SOMERS, Conn. (AP) — Just before his 100th birthday, ice cream magnate S. Prestley Blake gave himself a $7.7 million gift — a house built to replicate Monticello, the famed Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson.
Nestled a stone's throw from the Massachusetts line in the small Connecticut town of Somers, the 10,000-square-foot house on more than 9 acres of land goes on the auction block May 31. It has never been lived in, failed to sell for the original asking price of $6.5 million and didn't get a buyer at the reduced listing of $4.9 million.
Jefferson's Monticello was built over 28 years at a cost of more than $100,000, according to its official website. Because much of the work was bartered or done by slave labor, it is impossible to figure out an exact cost, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation says.
Blake, the co-founder of the Friendly's ice cream and restaurant chain, lives a few doors down on adjacent property connected by a horse trail. He never meant to live in the replica.
"This is my swan song," he said in 2014, when the house was built. "This is the last thing I'll leave for posterity. I want this to be an asset to the community."
Other than a three-car garage, the house was built to mimic the original Monticello from the outside. That includes the decorative railings on the roof and the handmade bricks imported from Virginia, laid in the same Flemish bond pattern used by Jefferson.
For its construction, Blake flew his contractor, Bill Laplante, to Virginia to study the original. Laplante said he used photographs and a book with original architectural drawings to help him build the replica.
"I would say, with the exception of the garage and the rear elevation, it's probably 95 to 98 percent accurate," he said. "The footprint is pretty much the same."
The inside of the house is modern, complete with an elevator, gourmet kitchen and lights and heating that can be controlled from a smartphone app. The chandelier in the foyer also can be lowered electronically to replace light bulbs and a bookcase in the master bedroom opens to reveal a hidden safe.
Laplante said the house is also environmentally friendly, with a geothermal heating system. Much of the wood involved was harvested from the property. There are also a few elements inside, such as the finish carpentry on the moldings, which resemble the original.
Some potential bidders are considering it as a potential bed and breakfast or wedding venue; others are interested in living there, said Jack Hoyt, project sales manager for Concierge Auctions. The property has attracted interest from as far away as Florida and Canada.
"I try to guess where these auctions will end up and I'm often wrong," Hoyt said. "I can tell you it will sell from anywhere from zero to $4.9 million. We may start the bidding at $500,000 or $1 million or something like that and then wherever the bidders drive it up to is what the final price will be."
Those who want to participate in the online auction must pay a $100,000 deposit in advance and provide proof they have the funds to purchase the home. The property comes with a couple of drawbacks. The house is visible from the road and people often stop to look and take photos. It's also less than 3 miles from several state prisons.
Now 101, Blake declined to comment for this story.
"It's just a spectacular property," said Lisa Pellegrini, the town's first selectman. "What we would like to see is just somebody who would continue to take very good care of it."