THE HOUSE THAT HITE BUILT Belle Grove is 12 miles south of Winchester on U.S. 11, just beyond Middletown. Follow I-81 to exit 77, marked with official signs. For more information, call Belle Grove: 703/869-2028.
"If a German builds a house its walls are twice as thick as others," wrote 19th-century traveler James Paulding after touring the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. "If he puts down a gatepost, it is sure to be nearly as thick as it is long..."
But then there was Isaac Hite.
In 1794 this German-American settler built a house in the valley that fits none of these stereotypes.With its graceful roof and tall chimneys, Hite's mansion seems more Georgian than German. Belle Grove would fit in just as well on a Georgetown street as it does on its field in southwestern Virginia.
Hite's house, restored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, offers a little bit of everything for those who make the trip down Interstate 81 to Virginia's Frederick County. It's a conpendium of architectural styles, with design touches ranging from local Germanic to Classical Revival. Civil War buffs will find it a treasure trove. And for those who just want to get out of the city, there's the incomparable drive through the rolling farm country of Virginia.
Belle Grove stands out from its solidly built Germanic neighbors because Hite probably had a little help on the design from a friend, Thomas Jefferson. Hite was married to James Madison's sister Nelly, and it was Madison who put him in touch with the man from Charlottesville. His "sister Hite" was building a new house, Madison wrote to Jefferson, and he was sending her contractor to Monticello to steal some ideas. The result: a surprisingly sophisiticated mansion befitting the sister of a president-to-be.
Hite's house fell into Union hands during the Civil War.Confederate General Jubal Early routed out the troops, but only for a day, and the house ended up being used as a headquarters for Union soldiers (the attic walls still bear their graffiti). On October 19, 1864, the Battle of Cedar Creek raged around the mansion; more than 6,000 American soldiers died, counting both sides' losses.
But back to happier times. In its heyday Belle Grove was a working farm, and that's the aspect of its heritage being celebrated this weekend at the annual Shenandoah Valley Farm Crafts Days, Saturday and Sunday. Agricultural and craft demonstrations and exhibits, folk music and dancing, and crafts - blacksmithery, coopering, churning, gunsmithing, herb-processing, quilting, rail-splitting and sheep-shearing, to name a few - will be going on. Not a bad weekend to visit. CAPTION: Picture, BELLE GROVE AS IT APPEARS TODAY...; Illustration, ...AND AS DRAWN BY J. E. TAYLOR DURING THE BATTLE OF CEDAR CREEK, OCTOBER 19, 1866.