A few weeks ago, some casual browsing of the internet turned up a fascinating connection for NSLM’s staff members. We found that Frances Benjamin Johnston visited Middleburg in the 1930s to photograph the town’s historic buildings. Like so many accidental discoveries, we knew we had to get it onto the blog to share with our readers!
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was a hugely influential figure in the history of American photography. Raised in the Washington, D.C. region, Johnston embarked on her photography career when a friend of her family, George Eastman, gave her a camera as a gift. Johnston would go on to become the official White House photographer for five separate presidential administrations before turning her focus to architecture.
Johnston began to explore photographing architecture in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, she had developed a plan to photograph early structures that were at risk of deterioration or redevelopment. Johnston embarked on what would become the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.
Originally planned to last one year to tour Virginia, the project stretched out over eight years and Johnston visited eight states and traveled thousands of miles. One of her stops was Middleburg, Virginia, where she photographed Vine Hill.
Vine Hill was built by in 1804 and was occupied by the Cochran family through the Civil War. Following the war, the house was owned by the Rogers and Noland families before being owned by Fanny Dudley Woodward in trust for her daughter, Katharine “Foffy” Woodward, who was deaf.
Foffy Woodward owned the house into the 1960s, opening the region’s first antiques shop out of the house. When Johnston visited Middleburg in the 1930s, the house was referred to as the Rogers House, and all her photos are labeled as such.
The name “Vine Hill” referred to a time when the Noland family when the house was surrounded by vineyards, and appears to have supplanted “Rogers House” in the 1940s or 1950s.
Vine Hill was purchased by George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. in 1968 to serve as the offices of The Chronicle of the Horse and the National Sporting Library. The two organizations would share the building for thirty years before new buildings were constructed for each in 1998.
In 2010, new gallery space was added to Vine Hill and in 2011, the Museum opened and the National Sporting Library was re-named the National Sporting Library & Museum.
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
Since 1939, the Piedmont Foxhounds have hosted the Piedmont Point-to-Point races in Upperville, Virginia. The most prestigious race of the meet is the Rokeby Challenge Bowl, which, for decades, has attracted top horses in training for major steeplechase races. From 1939 until his death in 1999, the race and trophy were sponsored by Mr. Paul Mellon, who was a member of Piedmont and an avid supporter of jump racing. The winner of the race received a small trophy to keep and their names were engraved on a large perpetual trophy which they could keep for one year. Those who won the race three times (not necessarily consecutively or with the same horse) retired the trophy and could take it home for keeps. The trophies provided by Mr. Mellon were exquisite examples of silver and were highly sought after prizes.
One of the original silver Rokeby Bowl trophies has been generously donated to the NSLM by Mary Gillian “Gill” Fenwick. Mrs. Fenwick retired the Rokeby Bowl after winning the race three consecutive years, in 1961, 1962, and 1963. She was just the third owner to retire the trophy (five more have done so since then). Her winners were piloted by the famous steeplechase jockey Crompton “Tommy” Smith, Jr., all three years. The horses were Bay Barrage (1961), General Tony (1962), and Fluctuate (1963).
All three were talented racers. After winning in 1961, Bay Barrage ran again in 1962 with Olympic equestrian Frank Chapot on board. He placed third against his stablemate General Tony. Past Maryland Hunt Cup winner Fluctuate, nicknamed “Chris,” won in 1963 when he was 16 years-young and was rewarded with well-earned retirement.
The original course was on Mellon’s Rokeby Farm property in Upperville. The race was 4 1/4 miles long, included 22 post and rail fences averaging 3’9″ high, and included two in-and-outs! In 1957, the point-to-point was relocated to the farms of Mrs. J. F. F. Stewart and Dr. and Mrs. A. C. Randolph along Route 50 in Upperville, now known as the Salem Farm course.
The trophy itself has more stories to tell. The bowl is almost 300 years old, dating to the year 1720. The plain silver punch bowl is hand-engraved with an image of a horse and jockey and inscribed with the words “Silver Tail’d Betty” and “Banbury Town Plate 1720.” Town Plates (flat race meetings) were held in towns all over England for centuries. Prior to the establishment of the Jockey Club in the early 1750’s, each meet featured its own set of rules. The town of Banbury is located in Oxfordshire, in Southern England.
