Story and photos by Callie Broaddus
The story of Leesburg’s iconic Morven Park, which began in 1780 as a small two-story farmhouse, is about to get a new chapter.
A multiphase renovation project is underway at the historic home that once belonged to Virginia governor Westmoreland Davis, aimed at bringing the International Equestrian Center up to world-class standards. The 1,000 acres of classic country land that constitute Morven Park have been open to the public since 1967, at the behest of the property’s last private owner, Marguerite Davis.
“She started the trust with the intent of preserving the mansion, preserving the grounds and opening them to the public,” said Morven Park Executive Director Stephanie Kenyon. “She was so proud of her house and the grounds that she wanted this place to be enjoyed by everybody.”
Davis certainly got her wish. In the last year, Morven Park has seen about 250,000 visitors, hosted 16 weddings, educated over 6,500 public school students through the Morven Park Center for Civic Impact, played host to local flag football and ultimate Frisbee teams on the polo field and has even received three pardoned turkeys from the White House. It is a favorite spot for joggers, family picnics, hikers, history buffs and — it goes without saying — horseback riders.
The International Equestrian Center at Morven Park has been a staple fixture in the horse world for decades, and Kenyon said the planned renovations will reassert Morven Park’s position as a premiere venue for all types of riding. The first phase of the renovation project is moving rapidly toward completion this year.
Already, a new road has been completed that connects the equestrian facilities to the mansion side of the park, improving the flow of traffic across the massive complex. The Davis and Bedford Arenas have been updated with new footing and fencing. New ringside boxes, a picnic area and tailgating spots at the Davis Arena will be put to use July 1, when Morven Park hosts its first Polo in the Park event — an arena polo series modeled after the community-building success of Great Meadow’s Twilight Polo.
Steeplechase racing will return to Morven Park’s legendary racecourse, which was last used in 2010. The track is getting a facelift as part of renovation phase one, with a new rail, new jumps and two new arenas being constructed in the infield. These new arenas will be landscaped with stone walls and finished with Atwood all-weather footing — as will the Hedge arena, which has been expanded threefold to serve as the complex’s grand prix field.
“All told, Morven Park will have 10 acres of flexible arena space, all with top-quality footing, and better traffic flow with horse, rider and spectator safety in mind,” said Kenyon, noting that Morven Park worked with riders, trainers and owners to ensure the facility improvements were designed to support the highest level of international competition. And in the next few weeks, international course designer Michael Etherington-Smith will be working to refresh and upgrade Morven Park’s popular cross-country course.
Another aspect of the fist renovation phase that is already complete caters to riders outside the worlds of racing, hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage. “Recognizing that trail riding is Loudoun County’s most popular form of riding,” said Kenyon, “Morven Park has recently expanded its riding and carriage driving trails to a beautiful network of 6.5 miles meandering through the Morven Park estate grounds.”
Later renovation phases will see improved stabling and spectator amenities, but Kenyon is excited about the potential of what they’ve already accomplished. As a lifelong rider herself, Kenyon is thrilled to be able to shepherd Morven Park into a new era of equestrian competition. But it’s the idea of sharing the property with the surrounding community that excites her most, whether people visit the grounds on two legs or four.
“We talk about Loudon county being the wealthiest county in the United States. Loudon county also has more horses than any other county in the state of Virginia … and we’re the fastest growing county in the U.S.,” said Kenyon. “So that means, with this property under easement, it will be green space forever, and it will never be built on. That’s important as the county continues to grow, because we’ll be the central park of Loudon county, and that’s really how we position ourselves.” ML
Plan Your Visit:
1. For $250/year or $25/ride, you can trailer in your horse any day of the year to take advantage of Morven Park’s equestrian facilities and trails. Call Morven Park to learn how at (703) 777-2890.
2. The grounds are open to the public year-round, free of charge, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. You might picnic on the lawn, go for a jog, visit the turkeys pardoned by President Obama, explore the hiking trails or stroll through the famed Boxwood gardens established by Mrs. Davis.
3. Morven Park employs a staff horticulturalist, who grows all the flowers you see in the gardens and planters. An organic garden on-site, cultivated with help from school groups, produces food for the local food bank.
4. Morven Park is home to three museums: The Morven Park Mansion, The Winmill Carriage Museum, and The Museum of Hounds and Hunting of North America. Check the website for hours and ticketing information: morvenpark.org.