Nick Churton of Mayfair International Realty discovers an American national treasure – an estate of great beauty created by a gifted owner of great cultural, social and financial stature. Situated in Upperville, Virginia – about 50 miles from Washington DC – the sale of this outstanding estate is being handled by the equally outstanding brokers, Washington Fine Properties.
It is difficult to impress financially in the USA – even if your name is Gates or Buffett. There are other names that cast a long shadow and seem almost impossible to emulate – names like Vanderbilt, Astor, Carnegie, Rockefeller and Mellon.
Heir to the Mellon banking dynasty, Paul Mellon – along with his sister and two cousins – were all included in the top eight wealthiest Americans by Forbes in 1957. Their wealth, in today’s money, was believed to be just shy of $6 billion.
It was this life of wealth and privilege that Rachel Lowe Lambert – Bunny, as her mother nicknamed her – joined when she married Paul Mellon in 1948. But she was already used to some wealth. Her father was president of Gillette, and her grandfather invented Listerine.
Paul and Bunny Mellon became huge benefactors. Together they collected and donated more than a thousand important works of art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. They also bred racehorses and remain the only individuals ever to have owned winners of the Kentucky Derby (Sea Hero in 1993), The Derby, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (both won by Mill Reef in 1971).
But Bunny Mellon’s real passion was gardening. Although she had no formal training she would among other highlights – go on to redesign the Rose and East Gardens at the White House, help to revive Louis XIV’s kitchen garden at Versailles, build a celebrated collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artefacts relating to gardening and botany, and become a leading authority on American horticulture.
As well as owning homes in Antigua, Nantucket, Cape Cod, Paris and New York, her main residence was Oak Spring Farm in Virginia. This remarkable 2,000-acre estate is one of the most important farms in America. Over many decades Bunny Mellon sculpted the farm into the closest American version she could of the English Cotswolds. Getting to and from the Cotswolds would have taken too long. But with a private mile-long airstrip on the Oak Spring estate and a private jet her Cotswolds in Virginia were far more accessible.
The main house, designed in neo-Georgian style in 1941 by William Adams Delano of Delano and Aldrich, became known as the Brick House. It would contain some of the Mellons’ astonishing art collection – now estimated to be worth about $1 billion.
Away from the house are the extensive equestrian stables and barns, sublime gardens, greenhouses, guesthouses, tenant houses and a pool house designed by noted architect I M Pei.
Bunny Mellon, who died in April, 2014 at the age of 103, was an intensely private woman and Oak Spring was her private treasure. With her wealth she moved mountains – and the Cotswold Hills. She leaves the opportunity to purchase an iconic and nationally important estate. She also leaves a long shadow.