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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“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