Pharsalia in Blue Ridge Mountains
There are farmhouses, and then there are farmhouses. You know, the kind that automatically fall into a second category where you know from the beginning there’s something special about it and you want to know more. Pharsalia, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is not your average farmhouse. It’s a real treat to get to share this one of a kind farmhouse with you.
When Pharsalia was built in 1814, it was way out in the boonies, and the family that built it had relocated in search of a better place to make their own. (To be fair it still is out in the country, but Charlottesville’s relentless growth into western Albemarle County and neighboring Nelson County makes it feel much closer to town.)
The original house was built as a wedding gift and was modest in size– likely just an entry hall with a room on either side. Eventually the house added bedrooms on either side, rooms in the back, more rooms in the back, and finally an upstairs. Now it’s an impressively long Federal style house with windows that seem to stretch on and on in either direction.
The exterior remains simple with classic white siding and dark green windows.
One little feature is unusual though, upon closer examination: the windows. If you look closely you’ll see that the window panes aren’t six over six like the typical style. They’re six panes over six panes, but the middle pane of each window is extremely wide compared to the narrow outer panes. This allows for a better view and apparently was stylish in Europe when the house was being built.
Another feature found outside is little bells above nearly every window. Pharsalia is of course in Virginia and at one point was a huge plantation, and the bells were used to summon the enslaved people who lived on the property. Like the window panes, the bells have not been altered other than some paint.
One of the most fascinating parts about Pharsalia is the feeling you’ve stepped back in time when you’re there. So many tiny details have remained untouched. I had the pleasure of meeting the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built Pharsalia so many years ago, Florence “Foxie” Morgan. She told me the story of how her ancestors found in the Revolutionary War and eventually made their way to Tyro, Virginia, where her great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Massie built the home as a wedding gift for his son William and his new wife. When William died, his widow kept Pharsalia, but upon her death in 1889, the plantation was divided and sold out of the family. A dentist purchased Pharsalia and you would think that’s where the Massie connection with the property ends.
When the dentist passed away in 1951, the house was purchased by none other than William Massie’s descendants– Foxie’s parents, with the help of Foxie’s grandparents. One of five kids, Foxie grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia about an hour away. She and her siblings spent every weekend and all summer long at Pharsalia.
When Foxie and her husband married, they moved into a little outbuilding on Pharsalia.
After Foxie’s parents passed away, Foxie and her husband purchased Pharsalia and set to work on making it the amazing property it is now.
Foxie set to work renovating one room each year after she and her husband purchased the plantation house. One of the first rooms she tackled was the foyer.
Foxie recently put up the wallpaper in this room, but the long story behind it is mesmerizing to me. She found fragments of the original wallpaper chosen by her ancestors in this room and she tracked down the pattern. It was of course no longer in production, but she found a company in Illinois that would remake it for her. Using the postal service, Foxie and the company mailed photos and samples of wallpaper back and forth to each other until together they recreated an exact replica of the pattern that used to hang on these walls.
Is that not the coolest wallpaper story you’ve ever heard?
(And also, don’t you feel inspired to wallpaper your whole house seeing how gorgeous this is? I know I do.)
To the right of the entryway is a beautifully appointed sitting room, a room Foxie tells me used to be used most frequently for entertaining. She has decorated it with family heirlooms and portraits of family members and it is both welcoming and awe inspiring.
The mantle in this room is original as far as Foxie knows. It is perhaps more ornate than any mantle I’ve ever seen. The woodwork is incredible. (The ceilings are really tall in this room which make the photographs a bit misleading because this mantle is enormous. As is this gold mirror that proudly hangs above it.) This mirror is breathtaking, especially situated above that mantlepiece.
Each room has an exterior door as well. The doors and the moldings that go around them have settled together over the years and all seem to be slanted in some fashion, adding to the overall historic feel.
As I mentioned above, Pharsalia was a working plantation, and the doors were used by servants or enslaved people to access each of the rooms easily. Just like the bells above the exterior windows, it is powerful to see the doors and remnants of slavery still found on this plantation. Foxie strongly believes in the importance of preserving the house’s structure for future generations to learn from.
