Belle Grove Plantation: Preserving History in the Shenandoah Valley Since 1797
Published: Saturday, March 15, 2008
Updated: Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:05
Deep in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley there is a landmark that is a part of American history---Belle Grove Plantation.
Belle Grove Plantation, located in Middletown, Va., was the home of Major Isaac Hite and his wife Nelly Conway Madison Hite, sister of President James Madison.
Hite had the home built in 1797.
The mansion was originally a 7500-acre plantation. Today visitors can see 283 acres, according to Belle Grove.
Down through the years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., has worked to revitalize Belle Grove.
Belle Grove is one of four-plantation houses owned by the National Trust. One of the plantations owned by National Trust is Montpelier in Orange County, Va., the home of Nelly and President James Madison.
Elizabeth McClung, Belle Grove's executive director, said the National Trust did a major research project to discover how the house looked in the early 1800s.
McClung said a historic paint analyst scraped through layers to find the original colors. Today, an artist is recreating those colors.
"Our missions are to interpret Shenandoah Valley history and heritage," McClung said, "but also try to keep alive a preservation ethic for historic places."
"So, we try to tell visitors not only about the story of the whole community who lived here," she said, "and what they did and the social history but also talk about preserving important pieces of our past to help us have continuity and understand our past better."
When visiting Belle Grove, visitors can see the original icehouse, smokehouse, the overseer's house and a slave cemetery, according to Belle Grove.
Original paintings of Isaac and Nelly Hite from 1799 are also on display in the house.
Visitors can also see the dining room, the library, the nursery, the slave kitchen and Isaac and Nelly's offices.
McClung said Isaac had the house built in Virginia, because he could view the Massanutten Mountains from his office window.
Three years later after Isaac and Nelly moved into the house, Nelly died and Isaac remarried. He had 10 children by his second wife and three children by Nelly.
Donna Gum, a clerk in the Middletown Town Offices, has lived and worked in Middletown, Va. for 43 years.
Gum appreciates the legacy that lives on in Middletown.
"Middletown is a great town," Gum said. "It's very rich in its history. We have different historical sites, historical homes and buildings."
"But what's great about Middletown [is that] we also have a mix of some of the newer subdivisions and people integrating into Middletown," Gum said. "And so we're kind of a melting pot of the old and the new. Having the rich history around us, adds to living here."
During the Civil War, Belle Grove was at the center of the decisive Battle of Cedar Creek. It was originally called the Battle of Belle Grove, according to Belle Grove.
Janelle L. Plummer is a graduate student at The American Univesity School of Communication in Washington, D.C.
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