Friday, July 29, 2016

Whitney Stone, Historic Morven Stud and the USET

Did you know that the United States Equestrian Team (USET) was founded in Virginia?  Yes, Virginia, and with Virginia's deep history with horses, it's a fitting accomplishment.  Like most people, I assumed that the USET's operations in Gladstone, NJ is where it all started.  Not so.

Let's start with the venue, the historic Morven Stud or Morven Farm, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The house, its barns and land is now owned by the University of Virginia. The farm has an illustrious history.

The land that makes up Morven was once owned by Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson deeded the property in 1813 to David Higginbotham, a leading merchant at the nearby port of Milton on the Rivanna River. Higginbotham renamed the property “Morven,” a Scottish word meaning “great mountain.” Higginbotham employed regional architect Martin Thacker to build a brick home on the property. The symmetrical two-story house combined a late Georgian pattern with Roman Revival features. The Main House remains one of Virginia’s important examples of Federal-style architecture. Higginbotham, with 56 slaves, produced corn, tobacco, wheat, hay, and oats at Morven until his death in 1853.

Morven’s next owner was Daniel Groff Smith. His son, Francis Henry Smith, taught mathematics at the University of Virginia in 1851 until his retirement in 1907. He and his family lived in the University’s Pavilion V until his death in 1928. Another son, Colonel Edward Buckey Smith  inherited Morven when his father died in 1879.

In 1906, Morven was sold to Samuel and Josephine Marshall. The Marshall’s expanded the Main House with a two-story addition on the north side by Baltimore architect Howard Sill. After Samuel Marshall’s death in 1923, Morven was briefly the home of David C. and Margaret G. Patterson. Mr. Patterson was a land broker.

Charles and Mary Stone purchased Morven in 1926, converting the farm into “Morven Stud” for thoroughbred horse breeding and cattle. Charles A. Stone in 1889 co-founded Stone & Webster, an engineering firm that later played a leading role both in the Manhattan Project and subsequent development of the U.S. nuclear industry. The Stones commissioned Boston architect Joseph Chandler to add a west terrace and attic dormers to the Main House in 1928. Mary Stone, in consultation with renowned landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders, redeveloped the formal gardens. Mary Stone opened the formal gardens to visitors of the first Virginia Garden Week in 1933, and Morven has remained open to the public for every Virginia Garden Week since. The Formal Gardens, largely unchanged from this era, represent one of the few intact gardens from the 1930s.

After Charles Stone’s death in 1941, Whitney Stone and his wife Anne took over Morven, concentrating on stud operations and founding the United States Equestrian Team. A number of famous racehorses were bred at Morven, including the Hall of Fame mare Shuvee, who won the Filly Triple Crown in 1969. In 1973, Morven was added to both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.  Whitney Stone died at Morven in 1979 and Anne Stone in 1987.  You can read his obituary here in the New York Times.

Stone was a Lt. Colonel during World War II and in 1950, after the Army ceased equestrian sports competition, Stone served as President of the USET from 1953 to 1973. He was Chairman of the Board from 1973 until he died in 1979.  He is also regarded as having revitalized the National Horse Show in NY after the hiatus of WWII.  He was a Director from 1932 until 1979.  Stone was also a Vice President and Director of the American Horse Show Association, President of the Coaching Club of America and a member of the Jockey Club.

 (The barn at Morven today, used as an event facility for UVa)

John W. Kluge purchased Morven in 1988. In the mid-1990s, he supervised the construction of a four-acre Japanese garden and house, built using ancient techniques and incorporating some 50 plants indigenous to Japan and America. Sculpture by Rodin, Maillol, Moore, and others was interspersed throughout the gardens. After Kluge relinquished his life estate in 2006, the Foundation renovated and refurnished the Main House, Guest House, and Meeting Barn. The Guest House, built during the Kluge era, now holds the Flowerdew Hundred Collection of AmerIndian, English, and African American artifacts unearthed at the Flowerdew Hundred on the James River south of Richmond.

The house and its barns are now used for events for the University of Virginia.  The barns are in lovely condition but no horses live there and there is no evidence of this fantastic farm's roots as the beginning of the USET.  It's sad that no one realizes this anymore but at least the farm is in tact, has not been torn down to build a Toll Brothers subdivision and the fields are still lovely and full of large round hay bales this time of year.

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