By Jennifer Worcester Moore
In Hunt Country, county lines run along the rolling hills and historic stonewalls, going more-or-less unnoticed. One estate may run as far as the eye can see, leaving Loudoun County and pouring over into Fauquier.
However, when one thinks of Clarke County, one pictures it in the Shenandoah Valley – out in the mountains and along the river. Yet, it follows the same suit – it is simply the western sides of Hunt Country, weaving in and among Fauquier and Loudoun seamlessly.
What are county lines in Hunt Country? Is Hunt Country itself, maybe more of a boundary line than the actual county delineations?
Saddle Up: The Horse in Sport and Art of Clarke County
In Spring 2019, the National Sporting Library & Museum will collaborate with the Clarke County Historical Association and Historic Long Branch to present an exhibition, called Saddle Up: The Horse in Sport fax, who was then 75 years old. With the area filling with Tidewater gentry “second sons” inheriting large acreages in the 18th-century, bringing Thoroughbred breeding and racing into the region, and establishing large plantations, it is no wonder Clarke’s earliest history is that of fine horses and field sports.
Estates that you drive past even today – Milton Valley, Clay Hill, Carter Hall, Saratoga, and Rose Mont – were active in Thoroughbred breeding dating back to the earliest years of our own Nation-forming. In fact, some of the largest landowners were veterans of the Revolutionary War who came to the fertile fields along the Shenandoah to breed and train horses.
It is no wonder, then, that the first horse show in the United States was founded in nearby Fauquier County, Virginia. At the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, modest farmers and well-to-do gentlemen could demonstrate the superiority of their stock and promote good horsemanship throughout Clarke, Fauquier, and Loudoun counties.
According to the historic preservation consultant who wrote the Historic Reconnaissance Survey for Clarke County, Maral S. Kalbian, “Clarke County’s abundance of blue grass has long made it a desirable location for horse breeding.” Kalbian also notes that Clarke County has a fascinating past time, jousting tournaments, which allowed the wealthy Clarke men “to test their equestrian skills while engaging in a social activity.”
Civil War and Depression
Of course, the ruination of Clarke’s wealth during the Civil War and a subsequent financial depression led to a stagnant period in the mid-to-late 19th-century. Landed gentry families that once found time and money for leisure activities, horse racing, and lavish entertaining now found themselves in very hard times indeed. Wealthy sportsmen, like Rozier Dulany of Welbourne, sent prized studs and mares to Pennsylvania or other northern states to wait out the conflagration. Men, including grooms, trainers, and stablehands, were lost on battlefields, those who made it home were permanently disfigured or diminished, and many families suffered losses, material or otherwise.
Polly Randolph, a 13-year old during the Civil War, wrote letters from her family home in Millwood, New Market. With her brothers fighting for the Confederate Army, she was lonely, frightened, and quickly became an adult during these years. She wrote to a friend, Maria, in 1865, “A Regiment came down to Millwood day before yesterday sent by order of Gen. Sheridan to take all the plank fence from Millwood down to the river, for kindling wood.”
Some fine, early homes were burned by the Union, including the c.1827 Springfield and four others, to say nothing of the barns and crops. Mosby’s Rangers were waging their own war with George Custer’s cavalry, which ended in a gruesome hanging scene west of Berryville. In addition to these more extreme events, the daily life for Clarke Countians during the Civil War was full of fear and surprise. Troop movements along the roadways resulted in multiple battles, some of a rather large magnitude such as the 1864 Battles of Cool Spring in July and of Berryville in September. When the Civil War finally came to a close in April of 1865 and Virginia became a ‘military district,’ most of the ostentatiousness of Clarke County equestrianism was placed necessarily on hold.
But with the closing of the 19th- century, a revival launched the successful return of Thoroughbred breeding and Hunt Country culture in Clarke County. The year 1869 saw the reinstatement of the Upperville Colt and Horse show, and in the 1880s, the Berryville Horse Show (held in the now Clarke County Fairgrounds) was a popular venue for racing and other equestrian competitions. Thanks in part to the new Shenandoah Valley Railroad, farms such as Audley and Kentmere were on the rise.
Additionally, the famous 1905 “Great Hound Match” rejuvenated foxhunting and brought national spotlight to this area as a suitable place to pursue the sport. The 1905 competition inspired a great number of equestrians from New York to abandon the quickly urbanizing Long Island area and resettle along the Ashby Gap Turnpike, now Route 50. Colonial Revival mansions, including Scaleby and the newly restored Carter Hall in Millwood and North Hill near Berryville, played host to hunt breakfasts and to elegant and lively soirees for the Blue Ridge Hunt, formed in 1888 by an Englishman named Archibald Bevan who came to Clarke for the Hunt.
Hunt Country of Today
In the 1920s and ‘30s, Thoroughbreds from Audley farm won hundreds of races across the Nation, including nabbing the first Triple Crown title, which went to Sir Barton. As the lingering glow of the extravagant pre-World War II years continued among horse farms in Hunt Country, noted families picked up the trend and began to visit the area specifically for equestrian sport.
There were New England families who found that some of the landscapes here reminded them of England and they scrambled to buy up horse farms for foxhunting. There were notable Washington, D.C. personalities who found the quick drive for top-rate foxhunting attractive, including George Patton, Teddy Roosevelt, “Wild Bill” Donovan, and Billy Mitchell.
And, of course, there were the Hollywood set — the young and beautiful who enjoyed parties at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jock Whitney, Llangollen, the vast estate stretching across three counties (Loudoun, Clarke, and Fauquier). All of the notoriety of the Hunt Country lifestyles, founded on horses, even has led to more recent celebrity ‘weekenders’ including of course Jackie Kennedy, who loved antiquing with Bunny Mellon in Millwood, Phil and Kay Graham (of The Post fame), and Averill and Pamela Harriman, among many others.
The trend continues today, as we find that celebrity visitation and weekend residences lead to ever-increasing interest in equestrian sport. While it may be on-trend and a favorite of the ‘jet set,’ breeding and racing horses was a way of life for Virginia, even while still a Colony.
The Horse Connection
Though living in different locales, technically, horse farms and rambling estates share a dedication to the open space and traditional backdrops of the stone walls and historic mansion houses regardless of which county they pay taxes to. It is the undulating vista of Hunt Country and the love of the horses on the landscape that brings together a setting, not just a county name.
The Clarke County Historical Association is a Hunt Country neighbor, just over the mountain, and is the proud owner of the Burwell-Morgan Mill located in Millwood, across from the Locke Store. The Burwell-Morgan Mill is open most weekends, milling grain into flour and pancake mix and offers multiple weekends each year that the public can help out – “Colonial Kids Day” and “Clarke County Heritage Day.”
Clarke Historical, in addition to the Burwell-Morgan Mill, has a museum in downtown Berryville, which includes an elaborate archives collection. Best of all, the archives collection is free for members of Clarke Historical to use. Many property owners find the archival collection handy in researching the history of their estate, either in historic photographs or letters or even deeds. Also while visiting the Clarke Museum, check out Lord Fairfax’s wooden chest, which no doubt accompanied the original foxhunter on excursions by horseback.
Jennifer Worcester Moore is the president of the Mosby Heritage Area Association. For more information on the group, visit Mosbyheritagearea.org.
This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.