Restoration of the Plantation Office and Store
Belle Grove Plantation’s Manor House, a National and Virginia Historic Landmark built in 1797 of limestone quarried on the property, is surrounded by a variety of 19th and early 20th century outbuildings. One of these is a small, limestone building at the bend in Belle Grove Road that is seen as one approaches the Manor House. It was constructed when Isaac Hite, Jr.’s plantation operation was quickly growing and his business operations were expanding.
Initially, historians estimated the building was constructed circa 1795-1810. However, during the process to restore the buidling, dendrochronology was conduted. This involved drilling a small core of wood from beams in the basement, main level, and second level and analyzing the tree growth rings to determine when the logs were felled. It was determined that the trees used to make these beams were cut down between 1786 and 1788 and so 1788 is likely when the structure was built. This makes the date of this structure older than the Belle Grove Manor House. At that time, Isaac Hite Jr. was rapidly building his business and the building’s location and construction indicate that it was initially used as a plantation office and a store. It has two entrances. The doorway to the north (right) provides access to a finely finished room with a fireplace that would have been used to receive business associates and to do accounting. The doorway to the south (left) lead to a large room that was more rustic in appearance, had no fireplace, and had a staircase to the attic. We believe this side was used in the sale and storage of goods. In later years, this structure became a dwelling for overseers, farm managers, and families that owned and worked the nearby farms once Belle Grove was sold out of the Hite Family in 1860. Many changes were made to the building from 1860 to the 1990s and it was most recently used as a residence and as offices.
In 2015, Belle Grove began a project to restore this historic structure to its original appearance so that we might show visitors how it was used as a store and office. However, we also want to retain the building for temporary housing for researchers and guests. Therefore, a modern bathroom will be retained and a small, inconspicuous, historically appropriate kitchenette will be installed. Otherwise, Belle Grove is working with historic preservation experts to retain as much original material in the house as possible and to repair or replace features with historically accurate finishes.
This project is truly a community restoration project. Our effort was begun with grant funds from the James L. and Mary Jane Bowman Charitable Trust and a donation of materials from Frederick Block Brick and Stone, Belle Grove was awarded a grant from American Woodmark Foundation for the project. The restoration is now in full swing thanks to a major gift from Belle Grove board member Beverly Shoemaker, contributions from other Belle Grove board members, and many hours of sweat equity from Belle Grove staff and volunteers. In addition, community groups have volunteered their time and labor. In summer 2016, the Blue Ridge Environmental Studies Regional Summer Governor's School came to learn about the project and assist with the removal of inappropriate landscaping. In September 2016, a team from Lord Fairfax Community College participated in the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley's Day of Caring to help us "remove the new so we can bring back the old" at the Plantation Office and Store. Please watch this page for updates!
Thank you to our corporate sponsors:
The building in the early 20th century with an addition that has since been removed.
The crew from the Blue Ridge Environmental Governor's School
Lord Fairfax Community College's Team for the United Way Day of Caring
Progress on new roof and dormers