Continuing the kids’ and my tradition of taking day trips while Kim is away, we headed southwest from Baltimore today to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Middletown, Virginia. Cedar Creek and Belle Grove are most famous as the locations of the Civil War Battle of Cedar Creek that took place in October, 1864.
We chose this park because it was a natural follow-on to our Monocacy Battlefield Day Trip two months back (both battlefields are central to the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864). Also, none of the kids nor I had been here before and rain was expected at home in the west Baltimore area, but not for Middletown, VA!
Much like every park trip we take, we started the day reading the history of the site from various internet sources including these two entries on Wikipedia. If you’re planning a trip to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove, we recommend doing a little advance reading to understand the historical significance of the site.
Belle Grove is a plantation and associated manor home built by the well-connected Hite Family in the late 1700s and early 1800s. While the Hite family name didn’t conjure up historical significance for any of us, the owner Isaac Hite was married to Nelly Madison Hite, the sister of the fourth US President, James Madison, and a few details of the home were designed by Thomas Jefferson. So we’re guessing the Hites were at least somewhat of a big deal. The plantation started as 483 acre farm and eventually grew to more than 7,500 acres. More than 100 enslaved workers lived and worked here.
The limestone mansion is impressive even by today’s standards, featuring 13′ 9″ ceilings and beautiful wood trim. We got lucky and a tour was starting just as we arrived. According to our guide, features designed by Thomas Jefferson included adjustable shelving in the owner’s study and transom windows over the front door and several interior doors that allowed light to flow from the front of the house into several other rooms. It is clear from the size of the house and property that the Hite family was very wealthy, even though after Isaac Hite’s death, the property was eventually sold. Apparently there is still some mystery as to who held the property during the mid-to-late 1800s. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside the mansion so we were limited to exterior shots.
After we finished touring Belle Grove we headed up the road to the Park’s main visitor center, which is actually a nondescript building in a strip mall on Main Street in Middletown. While not impressive on the outside (especially compared with Monocacy’s stand alone visitor center), it does contain a modern lighted map display that tells the story of the Battle of Cedar Creek, which gave the kids a really good idea of what happened here. (Spoiler: the Confederates make an early morning surprise attack and look like they’ve won by noon, but the Union comes back and routs them in the afternoon and evening — putting the nail in the coffin of Lee’s attempts at sacking Washington D.C.)
Inside the visitor center, the kids completed the NPS Junior Ranger packets for the park, which we printed before we headed out to the site. The rangers in the park station were exceptionally nice and helped guide us through the visitor center and even gave us a short lesson on who the players were and what happened leading up to the battle!
And here’s the kids getting “sworn in” as junior rangers!
After we left the NPS Visitor Center, we took a quick hike up to see the 8th Vermont Volunteer Regiment Memorial. Three quarters of the regiment lost their lives in battle that day, and the monument physically memorializes this with three sides left unfinished. It is a touching tribute even more than 150 years later when you consider the lives that were given to secure freedom for others.
Shortly after the hike, we departed the park for home. We had a wonderful time visiting Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park and are looking forward to our next NPS Park Stop!