One hundred years ago, the rural Virginia community in western Loudoun and northern Fauquier counties was undergoing a transformation. The interwar period was a period of renaissance for foxhunting and equestrian sport, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. From Leesburg to Warrenton and anchored in Middleburg, a new community was evolving: Virginia’s Hunt Country.

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“Leesburg, 1922.” National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

The NSLM mission lists three functions: to preserve, promote, and share the contents of our collections and the subjects contained in them. None of these functions is truly independent of one another, but a great deal of emphasis is placed on preservation when it comes to the Library’s collections. A fantastic example of why we emphasize the importance of preservation is a photograph album in the Library’s archival collections.

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“Middleburg Hunt Cup, 1923 — Dr. Burke won.” National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

Almost every photo in the album is unidentified. Most of them are fading away. Aside from balancing contrast to enhance visibility, the images in this blog post are unaltered snapshots of the album’s contents.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

Photos are decidedly horsey, and show an enthusiastic sporting community, and snapshots of everyday life. We have no idea who took or collected the photos, but most images are in or around Middleburg in the 1920s.

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“Springfield, 1911.” National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

Identification for albums like this can be tricky. Most all of the images are pasted directly to the album paper, and it’s impossible to remove the prints without destroying them.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

On close inspection, it appears the rider is wearing jodhpurs, a short-sleeved shirt, and a necktie. Competition attendees drove out in their Model T Fords, lined up in the background.

The pressure to preserve is immense with a collection like the NSLM’s. As objects deteriorate, unique glimpses at history could be lost.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

An image with advanced fading: an unidentified rider wearing a dapper straw hat.

The photographs in this album are only a fraction of the total photographic images in the NSLM collection. The best hope to preserve these images would be scanning or high-resolution photography before the originals deteriorate. This album is one of hundreds of objects in the NSLM collection awaiting digital preservation. We’re already making plans for securing the resources and equipment to preserve these kinds of objects so they can be enjoyed online.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

A pony race? Mostly boys, but there appear to be two young girls lined up as well. Photo discoloration has crept into the edges of the photo.

Overall, this mysterious album contains dozens of unidentified photographs. Of the few with identification, the oldest photo dates to 1911, with most images likely from the 1920s. This was a period of growth for Middleburg and its surrounding community, as the town developed into a hub of sporting activity. Both the Middleburg Hunt and Orange County Hunt worked to develop their foxhunting territories, building up relationships with landowners and replacing barbed wire fencing with stone walls and chicken coop jumps.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

Eager sportsmen from urban centers in the northeast began migrating to Middleburg to enjoy sports that were being crowded out by expanded development. Seasonal visitors took the Southern Railway train line from the nation’s capital to The Plains before trekking on horses or on wagons to Middleburg.

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Unidentified Photo. National Sporting Library & Museum, Archives Collection, MC0033, “Middleburg-Leesburg Photograph Album.”

Another image with advanced fading, this one of an unidentified woman wearing the unmistakable fashion of the 1920s.

The sporting tradition of Hunt Country lives on, and thousands of visitors still come to Middleburg in the hopes of experiencing the excitement of the world of equestrian sport. As these new audiences encounter these sports, the preservation element of NSLM’s mission makes it possible to promote and share these pieces of history.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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“‘The Winnah’ Alligator – Horse of Iron” was the inscription that sporting artist and illustrator Paul Brown chose to describe Alligator, the bay gelding that he noted won not one, not two, not three, but an unbelievable FOUR steeplechases after various jockeys fell and remounted.  The 1928 West Hills Plate, 1929 Maryland Cup, 1930 International Cup at Grasslands, and the Millbrook Hunt Steeplechase are annotated in the lower margin of one of Brown’s illustrations for his book, Ups and Downs (1936). The artist sketched some of Alligator’s gravity-defying crashes and wins for the book as well as his earlier publication, Spills and Thrills (1933), and his captions present entertaining and informative details.

