About 40 miles from Lynchburg and 50 miles from Charlottesville, smack dab in the middle of towering mountains, lush grape vines and apple orchards, sits Pharsalia, a circa-1800s historic home used for weddings, flower workshops and an overall getaway oasis.
On any given day, its owner, a descendant of the original proprietor, is somewhere on the 22-acre property as busy as the bees collecting nectar from the thousands of flower bushes.
Florence “Foxie” Morgan said the property is beautiful now but it has taken years of hard work and dedication.
Morgan was named after her grandmother, and her nickname was given to her by her father, taken from the story about Bre’r Rabbit and Bre’r Fox.
Morgan, who says she wears many hats, wakes up early and makes a list for the day of who will do what.
“We’re definitely a home, not a banquet hall or a country club. We’re a home that is hopefully beautiful to everyone.”
Pharsalia is quiet too, Morgan said.
She has a core team of five employees who work with her on a normal basis but during busy events, there might be 10 people working.
Tammy Flippin-Ortiz, one of those five employees and Morgan’s niece, said it is wonderful to work alongside her aunt in their family home every day.
Like Morgan, Flippin-Ortiz also spent her summers at Pharsalia when her grandparents resided there.
“It’s wonderful to just be able to work with my aunt and see all the wonderful things she has done with my grandparents’ home,” she said. “She loves it as much as my grandparents did. They would be so proud to see what she’s done and what she’s added.”
Flippin-Ortiz describes Morgan as easygoing and hard-working.
“She has a lot on her plate all the time and is in great demand as a peony speaker,” she said. “She is a wonderful friend and does lots of things for people.”
She said coming to work at Pharsalia is like coming home.
“This was my grandparents’ home so it’s like coming home every day. The beauty of Pharsalia and the surrounding countryside and family … that’s what I really enjoy,” she said.
There is always work to be done on the house and Morgan says it’s a financial drain. Every year she does a little bit and restores a room in the house.
She just replaced the wood on the side of the house and is fighting hard to save a longleaf pine tree on the property.
One day she would like to have a building to host weddings and parties in versus a tent but doesn’t see that in the near future.
“I take it a day at a time. You know that saying about stop and smell the roses? Everyone may have a piece of it and not realize it,” she said. “You can enjoy what you have, set goals for where you want to be. I mean, this has evolved. There wasn’t a huge plan.”
Christine Casey, a Wintergreen resident, met Morgan 10 years ago after photographing Pharsalia’s Folk Festival.
Since then, Casey has been photographing the property during events and has even helped put together a book for Morgan’s family that features Morgan’s ancestors who are buried in the family’s historic cemetery.
She has also taken photos of the flower selection at Pharsalia and made it into a look-book for prospective brides.
Casey describes Morgan as “the most lovely person” and Pharsalia as a gorgeous place to get away.
“Foxie has a real love of beautiful flowers and landscaping,” she said. “She bubbles with enthusiasm, is a very generous person, a wonderful hostess. She brings out the good in a lot of people, knows a lot of people at the farmers market. … They just love her,” she said. “I see people going up and hugging her, she’s very popular with people. She’s just is such a positive individual.”
Casey enjoys how Morgan is constantly reinventing Pharsalia and thinking of new ways for people to enjoy it.
“I have witnessed everything from her sharing Pharsalia with school groups, workshops, brides, different societies. … She keeps it open for anyone. She bends over backward to make it a really special and fun time,” Casey said.
Morgan describes Pharsalia as a place with good vibes and good feelings.
“I think we’re just working hard to preserve Pharsalia and pace ourselves so that we can do enough each year to keep it going and yet not be bankrupt,” she said “I think it’s a project that’s evolving and I don’t see an end. It will hopefully always be, and someone will take the time and continue it just like I did from my parents.”
Behind the property lies Silver Creek Orchard — the Flippin and Seaman family farm surrounding the property by 360 degrees — and The Priest, a famous hike, along with other breathtaking views of Nelson County scenery.
The story of Pharsalia’s history begins in 1814 when the historic white home was built and given as a wedding gift to William Massie, Morgan’s great, great grandfather.
After Massie’s death, the home was owned by two owners between 1890 and 1950. When the house came back up for sale, Morgan’s grandmother Florence helped Morgan’s parents, Perkins and George Flippin, buy Pharsalia back.
Morgan, 67, a Lynchburg native, spent every summer at Pharsalia until she was married in 1974, at which point she and her husband Richard moved into the original overseer’s home behind the house, where they still live today, and raised their children.
“I had the best of both worlds,” Morgan said of spending the school year in Lynchburg and summers in Nelson County. “I had city friends and country friends. At the end of the school year, we would pack clothes in a pillowcase, catch the cat, put it in a sack and move to the country.”
Pharsalia was used as a private home until 2004 when Perkins Flippin died and left her five children the rights to buy the house.
According to the Nelson County Commissioner of the Revenue office, the home was purchased for $450,000 in October 2005.
It took them 18 months to decide Pharsalia would become a business and it would host weddings and garden classes.
“Our first wedding was in 2007. I’d say we probably weren’t ready but we did it,” Morgan laughed.
The property includes an original smokehouse, slave quarters, outdoor kitchen and ice house as well as an in-ground swimming pool that was built when Morgan was 8 years old, a tent for weddings that stays up all season, an herb garden and an abundance of flowers, including sunflowers, peonies, snap dragons and dahlias.
When asked how many different flower varieties are on the property, Morgan laughed and replied “maybe a zillion.”
Morgan makes a note to not take her lifestyle for granted.
“Being an older woman, I just live in my own little world. I love being home. I can come to work in my pajamas,” she said.
Before opening Pharsalia to the public, Morgan worked at The Farm Basket, a business her parents opened, for 30 years and as a second grade teacher at Rockfish Elementary School.
As she says this, her 5-year-old golden retriever, Indy, jumps in the pool.
“He enjoys the pool way more than any of us,” Morgan laughed.
Running the business takes a team effort, she said.
“Yes it’s beautiful but it didn’t just happen,” she said. “[How] we really relax is to go away. You have to make yourself, but the best part of going away is coming home.”