One of the finest homes in the Shenandoah Valley, the beautiful Belle Grove stone mansion was built in 1797 by Maj. Isaac Hite, whose grandfather, Joist Hite, first settled here in 1732. Major Hite's wife was Nelly Madison Hite, sister of President James Madison. At Madison's request, Thomas Jefferson was actively involved in Belle Grove's design. The columns and Palladian-style front windows are just two examples of Jefferson's influence. Although now part of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, P.O. Box 700, Middletown, VA 22645 (tel. 540/868-9176; www.nps.gov/cebe), the mansion is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The interior is furnished with period antiques. You must take a guided 45-minute tour to go inside, but you can tour the grounds on your own.
Belle Grove was at the epicenter of the decisive Civil War Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on 4,000 acres surrounding the manor house on October 19, 1864. Across U.S. 11, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation Visitors Center (tel. 888/628-1864 or 540/869-2064; www.cedarcreekbattlefield.org) explains what happened and distributes the National Park Service's battlefield brochure. The battle is reenacted each year on the weekend closest to October 19.