Leesburg, VA, May 28, 2011: On a sunny spring
afternoon, with the historic Morven Park Mansion as a fitting
backdrop, three well-deserving individuals were inducted into the
Huntsmen’s Room of the Museum of Hounds & Hunting North America. The
inductees were Nancy Penn Smith Hannum (1919-2010), Albert Poe, and
With every chair placed before the Mansion’s columned
portico filled, scores of additional spectators stood to hear how
each person earned the privilege to be included among those
recognized in the Huntsmen’s Room. After opening remarks by Lt. Col.
Robert N. Ferrer, Jr., USMC- Ret., MFH (Caroline Hunt, Virginia),
each inductee was presented by a specially selected speaker
knowledgeable of that person’s life and achievements.
Mrs. Hannum’s daughter, Carol Davidson, recounted her
mother’s long and impressive career as master and huntsman of Mr.
Stewart’s Cheshire Hounds, Unionville, Pennsylvania. Nancy Penn
Smith Hannum’s life was infused with foxhunting blood from the
moment of her birth. Her familial relations included connections to
Orange County Hunt, New York, founded by her maternal grandfather
E.H. Harriman; Chester Valley hunt where her paternal grandfather
served as master; Orange County’s territory in Virginia with her
parents as joint-masters; a move to Unionville, Pennsylvania, in
1930 following the death of her father and her mother’s marriage to
William Plunket Stewart, founder and MFH of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire
Hounds. In 1940, she married John B. Hannum 3rd, whose father was
Master of Mr. Hannum’s Hounds in Delaware County, Pa.
She inherited the Cheshire hounds in 1948 upon the
death of Carol and Plunket Stewart, and, as her daughter remarked,
all the early influences on her life were cemented into her destiny.
Nancy Penn Smith Hannum went on to become one of the
nation’s longest-serving masters, hunting her own hounds with skill
and determination that have become legendary, and developing an
outstanding breeding and training program. Moreover, she was
passionate about land preservation and established an impressive
conservation program that brought many landowners into the fold,
assuring that open space would continue for generations to come.
The next honoree to be recognized was Albert Poe, whose
induction remarks were delivered by John J. “Jake” Carle, II, ex-MFH
(Keswick Hunt, Virginia). Also born into a foxhunting family, in
1931, Albert Poe is widely considered the best breeder of American
Foxhounds of the 20th century. He showed a natural gift with horses
and from an early age was breaking and training ponies for
neighbors. His skill in the saddle served him well over his many
years in professional hunt service.
In 1946, at the age of 15, Albert took on the role of
whipper-in when his brother Melvin accepted the job of huntsman to
the Old Dominion Hounds. When Albert Hinckley assumed the
mastership, he hired young Albert to break and make hunters, many of
which were leased to wealthy Washingtonians on weekends.
Eight years later, Joint Masters Mrs. A. C. Randolph
and Paul Mellon of Piedmont Fox Hounds were looking for someone to
hunt their pack and in 1954 Albert Poe became the youngest
professional huntsman in the country at the age of 23. Over the next
21 years, relying on a Bywaters-strain of American hound, Albert
bred what is considered to be one of the finest packs of hunting
hounds in the world; biddable, cheerful, and eager to please. The
level of sport rose to new heights of excellence, so much so that
Piedmont went from hunting two days a week to four days a week.
Albert moved on from Piedmont Fox Hounds in 1975 to
concentrate on training races horses at Charles Town. His success at
this endeavor led to all of his horses being claimed and Albert
filling his time as an outrider.
Not surprisingly, he could not stay away from
foxhunting for long and when Randy Rouse, MFH of Fairfax Hunt, came
calling, Albert jumped at the chance to hunt the Fairfax pack.
In 1980 Albert moved to Middleburg Hunt, a bastion of
Bywaters blood. Almost every hound in the kennel traced its lineage
back to Piedmont and the famous hounds Albert had bred there. For 15
years he showed superior sport at Middleburg, restoring this pack’s
Upon retiring from Middleburg, Albert continued to
hunt, often with brother Melvin. When Melvin retired from Orange
County, he continued to hunt George Ohrstrom’s Bath County Hounds,
and Albert’s hounds were eventually absorbed into the pack.
