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Gala at Belle Grove to remember Madisons

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- The president and first lady plan to celebrate an anniversary Friday at the historic Belle Grove Plantation.

Of course, the couple is President Madison and his wife, Dolley, and the occasion marks their 215th wedding anniversary. The Madisons spent two weeks of their honeymoon in 1794 at Belle Grove Plantation, according to Executive Director Elizabeth McClung. Madison served as the nation's fourth president from 1809 to 1817.

The couple spent their time with the president's sister, Nelly, and her husband, Isaac Hite. The Hites lived in a farmhouse, known as "Old Hall," at the time. Only the foundation of "Old Hall" remains, McClung said.

On Friday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., actors portraying the Madisons, as well as Isaac Hite and his second wife, Ann Maury Hite, will interpret the Manor House as it stood Sept. 18, 1809. Evergreen Shade will perform music of that period and early 19th century foods, assorted libations, champagne and a Dolley Madison recipe anniversary cake will be served.

"This party is really taking place in 1809," McClung said. "The interpreters are doing their first-person interpretation of 1809."

The actor portraying Madison is a scholar of the president and resembles the man, she said.

"It will be a lot of fun and it will bring the house alive as an 1809 venue, so guests when they come in will be swept back to 1809, and I think should really enjoy it," she said, noting that Madison was inaugurated the same year.

The Madisons' short visit made historic connections to another famous Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who served as president for two terms prior to Madison. As McClung explained, the Hites and the Madisons spent time discussing plans to build a manor house on the plantation.

The president became interested in the plans and then wrote a letter to Jefferson asking for help with the design of the new house, McClung said. The builder, James Bond, took the letter to Jefferson and then received input for the designs, she said. The letter, with "doodles" on the back likely made by Jefferson, remains at the Library of Congress, according to McClung.

"We don't have a written reply by Jefferson but we can tell by looking at the house that he helped with the design," she said.

Tickets to this Belle Grove benefit black-tie gala are $125 per person. Proceeds from the James and Dolley Madison Gala Anniversary Party support Belle Grove's exhibits, educational programs, historic preservation efforts and museum operations. Call 869-2028 to buy tickets or for more information or go online to www.bellegrove.org.


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