Nancy Penn Smith Hannum (1919-2010), Albert Poe, & Melvin Poe
Leesburg, VA: 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 Melvin Poe.
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.
Nancy Penn Smith Hannum
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 historic reputation.
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 incomparable legacy.
“And,” says Albert, “nobody enjoyed it more than I did!”
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 pack.
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 County.
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.