Mansions can be tricky to sell. How many people need a 9,000 square-foot house? Six bedrooms? Five and a half bathrooms? Belmont, the Robert Payne Richardson Jr. House, is as grand a mansion as you’ll find, and it took more than six years to sell it (the sale closed in May).
The price was $950,000, just $106 per square foot. It was listed originally for $1.495 million more than six years ago. The seller lived there and rented it out as a wedding and event venue, and that’s likely to be its use going forward. The buyer is a Delaware corporation that owns a wedding venue called the Bella Collina Mansion in Stokesdale (“Tuscany’s version of Cinderella’s Castle!!!”), so the Richardson house appears to have a sustainable future, always a big question for a grand estate like this.
The Richardsons were one of Reidsville’s most prominent families in their day, and their legacy includes some of the town’s most interesting houses. Robert Payne Richardson Sr. (1820-1909) and Robert Jr. (1855-1922) built the three major structures in the Robert Payne Richardson Historic District. They include Junior’s namesake house and Senior’s two houses; the first was built around 1842 and is said to be the oldest in town. The family is also connected to the Walters House, which Robert Sr. built for his daughter, Mary Elizabeth Richardson Walters (but apparently not to the fabulous Tallulah A. Richardson House, Reidsville’s Queen Anne masterpiece).
“Belmont, the magnificent Neo-Classical Revival house built for Robert Payne Richardson, Jr., in 1912, stands on a majestic site elevated above the surrounding terrain, reached by a paved driveway winding uphill from Richardson Drive,” the district’s National Register nomination says.
“The most striking feature of the exterior of the house is the monumental elliptical central portico with balustraded flat roof, wide bracketed eaves, two-story unfluted Ionic columns, and granite staircase. A one-story, hipped-roof porch with Tuscan columns on battered brick and granite piers spans the facade and wraps around the north elevation to a porte corchere and around the north elevation to a porte corchere and around the south elevation to a projecting pedimented pavilion with stairs leading to the south lawn. The porch railings consist of paired, three-inch thick, round, horizontal metal bars. The porch floor is glazed brick, while the ceiling is stained tongue and groove with exposed beaded beams.”
The interior features mahogany doors with decorative marquetry, beveled and leaded glass windows, coved ceilings with molded picture rails throughout the house and parquet floors with different border patterns in each room.
“Both the main and porte cochere entrances open to vestibules floored with mosaic tiles. From either vestibule, the most arresting element of the house’s interior becomes apparent. This is the room-width, Greek cross-shaped hall with its monumental stair rising majestically from the center of the cross in a broad sweeping central flight to an inter-floor landing on the south wall, with a dog-leg on each side. The curving banister, supported by a slender turned balusters, spans the second floor stair opening, descends along the dog-leg, and turns to sweep down the central flight, ending in a scroll.”
Robert Payne Richardson Sr. was the owner of Richardson Tobacco Company and a plantation of 1,600 acres. His first wife, Elizabeth Wright Richardson (1822-1849), was a granddaughter of William Wright, the first settler in the area, which originally was known as Wright’s Cross-Roads.
Robert Jr. played baseball and football at Davidson, where he was remembered for a heroic touchdown in a 73-7 thrashing of Wake Forest. Accounts vary as to whether Junior started his own tobacco company or simply renamed the family firm R.P. Richardson, Jr., and Company. In any case, he ran it, and it was the major family business until it was sold in 1926. The family also was involved in gold mining in Montgomery County, large-scale farming in Rockingham County and a prominent local shoe-polish company, among other ventures (the invaluable NCPedia has more detail). Reidsville’s Richardsons have no apparent relation to Greensboro’s Richardsons (Lunsford Richardson, L. Richardson Preyer et al).