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April 2, 2010

Casanova Hunt Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Season

Tommy Lee Jones has hunted the Casanova Hunt pack since 1970, carrying the pack’s tradition of 100 years of sport over the Piedmont countryside.

Strong roots in the past have helped this Virginia hunt thrive for a century.

It’s somehow poetic that a 100-year storm buried the Virginia countryside under 3 feet of snow during Casanova Hunt’s 100th anniversary season this winter.

The hunt once dubbed “quietly Virginian” has survived and flourished even in today’s complex hunting environment. Strong leadership through trying times in history and a loyal following have been essential for the Casanova Hunt. And with the Fendley family as MFHs and Tommy Lee Jones as huntsman, leading them into the future, the legacy looks to continue.

“Casanova Hunt has always been a community sport. Everyone from Day 1 has just wanted to hunt. Today, there are still descendants of the original founding families here,” said MFH Joyce Fendley.

“The hunt is like a family. There are a number of members who bring along their grandchildren. I’m getting ready to introduce my first of nine grandchildren to hunting this year. All our children have a keen love of the countryside,” Fendley said.

The Casanova Hunt calls the Piedmont region of Virginia home, in an area 50 miles wide and 100 miles long. The hunt country is located in central, eastern and southern parts of Fauquier County, southeast Culpeper County, northeast Orange County, northeast Spotsylvania County and west Stafford County. The territory reflects its “working farmer” heritage and is populated with horse, beef and dairy farms, along with rolling pastures and heavy woods.

Colonial Roots

According to excerpts from the diary of Harry Lee Edmonds, Casanova’s first Master (1909-1921), a meeting of land-owners, farmers and friends was held at Creedmore, the home of Mr. and Mrs. E. Nelson Fell, on Aug. 15, 1909, and the club was established.

English natives who “brought their ways” to America, the Fells hosted many holiday drag hunts and parties in their Tudor-style home, complete with a second floor ballroom. Unlike most of the Piedmont hunts, Casanova’s members were not wealthy industrial barons but working Virginians. In 1910, the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association recognized Casanova. (While the Masters of Foxhounds Association was organized in 1907, it did not have the power to recognize hunts until 1934.)

Casanova’s early foxhunting continued in the “old Virginia” way. In 1914, Floyd Kane was hired as the first paid huntsman and served during the World War I years. Miles Wells followed from 1921-25, with Baldwin D. Spilman Jr. and Richard D. Barrett as Masters. Casanova records indicate that from 1924-1927 the financially struggling club leased its territory to the nearby Warrenton Hunt.

In 1927, a revived Casanova emerged following reorganization. Charlotte St. George Nourse was appointed MFH, and Harry Lee Edmonds became Master of the drag pack. A budget was put in place. Oscar Beach hunted the hounds free of charge.

Nourse had a tremendous and enduring impact on Casanova Hunt. She was born in 1894 at historic Weston, where the kennels are located today. According to Jericho Turnpike, published by the Warrenton Antiquarian Society, Nourse was a descendant of Samuel Morris, who followed hounds with George Washington and founded Rose Tree Foxhunting Club in 1859, the first organized hunt club in Pennsylvania. Moreover, several Nourse family homesteads have been incorporated into landmarks that can be visited today in Washington, D.C.

Nourse was an avid horsewoman and artist, and her legacy, Weston, is uniquely tied to Casanova. When Nourse was MFH, and later Casanova’s secretary, the Casanova “potlicker hounds” were kept, for a time, in a small yard out the back door of the house.

Although the Great Depression in the 1930s hit the struggling rural community, foxhunting survived. But, Casanova Hunt records indicate that in 1935 the Board of Directors again elected to lease their territory to Warrenton Hunt. During this time, Nourse and Beach maintained the Casanova pack of hounds so that informal hunting could be conducted by farmers on private property in small parts of the territory that would not interfere with Warrenton’s sport. Casanova and Warrenton were and remain neighbors and good friends. Casanova has joined Warrenton at opening meets for many decades.

Casanova Again Takes Up The Reins

An article in the April 3, 1937 issue of the Fauquier Times-Democrat announced that “Casanova Club to Reestablish Pack and Resume Fox Hunting,” and details another reorganization, whereby Dorothy Montgomery was elected Master and Nourse took over as secretary and treasurer. Oscar Beach retained his position as honorary huntsman.

