Springdale and the National Steeplechase Museum, Camden, South Carolina | Olde English District

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Springdale and the National Steeplechase Museum, Camden, South Carolina

by Joe Moran

The heavily wooded and peaceful town of Camden, South Carolina, is a lovely place to spend a few days, or maybe a lifetime. There are many historic sites to visit, lots of antique shops to peruse and plenty of parks in which to take a quiet stroll. But mostly Camden is about horses—Thoroughbred horses. Springdale Race Course is situated just on the outskirts of town, and hosts two of the most important steeplechases on the yearly calendar—the extremely popular Carolina Cup in the spring and the presti- gious Colonial Cup in the autumn.

Camden is well known as a training center for racehorses from the eastern United States. There is a substantial horse population there from September to May. Hall of Fame trainers have habitually sent their horses to Camden for a winter rest, or rehab following injury. It is also the place where young Thoroughbreds can begin their early training in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere away from the frenetic pace of a race course. Many champion racehorses have called Camden home at some point, including the incomparable Ruffian.

Henry Kirkover and Ernest Woodward were upstate New Yorkers who purchased the old race course in town and renamed it Springdale. Woodward was chairman of the board of the Jello Company and an avid foxhunter with the Genesee Valley Hunt. In the 1940s Woodward gave the more-or-less 600 acres of the course to Kirkover, who had the same interests as his friend, but sadly not the same bank balance. The property was sold a few years later to Mrs. Ambrose Clark of Aiken, South Carolina and subsequent to her death, the race course was bought by Marion duPont Scott.

Mrs. Scott bred, owned and was passionate about horses all of her life. She had a horse farm in Virginia as well as the acreage in Camden. Trouble Maker carried her famous pink and blue colors to victory in the Carolina Cup in 1932. Most likely, her best horse was Battleship, who trained in Camden and then was sent across the pond to win the Grand National at Aintree, England in 1938. Battleship was not a very big horse, but he was certainly a brave one, as the Grand National is one of the most demanding races in the world.

Mrs. Scott died in 1983 and deeded the 600-plus acres of Springdale Race Course and the immediate environs to the state of South Carolina with the caveat that the land remain solely for equine use in per- petuity. She also bequeathed a million- dollar endowment for its maintenance. It was a wonderful and well intentioned gesture. The course is now ably managed by Jeff Teter, himself a former champion rider. Today both Springdale Race Course and the Steeplechase Museum share the same knowledgeable and active board of directors and both are thriving.

The National Steeplechase Museum The National Steeplechase Museum opened its doors to the public in 1998. The experienced horseman John Cushman was the initial executive director. He cleverly chose Hope Cooper to succeed him and she is now the driving force of the museum. The original building was a simple two- room structure that purportedlywas moved from Marion duPont Scott’s Camden house, Holly Hedge. The noted historical- preservation architect Henry D. Boykin II designed the addition that became the museum. The building reflects Camden’s famous cottage architecture that was prevalent among the residences of visiting horsemen around the turn of the century.

The white clapboard building that houses both the racing offices and the National Steeplechase Museum is on the grounds of the race course. This is the only museum in the United States that is dedicated purely to telling the story of American steeplechasing. Alife-size bronze statue of a horse called Lonesome Glory is the first thing to catch your eye as you approach the walkway to the museum. As a record- setting five-time Horse of the Year, this rangy chestnut certainly deserves his place of pride on the front lawn. It is also his final resting place, as his nearby headstone will attest.

The governing body of steeple- chase racing is The National Steeplechase Association, founded in 1895 and head- quartered in Maryland in order to encourage, advance and regulate the sport in America. In a similar vein, the mission of the National Steeplechase Museum is to foster public interest and to educate the broadest possible audience through public events, interactive exhibits, artwork and publications.

Upon entering the museum, your eye is drawn immediately to the sweeping view out the French doors and onto the beautiful grounds of the Springfield Race Course. This is the Great Room, which was sponsored by the internationally known sportsman George Strawbridge and his wife, Nina. The exhibits throughout the museum are changed regularly. Recently in the Great Room there was a collection of the humorist/caricature artist Pierre Belloq – known to the racing world as PEB.

There was also a colorful display of the silks of the owners who have won Eclipse Awards with their respective Horses of the Year from 1948 to the present. An interactive exhibit of a day in the life of a jockey is enlightening, as is the display of a selection of works by the noted equine photographer Catherine French. There are several panels on one wall depicting the history of “chasing” in England and its early day in America. Scattered throughout are photos and memorabilia of some of the finest equine athletes – the halter of Rowdy Irishman, a few of the trophies won by the incredible Flatterer, the Eclipse Awards of the handsome Zaccio, the bridle worn by Lonesome Glory. Looking upward, one sees a large, evocative painting by Peter Biegel of a full field of horses going over a hurdle.

The media room, named for top amateur rider Irvin S. Naylor, has animpressive collection of DVDs of past races from England, Ireland and the U.S. Naylor, who had a fall in April 1999 at the Grand National Timber Steeplechase in Butler, Maryland, is today a leading owner of steeplechase horses.

The museum also contains the F. Ambrose Clark collection of silver trophies and a wall for steeplechase winners. It celebrates individuals who have received high honors from the National Steeplechase Association of America. Mr. Clark, heir to the O.N.T. Thread and Singer Sewing Machine fortune, has several ties to South Carolina. He had a residence at Habersham House in nearby Aiken, and he developed Ford Conger Field, the future site of the annual Aiken Steeplechase.

Mr. and Mrs. William C. Lickle’s Victorian Hill Trophy Room contains the original Carolina Cup, which was fashioned in Ireland in 1704. Each year, the owners of the winning horse have their names engraved on the base, and they receive a replica of the Cup. The actual Colonial Cup, made in England, also resides in this room, along with many other silver cups and plates of major stakes races, which have been generously donated to the museum. Lickle is a retired businessman from Palm Beach, Florida, whose horses have won numerous important races. His Victorian Hill won the famous Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville in both 1991 and 1992 ; his Sea Spruce won the Colonial Cup in 1994; and a few years later Master McGrath carried his colors to victory in the Carolina Cup.

The J.V.H. (Bobby) Davis Memorial Library is dedicated to this well- respected rider and trainer and was a gift of the Davis family and Dr. and Mrs. M. Nixon Ellis. John Van Holland Davis III rode races from 1927-1947 and trained from 1947-1983. He rode Sea Soldier to victory in the 1931 Carolina Cup and trained the winners of three Carolina Cups in the 1960s and 1970s. He and his wife retired in Camden. The library is adorned with old racing photographs, oil paintings, and an impressive collection of steeple- chasing and foxhunting volumes.

Enhanced by its beautiful setting, the museum has become a popular venue for all kinds of gatherings – tented, formal affairs in the garden, smaller cocktail parties or private dinners inside. The space is available year-round.

The museum is open from September through May. Exhibits and displays are rotated throughout the season. The hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and other times by appointment.

 

www.nationalsteeplechasemuseum.org
200 Knights Hill Road Camden, SC 29020
(803) 432-6513

Special thanks to Patricia Mitchell, docent of the National Steeplechase Museum, for her generous assistance with this article. Joe Moran works in the Historic Firearms and Early Militaria Department at Cowan Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached at Joe@Cowans.com.

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