It would seem Morven Park has something of interest for almost everyone, but for those interested in country sports, horses or Virginia history, it's a treasure.
The estate, 1,000 acres just west of Leesburg, Virginia off Rt. 7 on Old Waterford Road, was home to two governors: Thomas Swann, a governor of Maryland in the 19th century, and Virginia's reform Governor Westmoreland Davis. Morven Park was the last home of Governor Davis, who served his gubernatorial term from 1918 to 1922, and his wife, the former Marguerite Inman of Atlanta, daughter of a wealthy New York cotton broker. Thirteen years after his death in 1942, Mrs. Davis established the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation as a memorial to her husband and the estate was opened to the public in 1967.
The mansion, a focal point of the estate, evolved from a fieldstone farmhouse in 1781 to its present turn-of-the-century appearance. It is actually three structures moved together. Visitors enter the mansion through a Greek Revival portico to see a Renaissance great hall, a Jacobean dining room, a French drawing room, a library and a display which highlights the life and times of Governor Davis. Because the Davis' traveled widely, the furnishings are of varied styles and eras, including 16th century Flemish tapestries, Renaissance and neo-Renaissance pieces, l'art nouveau, silver and glass, fine paintings and porcelain figurines collected by Mrs. Davis.
Gov. Davis' family was wealthy and socially prominent prior to the Civil War but the family fortune was lost when the Confederacy fell. The youth and his widowed mother struggled to eke out a living from the South's prostrate economy and Davis finally was able to attend college, first graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and then attending the University of Virginia.
He later graduated from Columbia University where he studied law, and became associated and eventually became a partner with a leading law firm in New York. His subsequent financial independence paved his way to return to Virginia and the life of farming and politics which he loved.
Davis purchased Morven Park in 1903 and developed the estate into a leading producer of blooded stock and an agricultural showplace. Mrs. Davis' influence can be seen within the mansion and throughout the estate's gardens. The boxwood gardens, which can be seen from Mrs. Davis' bedroom, are especially notable. Today the grounds at Morven Park offer not only spectacular views from manicured lawns, but trails shaded by evergreens, magnolias and dogwoods.
Davis was elected president of the State Farm Institute in 1908 and in 1912 he became publisher of the Southern Planter, a position he held until his death. The crusading publisher used editorial columns to strike out at what he considered injustices to Virginia's farmers, thus endearing himself the agricultural community.
Davis attacked the Legislature for what he termed "paltry sums" appropriated for the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and urged State support of the Farmer's Institute, which later became the Agricultural Extension Service of VPI.
He entered the race of governor of Virginia in 1917 and stirred up Virginia with his pleas to modernize state government, improve colleges and schools and to use scientific methods to increase farm yields. He won the election and completed his term but his influence extended for many years in government, business and agricultural affairs. Morven Park is a living testament to the country life Davis loved and serves as a reminder of his many accomplishments.
DID YOU KNOW ?
Westmoreland Davis’ nickname was “Morley.” Local author Carolyn Green’s 1998 biography of Davis, Morley, was written from Mrs. Davis’ point of view. MORE HISTORY >>>