's home. The Battle of Cedar Creek was fought on October 19, 1864. The early morning fog provided cover for Confederate troops as they assaulting the sleeping Union Army. The day was almost a rout of the Union's forces, but General Phil Sheridan arrived to bolster his troops. The Union was able to overcome General Jubal Early's Confederates in a day-long battle that saw over 8,600 men killed, wounded, or captured. The war would end in six months.

Entrance sign for the Plantation

Memorial tree to Mr. Hite

Dedication plaque from the 1985 family reunion!

The grounds have the foundation of the original building, the Old Hall, where Isaac and Nelly Hite first lived in 1783. Newlyweds James and Dolly Madison spent part of their honeymoon there! After the new house was built, the hall was used for guests and as a school for the family's children. The Old Hall was destroyed in the late 1800s.

Foundation outline

More of the foundation

My toddler learning about the hall (if only he could read!)

Next to the foundation is the blacksmith's shop, a very important part of the farm.

Blacksmith's shop


Anvil secured to a tree stump

Not sure what this is

Pottery wheel

Across a path is what looked to us like a sunken house. When we went inside, our children asked about it.

A roof with no building?

The docent let us make some guesses and then explained it was the ice house. In the winter, workers would chop ice from the lake or river and store it in the large well under this roof. They'd add in sawdust and hay to keep the ice from melting. During the warmer months, the family would use the ice to keep containers cold or to chill glasses for their drinks, as well as refrigerating meat inside the ice house. The ice itself wasn't potable (pond water plus sawdust plus hay equals nothing good for human consumption). The pit is an amazing 16 feet across and 18 feet deep. The docent lowered an electric lantern to show the size.

Toddler examines the door

Inside the ice house

My daughter feels the chill

Belle Grove Mansion was built in 1794 by Isaac Hite, probably with design input from Thomas Jefferson. The family lived, did business, and entertained guests all on the main floor. The attic is accessible by a small spiral staircase and was probably used for storage and as sleeping quarters for the older children (Isaac had twelve!) and some slaves as well. The basement was the kitchen and laundry area. Photography wasn't allowed inside so I only have exterior shots.

Front of the mansion

Civil War-era bullet hole on one of the pillars

The side of the mansion

Back porch

The back stairs

The farm ran for over 200 years, so more modern buildings like the 1918 barn are still extant.

1918 barn

Rain garden

We were inspired to check if a geocache was nearby. We discovered one on the property. The box was the fanciest we've ever seen.

Geocache (log in the lid)

The National Park Service also provides self-guide pamphlets and an audio tour for the Battle of Cedar Creek, which we will do on a later visit.

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