The Mellon Estate/Oak Spring Farm

Home to the late businessman, philanthropist, art collector, horse breeder and all-around good man Paul Mellon, along with his art-loving and horticulturalist wife Rachel (aka Bunny), the Mellon Estate keeps setting records.  Yes, the Mellons who created it and loved it for so many years are no longer of this earth, but their legacy continues.  The 2000-plus acres of pristine Virginia countryside have been divided into four parcels:  the Mellon Foundation occupies several buildings and much land, where it exists as an educational entity that fosters both the study of art and all things botanical.  Another section belongs to a private family.  Senator Jill Vogel of Virginia lives in the “Brick House” along with her husband and children.  It was in this 10,000 square foot house that the Mellons kept a substantial art collection.  The remaining section, with another mansion and a mile-long air strip is still available for purchase.

Paul Mellon raised over 1000 stakes-winning race horses on this property.  Their winnings totaled over $30,000,000 .  He was the only breeder to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.    In 2004, 2007 AND 2011, Members of the New York Coaching Club were invited to travel across a small portion of the property, probably the only horse-drawn vehicles to do so since most of the buildings were erected (1940’s).  The estate, and the wonderful things to be found there, has been pretty much of a secret, a very private place.  Who could ever have imagined that the Piedmont Driving Club, a lesser-known but local group of carriage enthusiasts, would be invited to trot over the roads that wind through the whole estate (among them:  Sea Hero, Quadrangle, Mill Reef –  all named after beloved horses.)  Nine turn-outs left neighboring Blue Ridge Farm and entered the estate through Senator Vogel’s private gate.  She, like so many others who live or work there, expressed delight at having horses on the property again, using the roads as they were meant to be used.  Carriages passed between miles of stone walls and by the Brick House, the broodmare barns, a pool house that was designed by I.M. Pei, a cottage that Bunny Mellon had remodeled especially for Jackie Kennedy to stay in on her many visits to the estate, and the exquisite stone cottage where Bunny spent her last years, as well as numerous green houses and terraced gardens.  It was truly an honor and a thrill!

Whips from the PDC included Mary Munster driving a Unicorn, Carl Cox driving a pair, and Theresa Young, Sam Davis, Tom Albert, Lil Jacobs, Judy Hahn, Deb Bauserman and Maryalice Matheson each driving singles.   Each carriage carried guests.  Host for this event, Lil Jacobs arranged a rest stop under a spreading tree at Oak Spring (near the dairy).  There she and husband, Smokey, served chocolate dipped strawberries and Champagne, indeed a most fitting accompaniment to the setting!

Back at Blue Ridge where our trailers were parked, we unhitched and gathered our chairs at Lil’s tables.  She served a very “Virginia” luncheon of fried chicken and ham biscuits with Club side dishes that added to the day’s mood of “all things Southern.”  There was plenty of wine and tea of course!  


Picnic Drive at Farmer’s Delight


Eleven turn-outs, including one under saddle, participated in a gorgeous drive from Farmer’s Delight Estate in Middleburg, through the historic Huntland Farm, and over rolling roads to a rest stop on Leith Lane, home of Mike Harper (MFH, Fairfax) and his wife Astrid. There the Coxes had prepared a lavish spread of puff pastry goodies, cheese crackers, etc. plus Champagne, lemonade, and water for what turned out to be an extended rest stop. The weather was bright and sunny, with a bit of a breeze. The Harpers had invited several of their neighbors to view our carriages and enjoy the treats and libations with us. It was a fun preview of what was to come.

Once back at Farmer’s Delight, host Cynthia Daily put together a generous picnic under huge shade trees. She provided a mountain of fried chicken and ham, with Club member’s covering the checker-clothed tables with a bounty of salads, pasta casserole, cheeses, stuffed grape leaves and all manner of deserts. There was, of course, plenty of wine to “pair” with the selections!

The Club is grateful to Queenie Kemmerer and her friend, Lili, plus social members Brenda Milne and Anita for their help in serving at the rest stop. Whips included Lisa Andersen, Barbara Wolfe, Tom Albert, Alcinda Hatfield, Mary Munster, Wayne Porter, Lil Jacobs, Carl Cox, Molly Savage, Yvette Harris,and Deb Bauserman (who rode her driving Haffie under saddle.) Club member Liz Callar took dozens of photos which she has posted on her website. Special guest was Cynthia’s prize winning whippet, who properly wore a hat as she accompanied her similarly adorned mistress on Wayne carriage!

