To the races

Every spring I look forward to driving west to Virginia’s horse country to attend my favorite steeplechase race at Oatlands Plantation south of Leesburg. Steeplechases, also referred to as point-to-point races, take place on a course over the fields and can be flat races or include a variety of jumps. I’m not a big horse enthusiast, but years ago I attended a race out of curiosity and became hooked. Now when spring rolls around, I can’t wait to gather some friends and some dollar bills and head to the races.

Purchased around 1798 by George Carter, a member of one of Virginia’s oldest families, Oatlands Plantation became a thriving wheat plantation in the following decades. Carter began building the mansion in 1804 and continued to add to it and mold it for the next twenty or so years. Over the years Carter added terraced gardens and various outbuildings. In the 1960s the owners donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the historic owners are not well-known to most Americans and no big historic events took place at the property, the site is a good example of a Virginia plantation.

My visits these days are not about the house, but about enjoying the beautiful setting and soaking in the rolling Virginia countryside. They are also a time travel experience of sorts. Horse racing in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was a social event allowing neighbors to get together to visit and catch up on news. People from all over came to cheer the horses and make some bets. The tradition has continued for over a century if not two centuries. I once remember watching a reenactment of a horse race at Colonial Williamsburg. Today in many ways steeplechase races serve the same purpose –they are part of the social season, they offer the rapture of being outdoors on a glorious spring day, and they provide an opportunity to make a few dollars (or many depending on your risk tolerance).

There are many restored Virginia plantations that offer more extensive historic interpretation or stronger ties to major American historical personalities or events. Oatlands, however, is worth a visit if in the area. And keep an eye on their special events calendar. The Loudon Hunt point-to-point happens every spring.

Have you visited Oatlands? What was your experience?

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: timgrove.net - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: grovehistoryconsulting.com I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at tim@grovehistoryconsulting.com or authortimgrove@gmail.com
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