Belle Grove Plantation has a unique position, on a rise, overlooking Cedar Grove Battlefield. It is historic for that fact, but its history goes back much earlier. If you are a fan of ‘Who Do You Think You Are” then you saw country singer Tim McGraw trace his family back to a German immigrant named Jost Hite. Jost, along with his partner, Robert McKay, brought 16 families into the Shenandoah Valley to settle 140,000 acres. This was in the 1732. Fast forward 51 years. Isaac Hite, Jost’s grandson, marries Nelly Conway Madison, James Madison’s sister, and receives 483 acres of land as a wedding gift. In 1797, Belle Grove would be built on that land. Under his ownership it grew to 7,500 acres and required over 100 slaves to maintain. It remained in the Hite family until 1851.
During the Civil War; Belle Grove Manor House was General Phillip Sheridan’s headquarters during the Valley Campaign of 1864. You will see a painting in an upstairs bedroom showing a wounded Confederate Officer who was brought into the house by his fellow West Point classmates. One of them is very obviously George Custer. When you look at the picture, you are standing in the bedroom where he died. The officers felt that the fact they had been classmates was more important than which side they were fighting on.
The house visitors see today has been restored to its early 19th century elegance. The influence of Thomas Jefferson can be seen. It is believed he provided guidance to the sister of his dear friend James Madison in the design of her family home. The woodwork and paint has been returned to its original colors and you will find it much brighter and busier than you might expect. Some portraits of interest, including the parents of the future president, are on display. In this time period, wood was inexpensive but paint cost a fortune. The faux painting on the doors is a sign of wealth, not as you might think, that they couldn’t afford mahogany.
The house is visited on a guided tour. After coming in the front door there is a 12-minute video that is shown in the kitchen to familiarize you with the house and its history. Tours last from 45 minutes to an hour depending on how much visitors interact with their knowledgeable volunteer docent.
The grounds offer an 1815 icehouse and smokehouse, demonstration garden designed by the Garden Club of Virginia, slave cemetery, and a heritage apple orchard. Be sure to visit the gift store which has an excellent selection of locally sourced food, craft and gift items.
The house is decorated for Christmas every year and opened for tours. To find out more about opening times, fees and events please visit their website. Belle Grove Plantation is a National Trust Historic Site.