Picnic Drive at Glen Bolton

It was one of those Spring weekends where we just HAD to schedule two drives. Saturday we visited North Wales (as I have already described) and then on Sunday we drove from PDC Board Member Mary Munster’s Glen Bolton Farm in The Plains.

Truly Sunday was the nicer day, temperate with plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately, most of the Club was off doing other things: President Anne Watkins left for the Windsor Horse Show, Mark Duffell and

pretty Erin departed for Paris, Caroline Collomb and hubby Bertrand set off for their home in France. Tom and Barbara Wolf, frequent drivers, were off working somewhere tuning instruments, giving lectures and whatever else it is they do! We’re waiting for Vicki to recover from a recent illness, as well as Judy Hahn, who has been caring for a sick husband. Kitty Newman is still recovering from knee/back issues. Lisa Andersen had a previous commitment, the Alberts were pretty much worn out from Saturday’s drive, and so it goes….Carl and Caroline Cox, sans groom, brought their pair and Wayne Porter harnessed Tucker. Mary led off with her UNICORN of Friesians (yes, she has progressed beautifully and now is up to three!) Soon after we left Glen Bolton, Tucker threw a shoe…so suddenly we were down to two turn-outs. The trip to our rest stop was uneventful in every other respect. There was no vehicular traffic, only Mary’s friendly neighbors who put down their weed eaters, spades, and potting material long enough to admire the carriages and, of course, to chat.

PDC member Lil Jacobs and her hubby, Smoky, had invited us to their farm for a Champagne stop under a beautiful shade tree. We felt especially sorry for anyone who didn’t show up for this drive. Lil really raised the bar! She served chilled Champagne, chocolate dipped strawberries and “mini bell” cheeses with chips. We were beginning to believe we would skip the picnic Mary had planned for our return to Glen Bolton. As it turned out , that would have been a huge mistake. Once un hitched and un harnessed, we went inside Mary’s lovely home to meet her new Great Dane puppy, Monroe. And, like her namesake, she’s a beauty! After a couple of rounds of cocktails, Mary brought out the piece de resistance, a boef bourginoine that she had prepared using Julia Childs’ original recipe. Just fabulous.

And the day got even better. Just about the time we were wondering how the four of us could manage this huge pot of food, the doorbell rang and in came Debbie Nash and her mother, Barbara ,along with their polo-playing friend Craig and his wife. Soon after, Mary’s friend George showed up with his hound dog, a friend for Monroe to play with I suppose! Everybody had fun catching up (the Nash’s had wintered at their Puerto Rico home) and by the time we all said “good-by” every morsel of food had been enjoyed!

PDC Meets at North Wales

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History conducted its third annual BIRD COUNT over the 1400 acres of the historic North Wales Estate in Warrenton, Virginia. Under conditions less than ideal,volunteers did account for over 80 species….from the Hummingbird (smallest sighted) to an American Bald Eagle (largest sighted). The persistent rain was considered to be the factor in this relatively “low”count. In 2016 nearly twice as many species were sighted. It was, none the less, a valuable experience for the volunteers and Smithsonian staff were pleased with the migratory data collected.And where, you ask, did the Piedmont Driving Club fit into all this? After the bird count, a splendid luncheon was served and the Club was happy to be invited. Members happily mingled with Smithsonian staff, local volunteers and our dear friends Johnny and Debbie Lloyd (farm manager and event manager!) We were extremely pleased to have our host, Mr. David Ford, in attendance (last year he’d been called away).

There were mint juleps (because it was also Derby Day), Champagne, wines, luscious smoked TROUT cakes (take THAT, Maryland!), barbecue, and oodles of salads, just to mention a few of the entrees… all this and then a delectable selection of deserts. It was bliss….just so much fun….but did I mention the rain? Those who came from the PDC also brought horses and carriages. It was a bit dicey for a while (should we harness and go?) Happily, the rain did stop long enough for the Coxes, the Alberts, and the Wolfes to head out, with delighted guests on board, to travel the carriage roads through much of the Estate.

Best part of our whole day, however, was our stop in front of the Mansion. We thought it was enough just to savor the view but Mr. Ford decided to enhance our experience. He hopped out of the Cox carriage, slipped into his home and emerged with Champagne for all!

Club Activity Update

Ah….where to begin!  Let’s go back to 2015….we finished the year off in grand style with about 45 drives.  Once again, we were everywhere….we drove many of the beautiful estates and village roads throughout the piedmont of Northern Virginia, plus we went up to Fair Hill Maryland a couple of times and even as far away as the carriage roads of Acadia Park.

