But over time, the estate, now known as Mount Ida, went from a cattle farm to a cross between an amusement park and a village.
“I wish I could tell you that was the plan,” he said. “It sort of evolved over time, 19 years of things. Different things came up at different times. It was a great venue for my children to grow up.”
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Sullivan had to act quickly to acquire the farm, then known as Mount Pleasant, but he took his time adding to it. He eventually adopted the name Mount Ida for the entire property.
“It wasn’t even on the market at the time,” he said. “I got a call from a friend whose brother was a broker. He said, ‘If you get down here quick, you might be able to grab it.’ ”
He started off with 2,200 acres. At one point, the estate grew to nearly 6,000 acres. It is now 4,500 acres.
“Over the years, anything that was abutting [the farm], if it seemed strategic to how the farm was — or protected the view, or protected the road frontage — I would buy it,” he said. “Eventually things would come up. I was patient.”
As the farm expanded, Sullivan upgraded its infrastructure, building bridges and roads and installing high-speed fiber-optic cable, which supplies Wi-Fi throughout the property. He also added a two-lane go-kart track, a 180-foot waterslide into what is believed to be the largest private lake in Virginia, and two lakefront beaches. His children spent a lot of time fishing and water-skiing. He established trails so his wife and daughter, who ride horses, could explore the countryside.
“That’s all stuff we added basically for my kids as they were growing up, things to keep them entertained, things that seemed like they were fun,” Sullivan said.
The farm was enjoyed by all generations of the family. Whenever his parents visited, one of their favorite activities was touring the property in a carriage drawn by former Budweiser Clydesdales. Sullivan also had a sled the horses pulled when it snowed.
“My parents loved it here,” he said. “It was fun for them as well.”
About 10 years ago, Sullivan added a 20-acre vineyard, which has since won awards for its chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. The farm’s craft brewery uses barley from the barley field.
When his children were students at the University of Virginia, they often invited their college friends to stay at the farm. It didn’t take long before they ran out of places for them to sleep. Now the property has 26 houses.
“My kids have lots and lots of friends, which is why we had the additional housing,” he said. “That way we could keep everybody here because they stayed for [what] was supposed to be a weekend [but] it would be five days.”
The large gatherings necessitated a communal gathering space for meals.
“We took a cattle barn over and converted it so everyone could be together to eat,” he said. “We could bring caterers in to cook. It just lends itself naturally to hosting events outside that. So when we stopped using it as much as my kids got older, then it made sense for us to host other events there because the building was just sitting empty.”
Over time, the farm became a popular spot for the children’s friends’ weddings. Then the Sullivans opened it up to the public as a wedding venue.
“Over the years, as we used [the farm] less and less, we started to be more commercial in our operations,” Sullivan said. “We have five different places you can get married. We’ve got the tasting room and the brewery. It’s a very self-sustaining operation.”
The property, which has a full-time staff of 20, remains a cattle farm, with a couple hundred head of Black Angus. The cow-calf operation is another source of income.
“As we do more weddings, we do less cattle,” Sullivan said.
The property has many amenities, but the one that Sullivan says his family enjoyed most was the historical Mount Ida house. The circa 1780 house was originally built in Buckingham County, Va., on the banks of the James River. In 1987, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But in 1995, after the house fell into disrepair, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources allowed it to be meticulously disassembled — with each part numbered, documentary photographs taken and drawings prepared — and reassembled at its new location.
“All its historic character is still in place,” Sullivan said. “It’s a really pretty unique place.”
It is not the only historical house on the property. The circa 1810 Mount Pleasant Manor also remains.
Now that his children have moved away and following the recent death of his father, Sullivan reluctantly decided it was time to sell the farm.
“I’m spending more time traveling to my family than I am spending time at the farm,” he said. “It sort of seems like a waste.”
Sullivan said the property could be operated purely as a business or it could be a family compound, with the business side helping to pay for its upkeep. The farm does not have a conservation easement.
“I think it’s probably time for someone else to enjoy it,” Sullivan said. “Because I don’t have the time and my kids aren’t here and with my mom sort of alone. . . . It’s unfortunate, but we had a great time. We have wonderful memories here.”
The 4,500-acre farm is listed at $75 million.
Listing agent: Daniel Heider, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.