Old Dominion Hounds has a history that now spans 2 centuries. The early part of that history was only recently uncovered by one of ODH’s own, Gordon Smith, to whom the Hunt is indebted for his diligence and the transcription of events from the very beginnings of the hunt until the start of World War II in late 1941.
The History Of Old Dominion Hounds
As remembered by first Master of ODH - Sterling Larrabee, MFH.
In 1923 the Warrenton Hunt had a row with the Masters of Foxhounds Association and resigned from that Association, and from the NSHA and in consequence was an unrecognized hunt for several seasons. The hunting in Warrenton at that time was so poor as to be almost non-existent. I had offered my place (Arborvitae Farm) for sale, and was planning to buy either at Middleburg or in the Orange County Country. Whilst discussing this proposition with Louie Beard, he said: “Why in hell don’t you go up in Rappahannock—that’s the best country in America today, and Joe Thomas has left it and gone to Millbrook, NY.
I spent the summer and fall of 1923 riding over Rappahannock and Upper Fauquier in a Model T Ford, and on horseback (as regular cars couldn’t take the roads in those days). Madge and I were married in September 1923 and she was crazy about riding and hunting.
During the season of 1924, I rented the Joe Read property near Flint Hill, and got six couples of hounds together. We lived at the Ricketts Hotel and hunted every day (weather permitting) until Christmas. In January we went abroad and I hunted that spring (1925) in England.
In the fall of 1925, I rented the stone houses and barn in Orleans, and we hunted the season of ’25-’26 from there…..the opposite side of the country.
During those two years we had many difficulties: Joe Thomas and his huntsman, Carver, had managed to get many of the farmers down on what the natives call “hunt clubs.” Foxes were scarce, and we didn’t know where they lay or how they ran. We had many blank days and we lost hounds frequently. The hounds were lousy and few in number.
The Kennels Farm Is Established
However, I felt much encouraged with the potential possibilities of the Country and applied for recognition in 1925 which was granted by the MFHA. In 1926, I bought the Kennels Farm (Corner of S. Poe’s Rd and Crest Hill), considering it the very best location possible, being in the heart of the best of the country. No sooner had I gotten the barn started than Joe Thomas tried to get the country back. We had the hell of a fight, but my rights to the country were sustained.
Mother gave me the farm and the barn and I had working capital of some $25,000 and the proceeds from the sale of “Arborvitae.” Farming at that time was fairly lucrative and horses sold well – for good prices. Madge and I started this entirely as a private pack and we paid all expenses ourselves and wanted no subscriptions and received none. Madge and I generally hunted by ourselves, with a few farmers and some of our friends, who used to road their horses from Middleburg and keep them at the Kennels for a few days.
After the establishment of the Kennels, things began to improve. The pack improved, our relations with farmers and landowners picked up and we got to know the country better and we put out foxes and preserved foxes in every way possible.
By the spring of 1931, Ned Chadwell, who had been hunting the hounds, left and I got Will Putnam. When he first came, he couldn’t ride much and knew nothing about hunting in the orthodox manner. But he tried and turned out alright.
By 1930, the “depression” was in full blast. I lost most of my working capital in the stock market and spent a lot to keep hounds going and borrowed a lot for the same purpose. I did, however, get some good subscriptions and in 1931 changed the name of the pack from “Mr. Larrabee’s Hounds” to “The Old Dominion Hounds;” as I felt it was no longer strictly a private pack…in as much as we received outside help.
Those two or three seasons, 1930 to 1933, were very difficult for us financially and we had a hard time to keep Buddy in school and to keep hounds going.
In 1933, in view of his considerable financial aid and of the fact he had bought a large farm within the Country and seemed interested, I invited Bill Doeller to be Joint Master with me. This didn’t work out too well and by 1936, since I was not happy with the situation, I offered to sell him the whole works and get out myself, or else to disband the pack.
He would do neither and wanted to keep the country and be Master himself without buying anything. I finally got mad and told him I would carry on alone – some way. We effected some considerable economies after he left, our financial situation brightened somewhat and my friends rallied around me and sent in a lot of subscriptions. So, Madge and I have managed to carry along alone for four years, with the help of our friends and sport improved immeasurably.
I was very fond of Jack Hinckley and tried my damnedest to make a sportsman out of him. For the last two years he was a whip – he nearly drove the Huntsman and me crazy, he always swatted the wrong hound, was never on hand when there was any riot and if he hadn’t died, it would have been only a matter of time before he would have killed himself hunting.
During the period from 1924 to 1940 (Spring), the undersigned has supplied all the horses, (which have been busted up at the rate of about three horses per annum), all the hounds, and all the tack, with the exception of several saddles and the hound van. Of the various horses which have been presented to the Hunt, only one has been of any value, except for five or six of Mrs. Larrabee’s horses. In other words, Oakwood Farm with its 400 -acres, has simply been a breeding farm for the Hunt.
