Open to the public since 1967, Morven Park has been a Loudoun County landmark welcoming history aficionados, sports enthusiasts and equestrians alike. The house and grounds have long served the public and come fall, horseback riders and trainers will see an expansion of Morven Park’s equestrian capabilities thanks to a $4.4 million renovation.
Morven Park served as the home of Maryland Governor Thomas Swann Jr. during the Civil War and of Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis who was during World War I. When Davis died in 1942, his wife left the home with all furnishings intact. When she died in 1963, she established a trust to open the home and grounds to the public.
Since then, the 1,000 acre grounds have been open to community events; the Morven Park Equestrian Center has served as a school for professional riding instructors, as well as general training facilities; athletic fields are open for field sports; and trails are populated with hikers and riders.
As the county continues to grow, Morven Park Executive Director Stephanie Kenyon wants to make sure the historic estate, grounds and horse park remain a special place for locals and tourists.
“When I came on board a year and a half ago, I started to look at what was going on around here. There’s no way to really stop the growth, it’s inevitable, so what does this place look like in 50 years?” Kenyon said. “I can envision it one day becoming sort of a Central Park of Loudoun County … It’s a really special green space that will become more and more scarce as time goes on.”
When the Morven Park Equestrian Center served as an accredited college for riding instructors, people came from all over the country to learn. The professors were Olympians with astounding credentials, Kenyon said. The school closed in 1991 and the barns, indoor arena and other facilities became used for races and events.
Though structurally strong, Kenyon felt the facilities need to be upgraded, which inspired the renovation program.
Morven Park receives about 250,000 visitors every year, many of which are equestrians who come to compete. Morven Park has 60 days of equestrian competitions throughout the year. One of the first projects from the renovation was a polo arena, which was opened to the public earlier this summer. Every Saturday night through the end of August, Loudoun residents can watch polo.
“People bring picnic blankets and wine. They watch polo and then in between the two matches during intermission we do tug of war with the kids and then afterwards we open up a pavilion tent for dancing and we bring a DJ in,” Kenyon said. “It’s really become a fun summertime community event.”
One-thousand people attended the first polo event in July and the crowd has only grown since then, Kenyon said. As the renovations continue, a larger, permanent polo arena will be built. The current polo arena was a training ring, converted to polo for the summer.
Starting in the 1980s, Morven Park hosted steeplechase races — a type of horse race that includes obstacles — in addition to cross-country races. The steeplechases stopped in 2010 because of a slowing economy but the steeplechase races will return in the fall of 2018, Kenyon said. Racetrack renovations are currently underway.
When the renovations are done, the Equestrian Center will have two new arenas in the middle of the renovated race courses. Existing arenas, which were built in the 1970s, will also be renovated. These will be large show arenas where Kenyon hopes to attract more Olympic-level riders, which will also add to Loudoun’s economy.
“Almost every American Olympic rider has ridden here at some point in their careers,” Kenyon said. “So that really makes us Loudoun County’s and Northern Virginia’s premier equestrian center. This is where they all come and have come forever.”
The final component of the million-dollar project will be the clearing of more horse trails on the wooded grounds. All these projects included in the $4.4 million renovation make up phase 1 of what will eventually be a more expansive three phase renovation. Kenyon expects phase 1 to be completed later in October. Though phase 1 is already underway, Morvan Park is still fundraising to complete the project
Phase 2 will include barn renovations and the timeline of this project will depend on when Morven Park completes fundraising. The barns were built at different times, so Kenyon would like to see the facilities upgraded and given a more uniform look. Phase 3, Kenyon envisions to be five to eight years down the road at the very least. She hopes to create an indoor multi-use arena space for horse shows, concerts and performing arts.
Loudoun Therapeutic Riding is based in Morven Park. The Park donates space to the Therapeutic Riding program in its indoor arena. However, the Morven Park has donated land for the therapeutic program to build a new facility, so once they move out of the existing indoor arena, the facility will be under utilized. Kenyon would like to knock down the current indoor arena and build a new, larger indoor facility on its footprint.
Kenyon said the County is looking to build a performing arts venue and she’d like to work with the County to do a public/private partnership and make this happen at Morven Park.
“This will really expand our ability to bring in bigger and better riders, more riders and different kinds of competitions,” Kenyon said.