A short drive through the countryside to Morven Park in Leesburg proves to be an enjoyable trip for the whole family
By Aimee O’Grady
On a glorious, early summer day, my husband and I packed up our four young children, ages eight, five, three, and eight months, and headed for Morven Park in Leesburg. Our destination was the mansion on the property, in particular The Museum of Hounds and Hunting North America that occupies one wing of the house. Knowing Fauquier’s rich history in foxhunting, we thought it would be an interesting museum.
Morven Park is roughly one hour from Warrenton. Although our typical route to Leesburg would send us up Route 15, we decided to take an alternate route and headed north on Route 17 up Belvoir Road, which becomes Zulla Road and winds through the Virginia countryside.
Morven Park was originally a 2,000-acre estate that was bequeathed to the state by the last resident of the property, who was without heirs. In addition to the mansion, there is a carriage museum, several old farmhand properties, and other rustic buildings. The site also includes many beautiful gardens.
While the property maintains 1,000 acres, including hiking trails for anyone up for the challenge, the main attractions are in close proximity to the parking lot. From the parking lot, visitors of all ages can walk along a gravel road lined with towering magnolia trees and manicured boxwood gardens.
The Museum of Hounds and Hunting North America fills four rooms on one side of the mansion. These exhibits include apparel, photographs, and equipment used by fox hunters over the past two centuries. The collection includes a suitcase with compartments for every item needed for a foxhunt or foxhunt-related occasion, including space for a crown or top hat; a complete set of evening tails for formal hunt balls with fox mask studs; attire for women; and taxidermied fox heads. Fine china-filled glass cabinets are placed throughout the exhibit, and hunting drawings from 19th century illustrators hang beside portraits of notable huntsmen.
Even without the brief attention span of young children, The Museum of Hounds and Hunting did not take very long to visit. To make the most of the hour’s drive, we decided to take a tour of the rest of the house as well. The mansion was home to the family of Westmoreland Davis, who, having been raised and educated in New York as a lawyer, decided to leave that environment and come to Virginia to live a simple farmer’s life. He served as governor of Virginia from 1918 to 1922.
The original estate of 2,000 acres was a working farm. Davis’ interaction with farmers that helped him gain popularity and won him the election in 1918. His wife Marguerite was also involved in the farming industry on the equine side. The couple had no children and spent a fair amount of their time traveling. The estate includes items from around the world that they brought back as souvenirs.
The tour included nine rooms in the estate and took approximately 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Each room contained personal items belonging to the family and portraits along the walls. Near the kitchen, an old crank phone hung on the wall with an original list of numbers beside it; on the kitchen table were time cards from the farm workers who toiled in the fields and tended to the livestock. The kitchen has a wall separating the family from the help.
At the end of the tour, the guide walked the group through a former ballroom with an exhibit of the estate’s fine china. Sure that this room would be our undoing, we held our breath and ushered the children through; they even paused to actually look at the china! Thankfully, we navigated through that room without a single stumble and breathlessly left the ballroom with our young children, including that mischievous three-year-old.
The tour guide thanked us for visiting and probably thanked us more for leaving and we left the estate to walk the grounds.
A short walk from the main house took us to Turkey Hill Farm, where we found a former tenant farmer house. The four-room house is open to visitors, and our children enjoyed running through it.
Perhaps the main attraction, as far as the five-year-old was concerned, is the turkeys pardoned by President Obama at the White House ceremony in 2015. Instead of becoming Thanksgiving supper, they are living out their days on Turkey Hill Farm.
Overall, the destination was perfect to fill a few hours in the afternoon, or longer if guests choose to hike the property. The grounds are breathtaking and quite the backdrop for family photos. The mansion is lovely, the furniture is exquisite, and the guides are patient, welcoming, and tolerant of young children.
A word of caution—the tour guide strongly cautioned us against bringing the children through the museum as there are no ropes or barriers. Each room is furnished as the last occupants would have had it at arranged. The museum wants visitors to feel as though they are guests in the house, not tourists walking through a museum. Perhaps not the most welcoming environment for children around the age of three, if you happen to have one like I do. Nevertheless, we felt this was good preparation for venues such as the Louvre, and we went on the tour. The mansion still stands with every item in every room intact.
Located at Morven Park, Leesburg. No admission fee.
“The purpose of the Museum of Hounds & Hunting North America, Inc. is to preserve the rich North American heritage of hunting with hounds, for today and for the future; acquire important artifacts before they are lost; provide a repository for precious objects; and, by developing educational exhibits through research projects, present hunting with hounds through the sport’s historical, sociological and cultural heritage.” (source: mhhna.org)
*Fees for house tour: $10 per adult, $5 per child over six.
Park Hours: Gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5:45 p.m.
Dogs are always welcome at Morven Park, but leash laws are strictly enforced. Dogs must be on a leash and attached to a human at all times.
Museums & Administrative Offices are located at 17195 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg
For more information and hours of operation (which are limited), visit the websites below or call (703) 777-2414