If modern hunting had a color palette, it would be the neon orange of beanies and the smoky greens of camouflage. But historically it was velvety crimson with glossy black accents that heralded the call of hunters, mounted on trusty steeds and flanked by a troop of hounds. Now, this might not be the kind of hunting you associate with America—but it should be.
For over a century traditional fox hunting has been alive and well in one of the oldest communities of our youthful country. At its apex: Middleburg, Virginia.
With a history enmeshed in America’s elite—the Kennedys used to call Middleburg home during family vacations, with acreage originally owned by a close cousin—Middleburg still harbors a slew of classic Americana whose roots stretch back to our British heritage. Stroll down the restored Main Street and you’ll feel more like you’re in a quaint English village than an hour outside DC, with bricked buildings and sidewalks harkening back to the eighteenth century.
But what really sets Middleburg apart as a classical town is their passion for the hunt. Though the region’s knack for hunting stretches much further back in history, it began in earnest in 1905 when Alexander Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith, both of Massachusetts, became enmeshed in a feud. The two gentlemen squabbled over the superiority of their respective packs of English and American hounds. The only way to settle the dispute, they realized, was to hold a match and pit the two packs against each other.
For two weeks the groups hunted, garnering national newspaper coverage that earned Middleburg its position as the capital of hunt country. And in an iconic show of American spirit, Smith’s American hounds triumphed.
Just one year later, in 1906, the Middleburg Hunt became one of the greatest hunting communities in the country. John T. Townsend became the first Master of Foxhounds of the hunt, organizing the growing community. But it was Daniel Cox Sands, Master of Middleburg from 1915 to 1953, who truly established the Middleburg Hunt as the pinnacle of hunting culture in America. Even before rising to his role as Master, Sands had established the American Foxhound Association in 1912, cementing the sports spot in our country. For nearly five decades, through world wars and a modernization the likes of which the world had never seen, Sands retained the sport of nobility in the heart of America.
By his side for much of his tenure was Charlotte Noland, who served as Joint-Master from 1932 to 1946. Though her position in the club was important, what really established Noland in the local hunting history books was her founding of the Foxcroft School. Long renowned as one of the finest schools for girls in the country, Noland established a dedication to fox hunting early on. She encouraged all of her students to foxhunt and incorporated riding as an essential part of the curriculum.
Hound hunting culture remains steeped in the verdant green pastures of Middleburg. It’s an area of the country where equestrian culture reigns, from polo to dressage, so it should come as no surprise that traditional horse hunting remains in favor, too. Though the hunt still rides several times a week, their greatest event occurs every holiday season during Christmas in Middleburg.
On the first Saturday in December, 10,000 visitors line the snowy streets of Middleburg for a holiday celebration, including Santa’d meals, a parade, and a tree-lighting ceremony. But the highlight of the weekend is undoubtedly the Middleburg Hunt Review. At the head of the parade, clip-clopping across the cobblestoned streets, you’ll find dozens of riders on horseback, decked in Middleburg’s signature scarlet and apple green collars, surrounded by packs of howling hounds. The Middleburg Hunt Review serves as herald of the holiday season and the very history of Middleburg itself.
SEE MORE MIDDLEBURG HUNT PHOTOS HERE