Beach served in this position until he retired in 1952. In an article written by renowned historian and biographer Alden Hatch that appeared in the September 1940 issue of Country Life, Beach is quoted, “I’ve been offered many a good salary to be huntsman for other packs but I turned them down. If a man loves hunting he doesn’t want to be paid for it.”

Beach was a hound man with keen fox sense and unmatched courage. According to notes being written by Casanova MFH Joyce Fendley (1983–present), “hunting primarily American hounds, he did not believe in lifting and recasting; rather he let the hounds hunt themselves to work problems through. As he approached a covert and his hounds entered on their own, Mr. Beach was always fully confident that the note of his horn would bring them back to his side.”

In her hunting diaries, Nourse noted, “In his pink coat on some powerful thoroughbred, [Beach] is the picture and personification of John Peel.”

Consequently, many well-known foxhunters traveled to ride with Casanova, including Harry Worchester Smith the grand Master and founder of the MFHA. In a letter written on April 6, 1938, to Nourse, Smith wrote that Casanova “will be such a contrast to Orange County [Hunt] for instance, where most go out to be with the ‘right people’ while at Casanova horses, hounds and the red fox, not humans, are the shining marks.”

World War II brought a difference of opinion between the Master and the board about foxhunting during the conflict. Montgomery resigned, and Mary Maxwell was appointed to serve with William Gulick in 1942. Maxwell was an avid polo player and ushered in the halcyon days for the hunt, when polo became an integral part of the off-season activities. Maxwell and Gulick married in 1943 and resided in Duhallow, where the kennels were relocated. They retired in 1952.

Another Change Of Pace

John Hopewell (1952-54) and Charles H. Tompkins Jr., stepped up as Masters. Hopewell also hunted the hounds for a brief period when Beach retired. Tompkins was an avid foxhunter and owned Spring Hill Farm. He applied his business background to the club and introduced an annual hunt horse show, hound show, hunter trial and landowner’s party.

He also built a new hound kennel near his hunter barn. He helped build a local Pony Club—now the Casanova-Warrenton Pony Club—and initiated junior hunting meets. He assisted in developing a plan for a point-to-point race at his Spring Hill Farm, which remains a fixture in the calendar to this day. In 1958, Kenneth Edwards joined Tompkins as Joint Master until 1964.

In 1955, horse and hound trainer, Casius “Cash” Blue became the professional huntsman. A lifelong Casanova resident, he stayed until 1964. He was succeeded by Edward “Pete” Pearson for a brief period and then by Jack C. Eicher, Jr. who left due to serious illness in 1967.

When Charles Tompkins died in 1968, the Casanova hounds returned to Weston, which Nourse had bequeathed to the Warrenton Antiquarian Society. The kennels were updated and enlarged on a portion of land that Casanova leases. Casanova continues many of the original Weston traditions, including their Opening Meet Breakfast. Today, Weston is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

In the fall of 1967, Capt. Ian J. Benson of Ballyduff, Ireland, arrived at the request of MFH Tompkins. He was master of his own foxhound pack, the Acondhu, in County Waterford. He engaged Nancy Burneston, Gretchen Stephens, Dorothy Cullen and Tommy Lee Jones as whippers-in. Gulick returned as Master when Tompkins died, and Benson was appointed to serve with him in 1969.

Embarking On The Future

In 1970, Jones took up the horn for Casanova, and he serves as huntsman to this day. He was a member of Bull Run Hunt (Va.) as a child. His father was a horse dealer, which provided the opportunity for Jones to hunt up front with such renowned huntsmen as Melvin Poe, Albert Poe, Andrew Branham, Duke Leach and Charlie George. He also rode jumpers, hunters and steeplechase horses. He gained valuable insight while hunting with Capt. Benson and was rewarded for his efforts when Ben-son left Casanova by becoming his successor.

In the MFHA book, A Centennial View, Foxhunting in North America Today, Jones—who is also a prolific writer—reminisced about his early days walking hounds and the antics that ensued when he first took out the young pack. His sense of humor and love of hounds shines through. Last year, Jones celebrated his 40th season as huntsman for Casanova.

Fendley in her notes highlights that, “After 40 years there is no doubt that the cohesive and obedient pack Tommy Lee has bred and hunted is a continuing legacy of the finest Virginia has to offer.”