2016 yielded another 40-plus drives and during this year we not only drove our “usual” Northern Virginia territory (plus spots in Maryland and again in Maine) but we added some new events.  New members Tom and Marykay Albert hosted a clinic at their Fredericksburg farm with Club member Maryalice Larkin Matheson-Thomas as clinician.  This was in preparation for the Club’s participation in the mid summer carriage show at Morven Park.  Happy to say, we took home many of the ribbons thanks to Mary Munster’s elegant tandem, Lisa Andersen’s stunning turnout, and Molly Savage’s skill at piloting the Cox pair through cones.  We had many, many beautiful venues and, I hope, plenty of pictures to post on the website.  We were happy to welcome some new members:  Kim Cameron of Ayshire Farm, Mark and Marci Eades with their renown show pony (who winters in Florida just so he can rack up more points!), Gail Joyce from not-so-distant Maryland and others.  We hope the Club continues to grow!  And we’ve even added to our “repertoire” in that we organized a carriage exhibition for the National Sporting Library and a carriage parade at the Fourth of July Celebration at Great Meadow and even enjoyed an authentic Greek dinner at a local winery.

We were not without some challenges, however.  Our horses and ponies remained fit, our carriages have rolled along without incident and our harness(s) have held together admirably.  We, on the other hand, have undergone hip replacements, knee replacements, shoulder surgeries, cancer treatments, kidney removal and a litany of other ailments.  Sadly there have been sick relatives to care for and even some deaths in our extended families.  Perhaps the glue that has held us all together and allowed us to “trot through” adversity is our dedication to, and love of, the sport of carriage driving.  Whatever happens, we support each other and we find new ways to have fun.  I suppose all that fabulous food that appears at our events helps as well…

Now on to 2017:  We began as we often have with a “come as you are, go as you please” drive  at Blandy (the Virginia Arboretum).  We love it there.  Not only is it stunning in its diversity, with new trees and plants each time we visit, but the roads and trails are so peaceful and very kind to carriages.  Team Cox hosted the picnic but left their un-shod and fuzzy boys in the barn.  It was a bit too soon after Carl’s knee replacement to manage all it takes to drive horses at a Club event.  

We were twice rained out of plans for a drive from Temple Hall Farm in Leesburg to our favorite Winery 32 (known for its skill in turning peaches into remarkably crisp and palatable wines.)  President Anne Watkins, however, did not disappoint with her Annual Bluebell Drive on Easter Sunday, April 16.  The weather was most agreeable and, as always, Anne had ensured that the bluebells were in profusion along the banks of the Shenandoah.  We had a great turnout of about 11 plus one astride, plenty of Champagne at our rest stop and a fabulous spread back at Anne’s stable.

Sunday, April  30 found us at Taproot Farm in Middleburg, a favorite venue that we’d not visited in nearly two years.  Hosts Jack and Caroline Hemley went “all out” as usual for us, providing ample parking and plenty of shade for our picnic.  Caroline video taped each of our 8 turn-outs as we circled in front of her magnificent home.  The drive was lovely and serene as we passed through the village of Unison and over quiet gravel roads that passed beautiful estates and quaint cottages.  Eventually we came to rest at Innisfree, where our good friends Doug and Queenie Kemmerer keep their horses.  Under huge shade trees we enjoyed Champagne, lemonade and plenty of munchies that had been provided by Tom and Barbara Wolf.  Up to that point things just could not have been more pleasant.  Fabulous scenery and near-perfect weather…….and so we began the 3+ mile trip back to Taproot.  All was well……UNTIL we felt a slight mist, then a couple of rain drops, then a downright DELUGE, complete with hail stones!  Every one of us – whips, grooms, guests, horses – were soaked to the skin by the time we trotted (cantered, galloped?) back to the trailers.  Never before have so many PDC turn outs been unhitched, unharnessed and put up in less time.   A thoroughly soaked and very despondent Caroline Cox rushed to take down the serving dishes and such that had been put out for the picnic she’d planned to host.  Then, just as quickly as the rain came, it left!  Out came the sun, out popped the wine corkds, back to the table came the food and the party began!

One last word:  the hero of the day had to be Smokey, Lil Jacob’s hubby who had stayed behind so that she could have a friend join her in the carriage.  He had the presence of mind to roll windows up in all the trucks, stack-away chairs and thus minimize the “storm damage” as much as possible!