A History of Middleburg

Long before the advent of Englishmen on the shores of Virginia, Algonquin, Iroquois and Cherokee tribes roamed, farmed and hunted this land.

Though they left behind a legacy of trails along Goose Creek and Little River, which wind and twist their way through the countryside with names like Wankopin Creek and Shenandoah, pressure from white settlers eventually forced them westward. And, in this part of the huge 5,000,000 acres owned by Thomas Cameron, 6th Lord Fairfax, dramatic changes were beginning.

The year was 1731. Rawleigh Chinn, descendent of a Norman family originally named du Cheyne, received a grant from Lord Fairfax of 3300 acres around what is now Middleburg. Rawleigh’s son, Joseph Chinn and his wife, Priscilla, settled on 500 of those acres in a small stone building which not only became their home, but an Ordinary, which in the parlance of the day meant a tavern or inn for travelers. A full day’s ride by horse or carriage from Alexandria, Joseph’s tiny settlement soon became known as “Chinn’s Crossing.”

Some 19 years later, Joseph’s first cousin, a young 16-year-old named George Washington, came to survey the surrounding lands for Lord Fairfax, and, of course, visited with his relatives in the Ordinary, which today is known as the Red Fox Inn. Then, in 1755, during the French and Indian War, Washington again raced along this road to meet General Braddock at the battle of Fort Duquesne. Still later, he returned again to survey lands he had acquired west of the Town.

As winds of Revolution spread through the Colonies, Loudoun County joined the battle for freedom from British rule, sending almost 2,000 of its young men to join General Washington at Valley Forge during the brutal winter of 1777-78. Upon returning home to his wife Sarah Harrison and their six children, in 1787 area resident Colonel Leven Powell founded the Town he called Middleburgh – yes, it did have an “h.”

Leven Powell later represented Loudoun County at Williamsburgh (which also had an “h” at the time) in the House of Delegates and then served as its Representative to the 6th United States Congress in Philadelphia. His portrait, lost for over 200 years, was recently discovered by his descendants and a replica now hangs proudly in the Middleburg Town Hall.

By the early 1800s, Middleburg entered a period known as the “Golden Age.” By 1850, it boasted 400 residents, one third of who were free blacks or slaves. And around the Town plantation life flourished, the rich soil of the Piedmont produced great crops of corn, oats, hay and wheat to keep its mills and economy going full speed; cattle and dairy farms thrived; peach and apple orchards provided not only fresh fruit, but the sweet brandy for which the Piedmont was noted. And Richard Henry Dulany of Welbourne Plantation founded the Piedmont Hunt – the first organized Hunt in the United States. Life was good.

But it came to an abrupt halt in 1861. As winds of war rumbled once again, southerners resented federal government intrusion into their way of life. Unlike the north, which had a strong manufacturing base, southern states were dependent upon an agricultural economy which required cheap labor. Eleven southern seceded from the Union in 1861, and Virginia was one of them. In Middleburg, the vote was 121-0 in favor of secession.

Middleburg paid dearly for its allegiance to the Confederacy, and to its hero, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the Grey Ghost of the Confederacy. Yankee troops burned Middleburg’s barns and fences, occupied its homes, stripped it of horses, crops and cattle, destroyed three of its mills, and even marched its 51 remaining men, including the Episcopal minister and town physician, off to old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.

Those who survived the carnage of battle, and the surrender at Appomattox, returned home to burned fields and empty barns, and with no money to rebuild their fine old homes or replant their fields. Life was bleak. Landed families either abandoned their properties and moved away – or rented to tenants. They were, it was said “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.”

It would almost be a half century before that picture began to change. And it began with what was called “The Second Northern Invasion.” But this time the Northerners were welcomed! They were horse lovers, breeders, huntsmen and riders from Orange County, New York who ‘discovered’ that the rolling hills and open fields around Middleburg were ideal for their equine pursuits and soon began pouring into the area.

By buying up beautiful old plantations (albeit for a pittance), restoring them to their former grandeur and establishing equine breeding, hound training and racing endeavors, they created jobs and began the turn-around of the local economy. It wasn’t long before Middleburg became internationally known as the “Heart of the Virginia Hunt Country.”

Hunting had declined in the aftermath of Civil War but the newcomers soon formed the Middleburg Hunt, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, and others like Orange County, Loudoun, Fairfax, Warrenton and Piedmont later joined in the chase for the ever-elusive fox. Interestingly, Loudoun County leads the nation in horse ownership with well over 20,000 fine animals, often housed in equally fine stables.

By the 1950s, diplomats, ambassadors and State Department and Congressional leaders, as well as wealthy heirs and heiresses, joined movie stars and successful entrepreneurs in Middleburg, which was changing from a small, sleepy little southern town into an important postal address. The advent of President John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline (a beloved lady in this area) put the final cachet of approval on Middleburg.

In fact, when Middleburg was part of President John Kennedy's Camelot, JFK sometimes held press conferences in the Red Fox Inn. And in the following years, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis also stayed at the Inn and rode horses on the land now occupied by Salamander Resort & Spa.

Meanwhile, Middleburg spread its wings to not become not only a paradise for horse lovers, but an art colony and art collector’s center. Where once only paintings of horses and hounds, bucolic landscapes and races held sway, galleries now host well-attended receptions for works by local as well as international artists like the great-grandson of Renoir and the famed Russian artist Yuri Gorbachev (who is related to the late Soviet Premier).

Despite the remarkably good relationships between the black and white communities which somehow survived Civil War, Middleburg remained segregated until the early 1960s. It now boasts a fine elementary school for all children and four private schools noted for academic excellence: Foxcroft, Notre Dame, The Hill School and Wakefield attract students from all over the country.

Two fine music schools, The Piedmont School and another, aptly named SCORE, teach talented youngsters who perform throughout the year. Their talent is encouraged by the Middleburg Lions Club, which holds an annual vocal and instrumental contest and awards cash prizes to outstanding young instrumental and vocal performers.

Local merchants responded to this new era by creating a veritable feast of antique shops, hostelries, inns, saddleries, galleries, gourmet shops and restaurants to welcome visitors and new residents. Middleburg also boasts a fine library, a Community Center and pool, a tennis and garden club, the beautiful Glenwood Race Track, six churches, a volunteer fired department and rescue squad, a medical center; two monthly newspapers, plus, a periodical called “The Chronicle of the Horse.”

Though the population around Middleburg continues to grow (currently at around 600), and the Town attracts thousands of visitors each year, there’s little pretension. Neighbors help each other, people know and trust each other, celebrities are accorded the seclusion they seek, friends meet at the Post Office, trucks and SUV’s are the norm, and grocery store clerks know everyone by name.

Source: The Visitor’s Guide to Middleburg, Virginia

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