During the 16 seasons since the inception of this Pack, we have endured many difficulties: land has been closed to the Hunt at various times; we have had considerable trouble with “outlaw” packs; we have suffered two major attacks of distemper in the kennels, and two serious outbreaks of influenza in the stables’ Northerners have induced some of our best trained men to quit on the offers of higher wages and we have had the normal number of cases of ophthalmia, bowed tendons, injuries, etc., incident to the hunt horses and the various losses to hounds, some stolen, some lost and some injured- as falls to the lot of any hunting establishment. We have, however, managed to weather these obstacles and carry on in some fashion.
PRESENT CONDITIONS (As I See Them In 1941)
The country is as good as when recommended to me by Louie Beard. Though some wire has crept in, there is less than in most countries, and the wire fences are paneled in salient places. One is seldom stopped by wire.
There is not an acre of land closed at the present time (to the best of my knowledge and belief) and the Hunt enjoys the good will of the whole country.
In so far as their working qualities are concerned, the hounds are as good as any pack in Virginia.
The Huntsman knows the country, has hunted the pack for 10 years and is popular with the farmers.
The Hunt is fortunate in having Mr. W. A. Laing as advisor - probably no one in America has had more experience with hounds, horses and hunting than he.
The kennels and stables are located in the center of the country and vanning of horses to meets is unnecessary.
There are fewer macadam roads in the ODH country than in any other country in the East and owing to the “lie of the land” (considering the Blue Ridge Mountains and their passes) the prospect of more macadam roads is improbable.
Several farms, aggregating some 3,000 acres, have been sold within the hunting country to persons interested in or favorable towards foxhunting during the past two years. in addition to four or five thousand acres previously sold under the same conditions.
The supply of foxes appears to be adequate.
In all modesty, I may say that the Old Dominion Hounds bore a reputation for showing first class sport when it was turned over to the new Master in 1940.
It remains one of the few recognized packs in Virginia which is not over crowded – where followers may stay close to hounds (if they can) and where they may actually see hound work each and every hunting day.
As I see it, foxhunting is not a duty and not a business…but purely a sport and I hunt only for the fun I get out of it and I’ve had plenty of fun out of this pack and this country. With a few exceptions there is no one in that country now that I particularly enjoy hunting with. I see no reason why Madge and I should keep open house and supply food (and likker) to people with whom we are not congenial on an average of at least twice a week. The more especially as Madge has a bad back and has to go to Washington on an average of once a week….which is a long trip from the Kennels and back. In other words, in so far as I am concerned, I am finished with this Pack.
There are four families in the hunting country who are extremely “well off”: The Albert Hinckleys, Helen Hinckley, The Doellers, Mrs. Kenyon and Joe Gardner.
I propose either to sell my place, or else turn it into a cattle farm, where I may have some chance to make expenses.
A Final Note: In June of 1941, Mr. Larrabee sold the hounds and the rights to the country to Albert Hinckley who immediately sold them to the Old Dominion Hounds, Inc. for one dollar. Both Larrabee and Hinckley were preparing to go off to war. Mrs. John A. Hinckley was named MFH and Bill Doeller became the President of the Board.
In 1978, Peter Winant wrote an article in the Chronicle of the Horse featuring Old Dominion Hounds. This article goes into particular detail describing the country that ODH hunts in and the difficult the hunt had in finding foxes to hunt. The article also describes a relationship that ODH had with one of WW II’s most famous generals Gen. George Patton, who was a avid foxhunter and MFH himself.
The hunting country of the Old Dominion Hounds lies approximately 25 miles south and west of Middleburg, Virginia, which, in turn is about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. Old Dominion’s territory is currently bordered by the Rappahannock Hunt to the south, Warrenton Hunt to the south and east and the Piedmont Fox Hounds to the north and east. The Blue Ridge Mountains form Old Dominion’s western boundary, while Big Cobbler Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain, which are part of a lesser range, are within the Old Dominion territory.
Old Dominion’s hunting country is quite hilly, with many large coverts. At the same time, much of the country is comprised of lovely rolling pasture lands and is generously fenced with coops, rail fences and an occasional stone wall. The area has been a hot-bed of foxhunters for generations. As an example, the Poe and Chadwell families are natives – the former is represented by Melvin, former huntsman for the Orange County Hunt, and Albert, former huntsman of the Fairfax Hunt, while the Chadwick descendents include Earl, former huntsman of the Millbrook Hunt and Buster and Roddy, former huntsmen of the Essex Foxhounds.
The Roots Of The Hunt:
Following World War I, Major Louis Beard was commanding officer of the nearby Front Royal Remount Depot. He hunted what is now the Old Dominion territory in the company of famed foxhunter Joseph B. Thomas. Meanwhile Sterling L. Larrabee, the son to the commissioner of Indian Affairs in Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, enlisted in the British Arm during the early years of World War I. He was wounded in action, but recovered to join the U.S. Army upon our entry into the war. Following the war, he and his wife bought a farm in the Warrenton area. An avid foxhunter, he was MFH of the Warrenton Hunt for one year in 1923.
Sterling Larrabee’s records and letters are now housed in the National Sporting Library and there is indication that Larrabee became dissatisfied with the hunting at Warrenton, largely due to overcrowding in the hunting field. While discussing various alternatives with Louie Beard, the latter stated, “Why don’t you go up to Rappahannock – that’s the best country in America today, and Joe Thomas has left it and gone to Millbrook.