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) The “Winnah,” 1936, pencil on paper, inscribed:  The “Winnah” Alligator – Horse of Iron – | Fell   Millbrook  – and won | ”        Maryland – ”       ” |” Grasslands – ”       ” | ” or Lost Rider at West Hills and won  | Paul Brown ’36. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

The first race was for the West Hills Plate, the seventh annual meet held on Long Island on November 10, 1928. Brown’s drawing shows jockey Frederic C. Thomas going over the horse’s head at the first fence, swinging underneath its neck, and desperately trying to hold on before losing his grip. “An exhibition of indomitable courage was witnessed here this afternoon,” noted the next day’s article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) Alligator hit 1st, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, inscribed: Alligator hit 1st – Freddie Thomas started nose dive – caught mounts neck – swung under it – horse stopped – Freddie remounted – and won – West Hills Plate, West Hills 1928. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

Alligator won the thirty-first running of the Meadow Brook Cup with Lyman Wright up in 1929 without a fall. Brown’s exquisite illustration of the race held on sportsman F. Ambrose Clark’s estate captures a pivotal moment described in an article in the September 29, 1929 The Baltimore Sun: “…Hackenthorpe stayed with his rivals three-quarters of the way, but when the famous stone wall appeared again Hackenthorpe did not have enough left to get over and the race was left to Alligator and Reel Foot.”

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) The Hole in the Wall, 1933, pencil and ink on paper,  inscribed: The Hole in the Wall – Alligator, Reel Foot, Hackenthorpe – Lyman Wright, Bill Streett, Charlie Cushman up – how they drove for the gap in the 12th – Alligator won the race – Reel Foot was 2nd – Hackenthorpe fell Meadow Brook Cup 1929 Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel,  2013.

Brown did not illustrate Alligator’s famed April 1929 Maryland Hunt Cup win in his books, but the wife of the horse’s trainer Harry Plumb found it worthy of a poetic tribute. Plumb was also the father of one of Alligator’s jockeys, Charles T. Plumb:*

From out the ruck / Of many a name, / “Alligator” / He raced to fame.

The Maryland Hunt! / The ‘CUP’ the prize: / “They’re off” the cry, / And then, surprise….

At number-two fence, / That timbered rail, / Alligator fell: / “Too bad” they wail.

But ‘blood’ will not tell / In man or beast. / And fame is made /At racing feast….

For quick as a flash / From starting gun, / Alligator’s up…./ And starts to run.

The ‘field’ out there / In front so far: / A hopeless chase / For this great star.

But fence by fence, / By hand and ride, / Alligator / In glorious stride

Picks up the loss / And leads them all / He wins the race: / “Hurrah” they call.

She continued with a description of a repeat performance by Alligator:

Then, once more, this / “Thorobred Crack” / Surprised the fans / At Grasslands track:

Fencing so clean / With jump and stride. / His praises sung / On every side.

But here, again, / This grand horse fell, / Next fence at last, / Pell-mell! Pell-mell!

Then up again / ‘Tis writ as history, / He galloped on / To cheers and victory.

– “Salute to a Great Horseman” by Elaine T. Plumb, The Chronicle, Dec. 31, 1948

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) Dramatic, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, inscribed: Dramatic – I’ll say so – next last fence – Alligator fell – Waverly Star dog tired and went down in the mud too tired to get up – Charlie Plum wiped mud and blood from face – remounted – went on – won. Grasslands 1930. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

Approximately 8,000 spectators witnessed the running of the grueling first International Cup held at the Grasslands Downs Course, TN, in 1930. Every single one of the seventeen entries either fell or pulled up. Brown’s sketch shows Alligator falling on his front knees going over the 25th jump and Waverly Star slipping.  “Charlie Plum [sic] wiped mud and blood from face – remounted – went on – won,” wrote Brown in the caption describing the nail-biting ending of the race.

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Franklin Brooke Voss, (American, 1880-1953) Alligator, 1929, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, Gift of the children of Peter Winants, Sr., 2009

Viewing American sporting artist Franklin Brooke Voss’s serene 1929 portrait of Alligator in light of Paul Brown’s illustrations with the horse’s striking career in mind –  is transformative. This is Alligator, “Horse of Iron,” and one of the most hardcore steeplechase horses that ever lived.

* Errata: The poem was previously incorrectly attributed to the wife of jockey and Meadowbrook Huntsman Charles T. Plumb.


pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

“This beautiful animal, which, so far as I can ascertain, has now entirely ceased to exist, and concerning which the strangest legends and traditions are afloat, was, I think it may be positively asserted, of Andalusian blood.”