John Alexander and Robert Burneston served together as MFHs for a short time in the 1960s, followed by Gretchen B. Stephens and Col. Samuel Richards from 1972-1983. Col. Richards had a distinguished military career and earned many awards. He was crucial in the development of the point-to-point races and was a long-standing member of the Virginia Foxhound Club, serving as a hound show steward.

Stephens has a strong hunting background in Pennsylvania and New York, and upon moving to Virginia she purchased the home owned by Harry Lee Edmonds, Casanova’s first MFH. A friend of ex-MFH Charles Tompkins, she kept the Casanova hound records. She was responsible for having the hounds vaccinated against the newly discovered canine parvovirus, preventing a serious outbreak.

In 1983, Fendley joined Col. Richards and Stephens as an MFH. She hunted with Bull Run Hunt (Va.) as a child and joined Casanova in 1978. In 1981 she was invited to serve as fieldmaster. She has served as District Commissioner of the local Pony Club and encouraged juniors to hunt, which became her mission.

As a Board Member of the U.S. Pony Clubs, she was appointed by the MFHA as their liaison with the USPC. She developed the MFHA Educational Foundation manual A Guide to Establishing A Foxhunting Camp, which is used by Pony Clubs and foxhunting clubs. Fendley is a former member of the Executive Com-mittee of the Virginia Foxhound Club and served as the MFHA’s Virginia District Director from 2000-2006.

Kay Blassic became Master in 1988. As a young girl she hunted with Genesee Valley Hunt (N.Y.) before moving to Virginia in 1959. She spent many years showing, hunting and event-ing and later was a breeder involved in flat and steeplechase racing. She was a whipper-in with Orange County Hunt and Middleburg Hunt before turning hounds to Jones. Together with Fendley, she began the Hunter Tune Up Trail Rides series and conducted cross-country clinics. Although she stepped down as Master in 2005, Blassic continues as a whipper-in for Casanova.

In 2001, William Fendley joined his wife as Joint Master. He had been a whipper-in since 1989 and spent his time immersed in the hunt activities. He served as chairman of their Insurance Committee, and in 2006 the Fendleys’ daughter, Mrs. John Clark, was appointed to serve with her parents. Having hunted since age 10, she too is an accomplished equestrian and serves as a whipper-in. The transition to Master brings the Fendley family full-circle.

The Casanova Pack

Casanova huntsman Tommy Lee Jones carries with him a strong respect for the legacy of the Casanova pack of hounds.

“[Former MFH] Mr. Gulick had American hounds. During World War II, Mrs. Gulick kept the pack together, and when Mr. Gulick came back, he brought some Rappahannock County hounds, which were Bywaters hounds,” Jones said. “He also had some Blue Tick hounds in there because he loved Blue Ticks.”

But Charles Tompkins wanted to slow things down and went to English hounds, which were heavier and boxier at that time and had difficulty with the country.

“At the time of his death, the pack was about a third American, a third Crossbred and a third English,” said Jones. “When Capt. Benson came [in 1967], being an Irishman, we thought that he would go English. But he decided he needed to be able to have hounds that matched the country so he stayed with the American and Crossbred. Today, the pack is heavier on Crossbreds but very much an American type.”

Jones said they’ve never cared about hound shows, just striving for the best hunting hound.

“By the time Capt. Benson left, it was pretty much an American pack. It came to be Crossbred because I would go watch hounds hunt and breed to that,” he said. “The best hound I saw was a Warrenton Crossbred named Fagan. One bitch had nine puppies by Fagan, and they all hunted. We only breed a couple of hounds a year, and we’re going back to American. We are breeding Crossbred bitches to American hounds.”

In the 1970s, Jones had to contend with a deer problem.

“I was selling hunt horses at that time and sold one to Rolling Rock (Pa.). There were so many deer there that they had fencing by the kennels to protect the shrubs. But, I saw that the hounds didn’t run the deer,” Jones said. “So, I bred a bitch named Thresher to Rolling Rock Toby, and these puppies were my first deer-proof hounds. When we would go into the woods and the hounds would speak on deer, her [Thresher] puppies came back to me.”

Subsequent outbreeding to Essex Chadwell “turned the pack around,” Jones said.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Casanova Hunt Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Season" ran in the April 2, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

 
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