The man that author Raymond G. Woolfe, Jr. calls “the quintessential
huntsman, a veritable wizard with horses, hounds and people,” has
left an indelible mark on the foxhunting world. So many hunts are
indebted to Albert Poe for the excellence of their packs. It is an
“And,” says Albert, “nobody enjoyed it more than I
Huntsman Tommy Lee Jones (Casanova Hunt, Virginia)
stepped forward next to recognize the third inductee, Melvin Poe. At
90 years of age, Melvin is still carrying the horn, hunting the
third pack of hounds in his 60-plus year career. All ten Poe
siblings, including Melvin and Albert, grew up riding and hunting in
one form or another. Melvin’s path to professional hunt service took
a slight detour during World War Two. He served in the European
Theater and his official duty was that of jeep mechanic. However,
his natural athleticism led to a spot on an Army baseball team made
up of all professional ball players, plus one young jeep mechanic
from Hume, Virginia.
It didn’t take Melvin long to embark on his lifelong
career once he returned home. While his teammates all returned to
their professional baseball contracts, Melvin took the job of
huntsman to the Old Dominion Hounds in 1946. The war had devastating
effects on the hound population. His first year he had 13 hounds,
ten of which he said he could outrun. With the help of his old
friends and old ways, he gathered enough hounds to hunt the season.
Over the next 16 years he built the Old Dominion into a hard running
His career at Orange County spanned nearly 30 years. His first two
seasons he served as whipper-in to long time huntsman Sterling
“Duke” Leach. The next 27 years, Melvin’s “rebel yell” could be
heard cheering hounds on across the grasslands of northern Fauquier
Melvin relied on lessons learned throughout his life
roaming the woods, and his fox sense – knowing where to look after a
loss – was legendary. His hounds absolutely loved him and would
follow him anywhere.
His hounds won numerous championships over the years
and a multitude of important five couple pack classes. At Bryn Mawr
he won the class 18 out of 24 years and at the Virginia Hound Show
he won 19 out of 24.
He retired as huntsman at 70 years of age from Orange
County, and after he served a few years as kennel huntsman, a former
president of Orange County, George Ohrstrom, formed a private pack
in the abandoned Bath County country. Melvin was hired as huntsman
and 2010 marked his 20th season there.
At 90 Melvin still has a spring in his step and a love
of the chase. He has always enjoyed sharing his sport with others,
the more the merrier. “Bob Hope didn’t like playing to an empty
auditorium and neither do I,” Melvin once said.
With the presentation ceremonies complete, the
attendees were invited to tour the newly re-opened rooms of the
Museum of Hounds & Hunting North America in the Morven Park Mansion.
After a long and extensive renovation project on the historic
building, the Mansion is once again open to the public, with rooms
in the North Wing now restored for use by the Museum.
Reprinted with permission from In & Around Horse Country, Volume
XXII/ Number 4, June/July 2011. All rights reserved.
A seminal event in the history of foxhunting in
North America was the Grafton-Middlesex Foxhound Match, which took
place in the Piedmont Valley of Virginia in 1905. The two
protagonists in this match are among twenty-seven great North
American huntsmen or Masters of Foxhounds who carried the horn
recognized in the Museum’s Huntsmen’s Room.
gentlemen had an immeasurable impact on the sport of foxhunting.
They contributed significantly to the science of our sport. Their
impact is evident today as we note that some forty-five active hunts
in North America were established within twenty-five years after the
match. Both were consummate foxhunters and ardent hound men.
Accomplished writers of the sport, they chronicled their thoughts
and research in periodicals and books throughout their lives. They
both played a significant role in the formulation of the Masters of
In 1905, these two men, representing
opposing views on hounds, met in Virginia to settle their debate on
which was the better hound; the American or the English foxhound.
Harry Worcester Smith, MFH of the Grafton
Hunt in Massachusetts, championed the American hound and A. Henry
Higginson, MFH of the Middlesex Hunt in Massachusetts, picked up the
gauntlet and met Smith in Virginia with his pack of English hounds
for twelve days of hunting to settle the debate. But was the debate
ever really settled in their minds?
In 1928, Higginson with Julian I.
Chamberlain, published Hunting in the United States and Canada. With
regard to the outcome of the match, Higginson wrote the following:
“To cut a long story short, the result was
the somewhat famous Foxhound Match...in which Mr. Smith’s homebred
represented the American hound, and the Middlesex foxhounds- a draft
pack at the time- the English. Neither pack killed and,
although the Grafton Hounds were awarded the victory, neither Master
altered his opinion as to the comparative merit of the two types.”
In 1943, two years before his death, Smith
wrote an article on the impact of the Foxhound Match for Rider and
Driver, a leading publication of that time. His closing line of the
“All this goes to prove that the English
Hound in America is a thing of the past and that past began 38 years
While the debate may not have been settled, we can not underestimate
these two men had on hound breeding and our sport in North America.
Robert N. Ferrer, MFH
The Caroline Hunt