Thursday, September 26, 2013


The house, Southern Georgian in architecture, stands on a high bluff commanding a great sweep of the James River and fields that during the Civil War were fought over by the armies of the North and South. The wide portico that graces the front of the mansion—a property recently placed on the market—is characteristic of the region. H&G1917
   C.K.G. Billings bought the property in 1913 for $300,000 and built it into one of the most important horse breeding farms in the country. "Curles Neck Farm" achieved national recognition as a “great stable of champion trotters and pacers...a collection which was not only world famous, but impossible to equal.” Sporting Life 1917 The training facilities on the farm reportedly gained the admiration of the entire horse world. 

"Curls Neck Farm", on the James, the Virginia home of Mr. C K.G. Billings is one of the show spots of the Old Dominion State. Twelve miles east of Richmond, by boat it is eighteen miles. The estate has five thousand acres, one thousand of which is marsh, and is conceded to be the best ducking marsh in the South. Two thirds of the farm is under cultivation. One of the features of the place is a mile race track that cost $100,000.00 to build; a complete electric light plant, water system, boat landing and dock are other features of the "farm." Some of the finest horses in the country are bred here.  "Curls' Neck Farm" is a mecca for tourists in this section. Prominent Virginians Dedicated to the Fourth Estate 1916
  In 1852 Charles H. Senff, a New York sugar merchant, purchased the then 3,250 acre Curles tract along with the adjoining farms of "Bremo" (home of Richard Cocke) and Strawberry Plains. Senff built the 15-room brick Georgian Revival mansion that exists today to replace the pre-Civil War house owned by William Allen("the richest man in Virginia") which had fallen into disrepair. Charles H. Senff applied principles of scientific agriculture to the farm. Senff also commenced breeding Red Polled cattle, buying the best available breeding stock in the world from English breeders to establish the “the best herd of Red Polled Cattle to be found in the United States.”

  The next owner, A. B. Ruddock, started Curles Neck Dairy in 1933, which grew into one of the largest and most profitable dairies on the East Coast. Frederick Watkins purchased the farm in 1943, the dairy operation continued until 1980.

  "This property is among the most significant properties in Henrico County covering almost four centuries in American history". Click HERE for more from the Henrico County Historical Society. The history of the area goes back to 8000 BC

The riverside is dominated by a monumental portico with Ionic Order columns, brick pediment, and classical entablature.
   The mansion is double-faced with the river front being primary to emulate the orientation of other James River plantation houses dating from the Colonial and Federal periods. The ivy was removed in the second half of the twentieth century.

To the south of the house a series of three broad staircase terrace gardens extended more than 100 yards to an entrance gate from the road leading to the plantation landing, wharves, and warehouses on the James River.” The mansion was once surrounded by formal spaces.

Charles H. Senff, bought the 3,200-acre "Curles Neck Farm" and adjoining farms on Curles Neck. Finding the antebellum house in disrepair, he built this 15-room Georgian Revival mansion. Under Senff, new barns, stables, tenant houses, and wharves were built, and electricity was added. 
When the land-side porch was raised to two stories and enclosed, one of the second story windows was converted to a door accessible from the stair landing and was used as a sleeping porch. 
  The mansion has a full basement, first floor, second floor, and an attic on the third floor over the main block. The building contains 12 finished rooms plus four full and one-half bathrooms. The dining room and the drawing room are spacious and nearly square, situated on the riverside, in the northwest and southwest corners, respectively. On the land-side, two smaller formal rooms, the library and the music room occupy the northeast and southeast corners, respectively. The existing kitchen was once divided into a kitchen and butler’s pantry, but it is now one large space. Four large bedrooms, two servant’s rooms, and four full bathrooms are located on the second floor. 