After Mr. Mellon acquired the bowl, he added a tiered wooden base with sterling silver bands and donated it to Piedmont for the race. The NSLM is grateful to Mrs. Fenwick for gifting this special piece of racing history to the collection. It has traveled a long way since it was first used as a race trophy in 18th century England, then awarded at steeplechase races in 20th century America, and now has a home on display at the NSLM.
The 76th running of the Piedmont Point-to-Point takes place Saturday, March 25th at the Salem Farm course in Upperville, Virginia. For a schedule of all the Spring Steeplechase races, visit the Virginia Steeplechase Association calendar.
Most people are unaware of just how unusual the NSLM Library collections are. Most libraries set an acquisition plan and purchase their materials to fill the collection. However, almost everything at NSLM was donated by members of the sporting community, making it a unique communal reflection. We receive thousands of donated books every year, many are rare or antiquarian books.
Sadly, some donated books come to us in a very “well loved” condition. It’s impossible to make these damaged books available to the researchers that visit us. Further, it’s often prohibitively expensive to outright replace the book.
This week, we launched our first-ever Book Adoption Program. We’re asking the public for assistance in restoring these books to a safe and usable condition, preserving their contents for future research.
I’m excited by the response we’ve had to the program so far. With thousands of research visits every year, it’s critical for us to keep our books in a usable condition. So many of our titles are out of print, and for some of them, their contents are at risk of being lost for good. It’s intimidating (but true) that our donors and members often are all that stand between preservation or loss.
What goes into book restoration? It all depends on what’s ailing the book. In many cases, our adoptable books are suffering from disintegrating spines, deteriorating paper or leather covers, detached boards, or weak hinges.
Each adoption covers the work of a qualified restoration professional to repair the damage.
We started with 18 books for adoption, and 13 were adopted in the first two days! The five books pictured in this blog post are still available for adoption.
In the future we’ll have another blog post to cover the restoration work on some of our adopted books. If you are interested in learning more, you can get in touch or view our program catalog.
John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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
A couple of months back, I received an in-print reference question. That wasn’t nearly as remarkable as the fact that the reference question had been submitted to one of our Museum curators instead of the Librarian. This person wanted to know who a rider was in a photograph she had found online. Apparently, somebody had blogged about NSLM and this photograph was listed as being in our collections.
So this question was very layered. The first thing to find out was, does NSLM really have this photo. If so, where? We have dozens of Archival Collections with photographs, but the individual photographs are not tagged and being given an image without a citation is not unlike the proverbial needle in the haystack. In this case, I had a very valuable clue built into the request: the photo was somewhere out on the internet someplace.
Some judicious Google usage landed me a 2009 blog post that gave a broad citation, but a very workable one: “the Gerald Webb papers.” NSLM has an Archival Collection called the Gerald B. Webb, Jr. Photograph Albums, 1935-1961. The trail was heating up. Unfortunately for me, the photographs were mostly pasted or tipped in to some very large scrapbooks. Not exactly albums, but again, workable. What followed was a lot of tedious searching by hand, until I landed the photo, and a hand-written label.
This was great, but I kind of wanted a little more. Who was Margaret Cotter? And Rocksie? Back to the internet!
Once I had names, Google was my best friend. The Baltimore Sun yielded photos from their back file of Ms. Cotter and Rocksie, a big bay hunter. The second photo, an action shot similar to Mr. Webb’s, is dated 1938.
Another resource I tapped later was Newspapers.com, which is a subscription service which allows a free seven-day trial. I found an article in The Lethbridge Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada) from Tuesday, September 16, 1941. Another paper ran it citing Lucrece Hudgins of the Associated Press as the author.
It’s impossible for me to say for certain which show was in the photograph Gerald Webb, Jr. took and which is now in NSLM’s Archival Collections. The article above relates the story of Ms. Cotter’s and Rocksie’s breakthrough success in 1938:
I believe this photo must be from sometime between 1938 and 1941. That looks an awful lot like six feet in the photo. It’s very possible this is the first record-breaking moment in 1938… but I can’t say so definitively. Nevertheless, Ms. Cotter seems to have been a phenomenal athlete and equestrian (to say nothing of Rocksie’s athletic abilities!). It’s gratifying to have had the opportunity to discover a little bit about her.
Do you have a reference question you’d like help with? Contact me with your requests!
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“Drawing Covert,” refers to the practice in foxhunting of putting hounds in a covert (pronounced like “cover”), a thicket or wooded brush area, to find the fox.
This blog is about the exhibitions, tours, research, programs, and events, at NSLM on its unique collection of books, archives, paintings, sculpture and much more.