There are two bedrooms on the main floor of the house. The green bedroom is my idea of perfectly regal. I love the way Foxie decorated it (and I love the fox accents too– you’ll notice she sprinkled them throughout Pharsalia!).
Not many rooms could pull off the canopy bed (below) in the other bedroom but this one sure can!
The beautiful fabrics add so much gravitas to this space.
Each bedroom– well, each room, actually– has a fireplace too. This room’s fireplace is beautiful but far more simple compared to the main sitting room’s.
Connecting the entrance hall is a hallway that now has a staircase going upstairs. Foxie kept the stairs simple. She told me the upstairs had no air conditioning. In the 1800s, house guests would often come to Pharsalia for months at a time. When they were overextending their welcome, they would be moved to the upstairs guest quarters.
The hallway leads to a magnificent dining room. I like this view from the dining room looking through the hallway all the way to the front door of the house.
Understated Dining Room
The dining room is unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Foxie renovated the whole room and shortly after she hung wallpaper on these walls, they started to get moldy (!!!). She immediately took the wallpaper off. She quickly realized she actually preferred the look of the old plaster underneath and decided to dress up the rest of the room with ornate fabrics and furniture but allow the plaster walls to be on their own and show off themselves.
The result is a truly beautiful room that is not trying to hide its longevity. Oh, if walls could talk!
I love the way the old plaster goes with the fancy details like the gold frames. It puts you at ease being in such an elegant room that simply exists without having to try hard at it.
Another noteworthy element of this house is the stunning wood floors. They have clearly been so, so loved in all the best places.
This family room is behind the dining room. It used to be where the kitchen was. As often happens in old houses, its purpose changed. A new kitchen was added later, allowing this room to become a cozy library den.
Don’t you wish you could sit and stay here for hours? It’s so inviting and, well, cozy!
I love the warmth of all the antique wood furniture and books together. It has a feeling of a well loved room. You can sense how the family has spent many happy hours here.
Pharsalia’s kitchen is not one to be missed. It is, in my opinion, a work of art.
Foxie obviously thought through every detail. The end is a perfect hodgepodge of art and function. The teal green cabinets offer a fun contrast to the warm brick and wood tones everywhere else.
Knowing Foxie and the value she places on her family, I’m sure every piece in here has a story that is worth sharing. The way she has chosen to display items throughout the house make you almost feel how meaningful they all are.
Foxie’s niece and some neighbors helping out on the farm found this little lady near Pharsalia with her littermates years ago. She’s been here ever since.
I love the way Foxie has made what could be an intimidating place like Pharsalia into such a welcoming, funny place to visit. She’s given the house so much personality and it makes it straight up fun.
It’s hard to say what’s more enchanting about Pharsalia: the beautifully restored house, or the beautifully planned gardens.
Foxie and her team work to make sure Pharsalia’s grounds are meticulous and every inch is beautiful. It’s hard to choose which photos to share because every angle is special.
Foxie is an incredible gardener and devotes the majority of her time to creating the beauty that is Pharsalia’s outdoors. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that people started asking to have their weddings at Pharsalia: https://www.pharsaliaevents.com/.
(It may have started out “in the boonies” but it’s its own destination for sure now!)
The flowers are so abundant that Foxie sells them at local farmers markets as well. I don’t know how she does it all, but needless to say– Pharsalia is a busy place!
While the property itself is extraordinary, what I love most about Pharsalia is its family history. I believe every family (mine included!) that has ever made the agonizing decision to sell a beloved family farm has held onto hope that whoever buys it will love it and restore it to its status as a well-loved homestead. It’s the best of all worlds that Foxie’s family was able to buy Pharsalia back after selling it out of the family.
Today, distant relatives of the Massie family own and farm the land surrounding the farmhouse (do you see what I mean by how this is not your ordinary farmhouse?!). The views are certainly spectacular no matter what direction you look. Perhaps more impressive than what we can see, though, is the story of a family homestead that has been fiercely loved through the ages. To see more farmhouses in Virginia click here >>