Dunnington Mansion for sale? Unique proposal given to foundation

Years after seeing a bid to buy the property rejected, members of the Dunnington Mansion Foundation (DMF) may have another chance. The mansion’s current ownership group has told the foundation they’re willing to listen, with some qualifiers. 

If the DMF raises enough money to come to the negotiating table with a “fair offer” and the money needed to immediately start work, they’ll hear out the proposal and consider selling them the property. But there is a flipside to that. 

“If we fail to raise the required funds or do not raise them quickly enough, the fate of the mansion will likely fall to residential developers or a private business,” said Heather Beach. She serves as DMF President. “Our goal is not only to save the mansion, but to safeguard its history! To be clear though, we are absolutely in no way guaranteed the right to purchase this property unless we come to the negotiating table with a fair offer and the funds to start immediate stabilization. We have had a Richmond-based renovation company put over 100 hours into restoration estimates for us. They are ready to go if we can acquire the property”. 

So that’s where the DMF’s plan currently stands. They have the opportunity to at least make a bid on the property, but it’s not going to be cheap. 

The package includes the Dunnington Mansion and 11 acres surrounding it. That’s it. To be clear, this sale does not include the Manor Golf Club, just some of the property around it. It also doesn’t include the more than 700 acres currently up for sale by the Laura Peery Team of Sotheby’s International Realty. In other words, Longwood and Hampden-Sydney College golf teams will still be able to play at Manor Club. 

WHAT WILL IT BE USED FOR? 

As for the DMF’s plans, Beach said they want to restore the mansion, turning it into a multi-use event and community center for private and public events. And so they’ve organized a fundraising campaign, to try and buy it outright. 

Two platforms have been set up to help with this. First, a GoFundMe campaign launches as of Friday, May 10. It can be accessed through the DMF’s social media accounts or through a link on the group’s website at https://www.gofundme.com/f/DunningtonMansion. There will be a call to action video to go hand in hand with the campaign, created by filmmaker Nicholas Levasseur. The second project is connected directly with the website, using the integrated donation platform Donor Box and Stripe. You can just go to www.dunningtonmansion.org and click the link to give. Group members point out all donations are tax deductible, as the Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit. 

Now here’s where it gets creative. Members of the DMF’s Board of Directors, including Beach, say they understand one of the concerns when it comes to donating. What if they don’t raise enough money? Or what if their offer to buy gets rejected? Where does that money go? The answer is to local nonprofits. 

“The DMF Board of Directors fully understands the ethical responsibilities involved with donations from the public,” Beach said. “We have voted on a novel plan that if we don’t reach our fundraising goal, or the mansion is sold to developers before we raise enough funds, donations will still make a meaningful difference. Some will be applied to help stop the water damage and stabilize the structure and the remaining funds will be donated to three outstanding local nonprofits, each dedicated to impactful community work: STEPS, The Robert Russa Moton Museum and The Farmville-Prince Edward Historical Society.” 

A RICH HISTORY 

Located just outside of Farmville, Dunnington Mansion stands as a beacon of the area’s rich history and a somber reminder of how easily and quickly historic structures can fade if not upkept. Richard Woodson bought the land in 1748 and built the first structure on the property. Then the home, then called Poplar Hill, was passed down through the family before being sold to Capt. John Knight in 1860. 

He left the mansion to his daughter and son-in-law, the Dunningtons. It was during this time, in 1897, that the current mansion was built. Dunnington extensively renovated the home, adding on four rooms, a massive tower and stately front entrance. This also changed the orientation of the house, switching from north/south to east/west. The front of the house now faces west. After their death in 1960, the home was owned by the Bolt family until 2000. Then it changed hands several times after that, from 2000 to 2021. At that point, the Community Development Authority purchased the property to build the Manor Golf Course. 

Then the mansion’s story turned tragic. After serving as a well-cared for private residence for 170 years, ownership of the property was acquired by several different investor groups over the last 24 years. The golf course was in fact built, but an unforeseen economic recession in the early 2000’s led to years of abandonment for the mansion. 

In late 2021 it was bought by a local investor group who initially invested a significant amount of money to clear the grounds, stabilize the interior and replace a portion of the badly damaged roof. Over the last two years, the current owners have made significant steps, but water damage continues to accelerate the mansion’s decay and major work is needed. The ownership group has allowed the Foundation to care for the mansion and use it to raise funds to help with small stabilization projects and to spread awareness of its forgotten history and current situation. 

FUNDRAISING AND A STATE VISIT 

So here’s where it stands. In addition to the current fundraising push, Dunnington will get a visit from some state and federal officials later this month. On May 21, a representative from Sen. Mark Warner’s office, along with officials from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Preservation Virginia will be on hand to discuss both the mansion’s history and broader efforts that can be done to save it. 

“We all share a deep appreciation for what places like this mean to the community and to the state,” Beach said.