Larrabee’s letters indicate the following reaction: “I spent the summer and fall of 1923 riding over Rappahannock and upper Fauquier counties in a model T Ford, and on horseback.” That fall, Larrabee gathered together six couple of hounds, rented a property near Flint Hill and commenced to hunt the area under the name of Mr. Larrabee’s Hounds.
“During the first two years,” a subsequent letter stated, “we had many difficulties. Thomas and his huntsman Carver, had managed to get many of the farmers down on what the natives call ‘hunt clubs.’ Foxes were scarce, and we didn’t know where they lay, or how they ran. We had many blank days, and we frequently lost hounds, and the hounds were lousy and few in number. However, I felt much encouraged by the potential possibilities of the country, and applied for recognition in 1925, which was granted by the MFHA. Madge (Mrs. Larrabee) and I started this entirely as a private pack, and we paid all expenses. Ned Chadwell (huntsman of the Orange County Hunt from 1914-1924) hunted the hounds. Madge and I generally hunted by ourselves, along with a few farmers, and some of our friends who used to road their horses from Middleburg and keep them at the kennels for a few days. Things began to improve. The pack improved, our relations with the landowners picked up, and we got to know the country better, and we put out foxes and preserved foxes in every possible way.
Larrabee once wrote as follows about his hunting country: “The woodland coverts are very large, and there are plenty of hills and valleys, so cry is essential.” For cry, Larrabee chose the American hound, using a pack that contained a generous number of red ring-necks, many originating with the Orange County pack.
Also, Sterling Larrabee did not limit his sport to foxes, as evidenced by the following, written by Larrabee’s close friend, General William Mitchell, in Polo magazine in January, 1935: “In 1930, Colonel A. E. Pierce imported some English red deer and turned them over to Sterling. He schooled them over wire and over the obstacles encountered in that country, then got a special permit from the Virginia Game Commission to cart them into the countryside and run them. They used them when the scenting was so bad that foxes could not be hunted. He made a great success of this, and they gave splendid sport. One hind, named Minnie, was a good runner, but when she got tired she would run up on people’s porches, to signify that the chase was over.”
In the fall of 1926, the Rappahannock Hunt came into being and Larrabee diplomatically consented to give joint hunting rights to nearly one-third of his country. A note in the meticulously kept Larrabee records substantiates the necessity for this decision: “This was a question of one damn Yankee (Larrabee) against a possible hundred Virginia farmers.”
The Depression Changes The Hunt Name To Old Dominion Hounds:
By 1930, the depression put a crimp in Larrabee’s sporting interests, forcing him to solicit outside subscriptions. “I changed the name of the pack from Mr. Larrabee’s Hounds to Old Dominion Hounds, in as much as I felt it was no longer strictly a private pack,” Mr. Larrabee stated. Also, William E. Doeller subsequently became Larrabee’s Jt. MFH, serving from 1933 to 1936.
Meanwhile, in 1931, Old Dominion added to its country by arriving at an agreement with the Warrenton Hunt to use a section of country seldom used by the latter. In 1932, Larrabee got another neighbor when General George Patton acquired rights to a piece of the vast Warrenton country, this one to the North of Old Dominion where Patton founded and became MFH of the Cobbler Hunt. Larrabee’s documents indicate a fondness and mutual respect between the Masters of Old Dominion and Cobbler. When Patton was transferred to Hawaii in 1935, however, frequent misunderstandings between Patton’s successor and Larrabee transpired. Cobbler did not resume sport after World War II. Meanwhile Old Dominion and Warrenton and Rappahannock enjoyed a warm relationship, which exists to this day.
In 1939, the Old Dominion Hounds gained yet another neighboring hunt- ODH gave rights to a seldom used section of their country west of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Raymond Guest, who founded the Rock Hill Hounds. The latter was disbanded during World War II, becoming a part of the Blue Ridge Hunt.
In 1940, the Larrabee records include a lengthy “analysis of current conditions,” a list of assets and liabilities pertaining to the Old Dominion Hounds. He named but one liability: “The War, the outcome of which and its effect upon hunting, no one can predict.”
Then, on the opposite side of the page, Larrabee listed many assets, including the following: “The country is as good as when recommended to me by Louie Beard…the hunt enjoys the good will of the whole countryside…the Huntsman, ( Ned Chadwell, was replaced by Will Putnam in 1931) has hunted the pack for ten years, and he is popular with the farmers… the hunt is fortunate in having W.A. Laing as advisor – probably no man in America has had more experience with hounds, horses and hunting.
There are fewer macadam roads in the Old Dominion country than in any country in the East…the supply of foxes appears to be adequate…it remains one of the few recognized packs in Virginia which is not overcrowded where followers may stay close to hounds (if they can) where they may actually see hound work each and every day.”
The assets were overwhelming, but so was Mr. Larrabee’s patriotism, and he resigned as Master to join the Armed services. Mrs. George Cutting served as MFH from 1940 to 1945. Mr. Doeller returned as MFH in 1945-1947, at which time Colonel Albert Hinckley commenced upon a long and honorable term as MFH.
– Originally published on (2/3/1978).