Home to the late businessman, philanthropist, art collector, horse breeder and all-around good man Paul Mellon, along with his art-loving and horticulturalist wife Rachel (aka Bunny), the Mellon Estate keeps setting records. Yes, the Mellons who created it and loved it for so many years are no longer of this earth, but their legacy continues. The 2000-plus acres of pristine Virginia countryside have been divided into four parcels: the Mellon Foundation occupies several buildings and much land, where it exists as an educational entity that fosters both the study of art and all things botanical. Another section belongs to a private family. Senator Jill Vogel of Virginia lives in the “Brick House” along with her husband and children. It was in this 10,000 square foot house that the Mellons kept a substantial art collection. The remaining section, with another mansion and a mile-long air strip is still available for purchase.
Paul Mellon raised over 1000 stakes-winning race horses on this property. Their winnings totaled over $30,000,000 . He was the only breeder to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In 2004, 2007 AND 2011, Members of the New York Coaching Club were invited to travel across a small portion of the property, probably the only horse-drawn vehicles to do so since most of the buildings were erected (1940’s). The estate, and the wonderful things to be found there, has been pretty much of a secret, a very private place. Who could ever have imagined that the Piedmont Driving Club, a lesser-known but local group of carriage enthusiasts, would be invited to trot over the roads that wind through the whole estate (among them: Sea Hero, Quadrangle, Mill Reef – all named after beloved horses.) Nine turn-outs left neighboring Blue Ridge Farm and entered the estate through Senator Vogel’s private gate. She, like so many others who live or work there, expressed delight at having horses on the property again, using the roads as they were meant to be used. Carriages passed between miles of stone walls and by the Brick House, the broodmare barns, a pool house that was designed by I.M. Pei, a cottage that Bunny Mellon had remodeled especially for Jackie Kennedy to stay in on her many visits to the estate, and the exquisite stone cottage where Bunny spent her last years, as well as numerous green houses and terraced gardens. It was truly an honor and a thrill!
Whips from the PDC included Mary Munster driving a Unicorn, Carl Cox driving a pair, and Theresa Young, Sam Davis, Tom Albert, Lil Jacobs, Judy Hahn, Deb Bauserman and Maryalice Matheson each driving singles. Each carriage carried guests. Host for this event, Lil Jacobs arranged a rest stop under a spreading tree at Oak Spring (near the dairy). There she and husband, Smokey, served chocolate dipped strawberries and Champagne, indeed a most fitting accompaniment to the setting!
Back at Blue Ridge where our trailers were parked, we unhitched and gathered our chairs at Lil’s tables. She served a very “Virginia” luncheon of fried chicken and ham biscuits with Club side dishes that added to the day’s mood of “all things Southern.” There was plenty of wine and tea of course!