Once, this farm drew a king, Arabian sheiks and the world's richest horse breeders to Rockingham County. More of a showplace than a farm, this 73-acre horse operation was a rich man's playground, a place where high-spirited Arabian horses pranced and high-dollar liquor flowed.
It was called Sitting Rock Farms, located just off U.S. 220 in Madison. When it was built by a Stanley Furniture heir in the early 1970s, it was the priciest, fanciest horse farm this region had ever seen - complete with its own science lab and plush horse-viewing areas with fully stocked wet bars. A prized $90,000 white stallion regularly wowed visitors as he snorted and stomped across a Las Vegas-style stage inside a $1 million barn.But then came a bank foreclosure in 1982 and an investigation by animal-cruelty officials. Sitting Rock's grandeur was lost under an embarrassing morass of shame and debt and years of uncertainty. The once-glistening, woven-wire fences rusted. The sparkling oak and wire stalls - built from European design - became covered with grime. The farm, once valued in the millions, finally was sold in 1994 for $300,000, deed records show.
Now, the beleaguered old farm is for sale again.
On July 14, owners Dave and Pat Everson will auction it off. Potential buyers and curious onlookers from California to Florida are expected to attend. The Eversons have advertised the auction in nearly every major horse publication in the country.
So many people have traveled to Madison in recent weeks to look over the farm's 137 stalls, two indoor riding arenas and 50 acres of fenced pastures that the Eversons have started shutting the front gates.
``Interested people can call for an appointment, and we would love to show them around,' Pat Everson says.
The Eversons have decided on a minimum sale price, but they won't say how much money it will take to buy Sitting Rock - now called Park Place Stables.
But they want out.
Dave Everson recently stood in the cluttered hall of a once-immaculate oak, metal and rubber-matted barn, one of three big barns built during Sitting Rock's heyday. Dogs, wild cats and a pig named Samantha run loose in the barns.
Critters of some sort have eaten through the ceiling in one of the farm's carpeted and paneled entertainment areas. Windows overlooking the barns and riding rings, like most everything else, are smeared with layers of dirt.
``We wanted to see this place bloom again when we bought it,' says Dave Everson, who keeps about 25 horses at the farm now. ``But when it boils down to it, we're small breeders and private people. And this place is more than we need.'
The Eversons also say, however, that they don't have to sell. And if they don't get the minimum price they want, they'll keep the property a while longer.
Once, more than 400 horses lived at Sitting Rock. The horses, Arabians, belonged to Dave Stanley, whose father, Thomas B. Stanley, was once governor of Virginia. Thomas Stanley also founded Stanley Furniture in Bassett, Va.
Dave Stanley, who worked for Stanley Furniture for a time, built and ran Sitting Rock Farms.
He did not return phone calls from the News & Record seeking comment. But according to a former Sitting Rock horse trainer, Nick Nickerson, the farm was a fantasy land of sorts - a place where image was more important than reality, where money flowed like champagne.
``I signed tickets for $114,000 in expenses for one party one night,' Nickerson says. 'I only sold $35,000 worth of horses from it, though. But Dave was happy with that.'
Sitting Rock became known across the country and around the world for its fine Arabian horses - but more so for its opulent parties. It was a horse farm that treated you like royalty. A red carpet, literally, was rolled out across the sawdust for visitors who walked into the show ring, built to Olympic standards.
The royals who visited Sitting Rock - including King Hussein of Jordan, who met the Stanleys at a White House party during the Ford administration - loved it, too.
``We had princes and sheiks and princesses from all these Middle Eastern countries who would come to Sitting Rock and stay in the guest quarters,' Nickerson says. ``One prince came with his bodyguards, and we closed off the farm for a week to entertain him and show him horses. He didn't buy a one of them. But he seemed to have a big time while he was here.'
That story, and hundreds of others, made Sitting Rock legendary in horse circles.
``This is where they had the horse auctions and stallion presentations,' says Pat Everson, standing in a huge, covered arena topped with Broadway-style spotlighting. ``They were black-tie events.'
How it all crumbled is a touchy subject.
Stanley family members won't discuss it. But in 1982, First Union National Bank foreclosed on a loan - reportedly for $1 million - to Sitting Rock Farms. The bank seized more than 160 horses, including Sitting Rock's prized $90,000 stallion, 29-year-old Sotep.
The horses were still housed at Sitting Rock, but they began losing weight. Animal-cruelty investigators were called in to monitor the horses, although no one ever was convicted of cruelty. The bank moved the horses to another local farm because bank managers and the Stanleys couldn't agree on terms for feeding and caring for them.
``They were sad times,' Nickerson remembers.
Eventually, the horses the bank seized, and another herd that belonged to the Stanley family, were sold at auction and went to farms around the world. Sotep, at the time one of the preeminent sires in the country, was sold for $15,000, only $5,000 more than his usual breeding fee.
Dave Stanley and his wife, Helen, divorced. Helen Stanley, who now lives in Stanleytown, Va., would not comment for this article. Dave Stanley moved to Nevada, where he runs another horse farm with his second wife, Molly Stapleton.
For several years, Nickerson leased the farm from the Stanleys' three children, who held the 150-acre site in trust. In 1994, the children sold a big portion of the farm, 73 acres, including all the barns and horse facilities, to the Eversons.
``We bought a special piece of Arabian horse history when we bought this place,' Dave Everson says. ``I hope whoever buys it now feels the same way.'\ \ Contact Parker Nash at 373-7071 or firstname.lastname@example.org\