Morven Park: House, history and horses

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On a trip to Leesburg, Virginia, when the sky was gloriously blue, I went to Morven Park to see what all the fuss was about.

You see, the locals don’t want anyone else to know about their favorite green space, because they love that it’s uncrowded. But, you know, when history and green space (and horses) come together, that’s a story I have to tell!

Davis Mansion at Morven Park

Let’s start with the history! Westmoreland Davis and his wife, Marguerite, purchased Morven Park to be their home back in 1903. And, they lived there full-time until Davis was elected Governor of Virginia in 1917.

Morven Park Mansion in Leesburg, VA with trees behind and extensive lawn in front.

During their years in residence, Westmoreland Davis used the expansive grounds to study progressive farming techniques, establishing a full working farm in Loudoun County. He wrote extensively about his discoveries and dedicated a lot of time to agricultural education.

He also enjoyed equestrian sports, including fox hunting and horse racing, and pursued those interests as well.

During his governancy, Westmoreland Davis and his wife split time between Richmond and the Morven Mansion. Marguerite played a big role in making it their home, too. Avid travelers, they collected treasures from around the world which they displayed throughout the mansion.

Bust statue of a woman in elegant dress on display at Morven Mansion.

But, Marguerite was much more than a wealthy lady of leisure. During World War I and the flu pandemic of 1918, she showed her true grit — as a woman dedicated to the welfare of all. She dedicated a lot of time to supporting war efforts, and she actively helped care for flu victims during the pandemic.

After Westmoreland’s death in 1942, Marguerite realized that the land, the house, and its contents could continue to serve the community long after her passing.  So, in 1957, she established The Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation to care for the grounds, the mansion and other historic buildings, and the artifacts.

Morven Park opened to the public in 1967, and is a Loudoun County landmark. Today, more than 500,000 people visit each year to tour the mansion, and enjoy the trails, gardens, and world-renowned equestrian facility spread over the 1,000 acre property.

Morven Park Mansion Tours

Available March through December, Morven Mansion and Museum tours provide guests with stories of the mansion’s 240 year history, from its humble beginnings as a modest fieldstone house to the Greek Revival Mansion it is today. And, there’s a lot more to the story of that transformation!

In fact, that’s the first thing you’ll see on your tour. The photo below is taken just inside the entrance to the museum, showing the original fieldstone, plus layers of remodels and redesigns along the way. It’s a fascinating story.

The many layers of Morven Mansion revealed: Fieldstone beginnings, intermediary design and the stucco of today.

Once inside the home, you’ll see the opulent antiques the couple purchased on their travels around the world. There are Belgian tapestries, Spanish cassones, hundreds of silver pieces, Asian treasures and much more.

Formal room at the Davis Mansion, with tapestries on the wall, a massive crystal chandelier, red satin covered furniture and Oriental rug.

Amid all that opulence, you’ll also see the everyday items that made this showplace a family home. The day I went, Westmoreland Davis’ boyhood baseball mitt was displayed on the dresser in his bedroom. Something so incredibly American, his childhood mitt. It was my favorite thing in the whole house, probably because it “humanized” him — just a guy who loves baseball.

Besides the opulent antiques, you’ll learn about Westmoreland Davis’ passion for progressive gardening and his influence on modern farming in Virginia. You’ll learn about Marguerite’s meaningful war efforts, her role in fighting the deadly flu of 1918, and her no nonsense way with the staff. The signs in the kitchen made me chuckle.

The tour passes through several rooms on the first and second floor of the home before ending at the Museum of Hounds & Hunting, which shares the history and culture of mounted hunting with hounds. Traditional hunt attire and other collectibles are on display. Upstairs, which is not wheelchair accessible, fine art related to the hunt is on display. Since Westmoreland Davis was such an avid horseman and hunter, this is a great place to house this museum. Separate admission is available for those who don’t want to tour the mansion.

Plan your Tour of the Morven Mansion

  • Address: 17195 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg, VA. From the parking lot, you’ll walk past the boxwood gardens to get to the Davis mansion.
  • Tickets: Purchase tickets online in advance for your specific tour date and time. Adults (18+) are $16, and children (17 and below) are free. Arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled tour to walk to the entrance. The museum entrance is on the far side (north side) of the house from the parking lot.
  • Hours: The Davis Mansion schedules tours on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. with the last tour at 3:00 p.m.
  • Accessibility: The Davis Mansion is a historic home and not fully accessible. And, the main parking lot is not close to the mansion, but there is one a bit closer for those who need it. Read their accessibility information here.

Morven Park Grounds

Surrounding the mansion, there are several gardens and trails to enjoy. The boxwood garden between the parking lot and the mansion is one of the highlights of the property. Step off the main path into the garden to enjoy the hidden features like the Reflecting Pool and the sundial.

Another popular hike is the Ridge Top Trail through the woods behind the house. The 1.24 mile long trail has a 200 foot climb that takes visitors to the highest point on the property. The wooded trail is home to an abundance of wildlife and native plant species. Leashed pets are allowed on the trail, and owners must clean up after them. Bicycles and strollers are not allowed on this trail.

This stunning property is meant to be enjoyed, so wander the grounds and enjoy the beauty.

Morven Park Horse Trials

Governor Davis’ love for equestrian sports inspired the Morven Park International Equestrian Center, which is considered one of the best equestrian facilities in the country. Each October, Morven Park welcomes national and international athletes who compete in Olympic level events throughout the grounds. And that’s just one of the many equestrian events on the grounds throughout the year.

And, there is no charge to watch! Bring a picnic, spread out a blanket and watch the Morven Park Horse Trials!

A person riding a horse over a jump

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I missed this event by just one week, though the staff was clearly excited about the upcoming event. They provided the above photo as a sample of what you can see if you’re in town that week.

Please, don’t tell the locals I sent you! They like keeping this a secret (which I understand)!

When you’re in Loudoun County, head over to Walsh Family Winery to enjoy their award winning wine. Their outdoor space overlooks the vineyard and their indoor space has comfortable sofas, board games and a huge record collection to enjoy. And, there are lots more things to do in Loudoun County when you visit!