Henry William Herbert (1807-1858) chronicled the state of all American things equine in his massive two-volume work, Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British provinces of North America (1857). The subject in this chapter was the mysterious Narragansett Pacer, the first truly American breed of horse. Like many inventions in the colonial world, the breed was devised through necessity in environmental conditions that were unknown in Europe.

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Saddlebred Yearlings At Willowbank Farm In Simpsonville, KY by Heather Moreton from Louisville, KY, USA. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Without a system of refined, easy roadways in America, colonial settlers were obliged to ride on horseback instead of using carriages. Riding horseback long distances could be brutally jarring, and it wasn’t long before colonists began looking for a horse with a smoother, more comfortable gait. The result was the Narragansett Pacer, named for the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The breed emerged in mystery, including several wild legends detailed by Herbert:

“The legends, to which I allude, tell in two wise; or rather, I should say, there are only two versions of the same legend. One saying that the original stallion, whence came the breed, was picked up at sea, swimming for his life, no one knew whence or whither; and was so carried in by his salvors to the Providence Plantations; the other, evidently another form of the same story, stating that the same original progenitor was discovered running wild in the woods of Rhode Island.” Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British provinces of North America (1857), volume II, page 67.

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Illustration from Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British Provinces of North America (1857). National Sporting Library & Museum, acquired 1981, the gift of Mrs. William Pyemont.

Fanciful legends aside, it’s most likely that the Pacer was the product of import of Spanish, Irish, and British stock throughout the 17th Century and into the early 18th Century. Like several older European and Asian breeds, the Pacer’s feet of one side moved one after the other. This proved to be far more comfortable than a pounding four-time walk for riders spending hours in the saddle.

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American Saddlebred Bathing (2008). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

In the 1700s, the Pacer became the most popular breed in the American colonies and the fledgling United States. Good Pacers were sought for riding and racing alike, and George Washington owned several. According to legend, when Paul Revere embarked on his famous midnight ride, it was aboard a Narragansett Pacer.

Unfortunately, by the 1880s (and likely long before then) the Narragansett Pacer had gone extinct as a breed. In many ways, the breed was a victim of its own success. Pacers were heavily exported to the Caribbean in the 19th Century. The Pacer was also aggressively cross-bred with other breeds, leading to the demise of the original breed, but also making Pacers a major contributor to a new breed, the American Saddlebred. Although the Narragansett Pacer has been gone for over 140 years, its influence lives on in the many American breeds derived from it.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci is famous for many things, from designing the first helicopter to painting the Mona Lisa. One of his most notable achievements was to capture human anatomy on paper, board, and canvas. From the Renaissance onward, science and art went hand in hand, especially in rendering the human form. Horses and other animals, on the other hand, were not always studied in so much detail.

George Stubbs (English, 1724 – 1806) was one of the first artists to use extensive equine anatomical study in his body of work. Stubbs was mostly self-taught, and he studied human dissection at York Hospital to inform his art. His fascination with anatomy then led Stubbs to published Anatomy of a Horse in 1766.

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George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806). Three plates from The Anatomy of the Horse, 1766. Plates: etching; 18 1/4 x 23 in. (46.4 x 58.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1953 (53.599.1bis)

The ability to convincingly capture individual horse conformation and motion on canvas eluded most artists of this time. Stubbs, in contract, was not only able to render a horse with paint, but to place the horse within the composition naturally and effectively.

 

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

Stubbs was made President of the Society of Artists in 1772 and elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1780; he exhibited for both groups.  Stubbs’ recognition, however, seemed to stall even though his skill was recognized far and wide. Animal subjects were relegated to a lower order than historic, figurative, and landscape art in a hierarchy long established by fine art academies and art critics. Stubbs continued to study and paint, but passed away with little fanfare in 1806.

George Stubbs - Whistlejacket, 1762 at the National Gallery London England
George Stubbs (1724–1806)
c. 1762,
Oil-on-canvas
292 cm × 246.4 cm (115 in × 97 in)
National Gallery, London

George Stubbs’ contributions to art do not rest solely in the “animal painter” genre. Though known for his sporting scenes, Stubbs’ dedication to realism and anatomy place him in the category of artists who, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, seek the truth in art through science.

Want to know more about George Stubbs and British sporting art? Visit the National Sporting Library & Museum this Spring to see A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,  a traveling exhibition organized by VMFA, on view April 13 – July 22, 2018.


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her experience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail