Ever since A.T. Massey founded a coal company in 1920, the Massey family has been a fixture of the Richmond, Virginia, area.
By 2011, Massey Energy had grown into the largest coal company in the Central Appalachian region, and was sold to Bristol, Virginia.-based Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for US$7.1 billion in cash and stock. (Alpha filed for bankruptcy a year later.)
William Massey, A.T.’s grandson, was, for many years, the corporate secretary, says Blair Massey, William’s son and a member of the family’s fourth generation. Despite the family pedigree (not to mention the family fortune), “we grew up pretty modest,” Massey says.
It was only after the family sold the company in the 1970s to St. Joe Minerals Corp that his father’s lifestyle changed. “Probably because, until the company was sold, the stock had no value,” Massey says. “So they had these shares in the company business, but a lot of the growth in the company took place after it was sold.”
In the early 1980s, though, the elder Massey, who by then was married to his third wife, decided it was time to raise the bar. “This was to impress her,” Blair Massey says, “though he was probably more into it than she was, I think.”
He bought six lots in a wealthy subdivision about 40 minutes outside Richmond – a little more than two hours’ drive from Washington – and set about building a 16,000-square-foot (4,876m), ‘Georgian Revival’ mansion on 61 acres (24.7 hectares) that overlooked the countryside and the James River.
“It’s the most beautiful view in Richmond,” Blair Massey says. That view is complemented by the railroad tracks that snake along the riverside; those tracks carried – and still carry – trains loaded with coal. “He used to count the trains coming by,” he says, noting that the location near a rail line was serendipitous. “He didn’t [build the house] because of the trains; it was for the location,” he says. “The trains were an added bonus.”
Massey’s father died in 2014 (his stepmother predeceased his father), and the family put the home on the market for US$7.9 million. After failing to find a buyer for the past three-and-a-half years, it’s just been relisted with Steele Group Sotheby’s International Realty for US$4.9 million.
A Coal Scion’s Dream Home
The home was his father’s “dream house,” Blair Massey says. “He would take you on tours of the house and give you probably more details than you wanted about the marvellous things inside.”
The younger Massey and his siblings, he says, “never really cared much for it, but we’d go along with it.” Construction lasted three years, during which time the couple “lived in a rented, one-story ranch with two bedrooms, about a thousand square feet,” says Massey. “And they were reasonably content there.”
The new house, when they finally moved in, represented a significant upgrade. The main entryway is flanked by marble columns and gilded Corinthian capitals, and opens onto a curved double staircase. There’s a colossal living room, a dining room that comfortably seats 10, a wood-panelled library, and a double-height ballroom that has a spiral wood staircase leading to an upper balcony.
“They used it a lot for entertaining,” Massey says. The couple held weddings, charity events and parties, “and my daughter even had her rehearsal dinner there,” he says.
The second floor primarily comprises bedrooms and baths, while the third floor contains a separate, four-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and living room. The basement is finished but mostly empty, though it contains a game room and wine cellar.
The property is secluded and has a massive, rolling lawn. A double row of trees leads from the rear terrace to the pool house.
The pool house, which is domed and has more marble, is flanked by an oval pool on one side and an asphalt tennis court on the other. A small rose garden sits nearby.
The younger Massey, who is retired, considered moving in with his wife but opted for a much smaller house closer to Richmond. “I love the place,” he says. “I tried to get my wife to move into the house, but she has simple taste.”