Simplicity is found in both the architectural background and the furnishings of the dining-room. A high paneled wainscot circles the room. To one side is a Colonial mantel with a simple over-mantel panel. The furniture is such as is required for the quieter entertainment and life of a country house far remote from the city. H&G1917

The spirit of the rural South is found in the hospitable doorways and the comfortable furnishings that make for simple, dignified country living. The living-room shown to the right is an example of the type of furnishing that a country estate of this magnitude—it is some 5,000 acres—requires. H&G1917

The mansion, which had fallen into ruin, is being comprehensively and sympathetically restored.
   The Passage Hall(20' x 40') has a grand stair that begins its ascent in the west end and rises over the land-side entrance to a gallery where it turns and continues to the second-floor hall. The woodwork in the passage hall consists of two-foot-high paneled wainscoting, wide shouldered door and window surrounds with decorative beading, five-and-ten-panel pocket doors, and deep compound cove molding. The other formal rooms on the first floor exhibit the same rich moldings, except that the wainscoting in the dining room is about five feet high. Each formal room has a large fireplace that is centered on the outside wall. Each fireplace has a classically-inspired, floor-to-ceiling mantel with fluted Doric columns, a paneled frieze, architrave moldings, a crossetted overmantel, and a Carrera marble surround.

Curles Neck Farm's name is said to derive from the fact that the James River curls around the broad, flat peninsula known as Curles Neck. C. K. G. Billings developed the farm into a horse-breeding farm; however, the farm is better known for the extensive dairy operations conducted there under A. B. Ruddock. Curies Neck Dairy became the largest dairy farm in the county.
   Located in the Scott's Addition of Richmond, architect Louis W. Ballou designed the Curles Neck Dairy Sales & Distribution Building in 1939, as a sales room and processing plant for the dairy. The plant closed in the 1980's. The attached restaurant, now The Dairy Bar, remains open. "Said to have the best milkshakes in town". location.

Photo from Prominent Virginians Dedicated to the Fourth Estate 1916
   The wharf and river were large enough to accommodate Billings yacht "Vanadis".  The 1,200-ton, 240-foot, 2,000-horsepower yacht, which required a crew of 40 to sail, featured a spacious sitting room with open hearth, roomy clothes closets, and room-to-room telephone service. It could hold up to 100 passengers. 

  In Nordic mythology Vanadis is another name for Freya – the goddess of fertility, youth, beauty and the dead

 In 1912 Billings paid "in excess of $50,000" for THE HARVESTER, a world champion trotter stallion. The Harvester Cigar was named after this record holder. "Smoked where men of discrimination gather"Photo from Prominent Virginians Dedicated to the Fourth Estate 1916

   Billings paid record prices for the best-known stallions and brood mares and erected one of the largest enclosed race tracks in the United States and two, one-mile-long outdoor race tracks, one built of sod, the other was a clay track of natural loam which dried quickly. At his own expense Billings shipped his stable to Russia and Europe for an exhibition promoted as "the finest horses bred and raised in this country." He never bet or raced his horses for money! "The American Horse King".  

   The Strawberry Hill Races(steeplechase) were held at the farm during Billings ownership. Click THIS LINK for more.

   Founded in 1981, the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series, is a monument to his phenomenal achievements. The C.K.G. Billings Harness Driving Series is unique in that drivers, not horses, are nominated for the competitions.

  He sold the farm and liquidated his stables in 1917. The farm was advertised for $700,000, a loss of $300,000 over Billings’ investment in the property. He abandoned the East Coast for California, "ostensibly because there was no more room there for racing and breeding", and died in 1937. The land was offered to the U. S. Government for use as a cavalry station. 

  Silent film "The Mad Lover"(a modern Othello) was filmed on the farm in 1917. 

   In 1951  Eastern Airlines Flight 601 belly-landed into the fields - click HERE for more.

   In 2004 heirs of Frederick Watkins(dairy) put the Curles Neck property on the market for $24 million. It sold in 2006. In 2009, a 156-acre parcel was sub-divided from the larger property to preserve and protect most of the historic buildings. marsh is pockmarked with water-filled depressions because of sand and gravel mining.

  Since then plans for a steel wall to keep flood waters out of the marsh have been approved. Site of the VERY private Curles Neck Duck Club.

  Click HERE to read the detailed nomination form for the farms inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places. location is HERE. BING   

   Charles H. Senff was the grandson of William F. Havemeyer, a former mayor of New York City and heir to the sugar refinery company Havemeyer & Elder. In the 19th century, Havemeyer & Elder controlled most of the international sugar market, evolving into the American Sugar Refining CompanyClick HERE to see where Charles Henry Sneff had a home along Madison Avenue in New York City. After selling "Curles Neck Farm" to Billings, Mrs. Sneff went on to purchase "Knollwood" on the Gold Coast of Long Island.

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