James 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 original house burned (as houses of that era had a tendency to do) and the house that currently sits on the plantation is believed to have been built in about 1790 on top of the original basement.
Belle Grove Plantation was the childhood home of Madison’s mother, Nelly Conway Madison, and she went there to give birth to James, her first of twelve (yes…twelve) children. She lived to be 98 years old and resided at Montpelier most of her life – from James’ youth until her death in 1829.
Over the years the plantation has undergone several ownership changes and was purchased in 1998 by a family-owned Austrian company which seems to make industrial ovens and ice cream cone makers(!) They have a small office in Richmond, about an hour south, but I’m not sure what part of their corporate mission includes buying historic properties in King George County?
Nonetheless, they spent significant time and money restoring the home and recently agreed to lease it to Michelle and Brett Darnell who are working diligently to open the site as a Bed & Breakfast. Along with numerous other interested Virginians, bloggers, history buffs, and vacation-seekers, I’ve been following the Darnell’s story for several months on their website.
And earlier this spring I decided to take the nine-minute flight from my home airport to find the historic spot where our fourth president came to life:
Photo taken from my Cirrus SR20 at ~2,000′
The Darnells had hopes of opening the B&B by James Madison’s birthday earlier this year but, as tends to happen, complexity interfered with their plans. Still, they have a full head of steam and more enthusiasm than ever.
I’m not sure what the new planned opening date is, but you’d better pay close attention or you’ll find that by the time you get around to calling for a reservation, I may have already semi-permanently booked at least one of their rooms. I can’t think of many better places to finish reading my last hundred or so presidential biographies…and enjoy one of these.
An interesting early article on their efforts appears here.
A more recent article on their progress appears here.