by Barbara H. Heck (April 2022) A version of this story was first published in The Chestertown Spy
Combining riveting equestrian sport and pageantry, rich Tidewater history, and breath-taking waterfront vistas, the inaugural Mount Harmon-Wicomico Hunt Point-to-Point adds an exciting new event to the Maryland racing spring calendar this year. On April 10, Mount Harmon Plantation on the Eastern Shore will welcome spectators and competitors for the first time to racing over a new three-mile timber course with 21 jumps along the Sassafras River. The races will be the only waterfront point-to-point in the country.
The new point-to-point is the latest chapter in a long history of horse racing on the Sassafras River. In the late 1700s, Sydney George, Jr. kept a stable of 60 racing horses and a private racecourse on his property at Mount Harmon. In 1830, when the Maryland Jockey Club reorganized and received a new charter from Congress, it elected Sassafras River planter and American Revolution veteran General Thomas March Forman of the neighboring Rose Hill as its first president.
Point-to-point racing developed out of foxhunting and dates back to at least 1836. In England, fox hunters raced their horses from church steeple to church steeple to keep their horses fit during the off season. American point-to-point racing today is overseen by The Jockey Club. The Mount Harmon-Wicomico Hunt Point-to-Point is sponsored by The Wicomico Hunt Club in partnership with the Mount Harmon Plantation.
“The Mount Harmon-Wicomico Hunt Point-to-Point connects us to our colonial and equestrian roots and showcases Mount Harmon’s pristine natural surroundings and open spaces where four centuries of history and nature intertwine,” Mount Harmon Plantation Executive Director Paige Howard said. “Our partnership with Wicomico is exciting on two fronts – both organizations are dedicated to preserving open spaces and nature while fostering historic connections between equestrian sports and land preservation.”
The Mount Harmon Plantation
The Mount Harmon Plantation is a 200-acre preserve in Earleville on the grounds of the 17th century Georgian manor house originally called World’s End. The original 350 acres was granted to Godfrey Harmon by the first Proprietor of Maryland, Cecil Calvert Lord Baltimore. The property was a tobacco plantation and trading wharf, and home to “a complex community including the gentry owners, as well as indentured servants, slaves, and tenant farmers.”(from www.mtharmon.org)
The area was home to the Tockwogh people until Captain John Smith explored the area for Europeans in 1607. The Tockwogh take their name from the tuckahoe plant, an aquatic perennial native to the area. Exhibits on the property show the evolution of the land from the Tockwogh people through Captain Smith’s 1607 exploration, the waves of European settlers who followed Captain Smith, the evolution of agriculture on the Eastern Shore in the 18th and 19th centuries, and present-day preservation efforts to showcase and share this rich history.
“The focus of our Mount Harmon-Wicomico Hunt Point-to-Point is on the races and outside site features, so the manor house will not be open for tours on April 10th,” Howard said. “Our visitor center exhibit featuring four centuries of history at Mount Harmon will be open, as well as our plantation outbuildings including hearth cooking in our colonial kitchen so visitors can get a flavor of the living history that will be showcased at our National Revolutionary War Reenactment Festival May 21 and 22, when the manor house will be open for tours.”
The Wicomico Hunt Club
The Wicomico Hunt Club is the only recognized fox chasing club on the Delmarva Peninsula. The club was organized in the 1920s by a group of men from Salisbury, and the Masters of Foxhounds Association recognized the pack in 1932. The club hunts land in Wicomico, Queen Anne’s, Kent, and Cecil counties.
“Fox hunting is often misunderstood in this country,” said Steve Isaacson, President of the Mount Harmon Board of Directors, Race Chairman, and a riding member of the Wicomico Hunt Club. “It’s very different from the blood sport of centuries past; today the sport is called fox chasing. It’s all about hound work, land preservation and open space and not about finding and killing the fox.”
“The enthusiasm for this event is over the top,” Joint Master of Foxhounds Ed Fry noted. “Support is exceeding anything we envisioned, and the Wicomico Hunt Club is happy to partner with Mount Harmon in these exciting new races.”
The Mount Harmon-Wicomico Hunt Point-to-Point will be run over a new course designed by Jay Meister and Brooke Boyer. The races will honor people who have been influential in the horse industry on the Eastern Shore. The Allaire du Pont Bowl commemorates the late breeder of the great gelding Kelso and owner of Woodstock Farm, the Hamilton Fox Memorial Race honors Wicomico Hunt Club founder and Salisbury attorney Hamilton Fox, the H. Brooks Durkee Memorial Trophy remembers the late Maryland-based steeplechase jockey and trainer, and the Marguerite du Pont Villers Boden Ladies Race pays tribute to the work previous owner Mrs. Boden did to restore and preserve Mount Harmon.
“The Point-to-Point will be a great day out to enjoy exciting jump races, and a beautiful day in the country at one of Maryland’s most historic sites. After two years of the pandemic kept everyone cooped up, we are especially excited to provide lots of ways to get folks off of their devices and connect with nature and history,” Howard continued. “A day at Mount Harmon out in the beautiful countryside enjoying spring Point-to-Point races will be just the ticket.”
Post time is 10:30 a.m. at Mount Harmon Plantation, 600 Mount Harmon Road in Earleville. For more information, go to https://mountharmon.org/plantation-events-2/#Pointtopoint