It’s a well-known fact that Georgetown and Middleburg, Virginia – an historic village about an hour away in the heart of horse country — have a special relationship. For decades, many Georgetowners including some of the most renown residents such as the Kennedys and the Grahams, have maintained homes and estates in and around Middleburg. Recently and especially during the past two pandemic years, many more have gone to Middleburg regularly for a change of atmosphere.
“All during the pandemic especially in 2021, I’ve seen a steady stream of D.C. families coming to Middleburg for the day, the weekend, for a week’s stay and increasingly, to buy what was to be a second home but increasingly becomes their primary home,” Emily Ristau, a horsewoman, farm owner, real estate agent and former Georgetown O St. homeowner herself, told The Georgetowner during a lunch at the Oyster Bar on East Washington St., Middleburg’s main street. “They come to enjoy the country atmosphere of Middleburg with more relaxed masking, store, and restaurant regulations.”
“I’ve never had such good sales year as 2021,” Ristau admitted. “It continues today but the inventory is very low. Many offers have escalation clauses.”
Of course, there were some hard days, especially in 2020. A quick reconnaissance of Middleburg’s main two commercial streets revealed some favorite stores are no longer in business such as the White Elephant exchange shop. But on March 2, there did not appear to be any empty storefronts. Among the favorite survivors include Middleburg’s unique The Fun Shop, a ten-room gift and cook shop. The owners, sisters Page and Patti Allen, still hope to sell it but only to new owners who commit to maintaining its special aspects such as a significant number of horse and hunt, fox and hound themed offerings. A sign by the register reads “Have you ever dreamed of owning a store?”
Locals’ two most popular eateries and coffee shops are still open across the street from the Fun House. The post office and Safeway down the block still bustle with local shoppers in jeans and riding boots; the two tack stores are still there. The historic Red Fox Inn & Tavern down the street still entices and across the street, The Second Chapter community bookstore still features the latest books as well as a large selection of fiction and non-fiction tomes by local authors about Middleburg.
“Now everything is opening up and there’s so much to do here,” said Lynn Wiley, a board member of the Middleburg Spring Race Association (MSRA). “Most exciting is that the postponed 100th anniversary of Middleburg’s most famous steeplechase race founded in 1911, will take place in-person and live on March 23,” she said.
From origins as foxhunting club point-to-point competitions, the Middleburg Spring Race has evolved into a world-class sanctioned event offering almost $200,000 in prizes attracting some of the fastest racing/jumper thoroughbreds in the world, according to the MSRA. The race takes place at Glenwood Park on the edge of Middleburg on a reportedly one-of-a-kind obstacle course comprising every type of jump and obstacle from ditches, banks, brush, timber, and coops. “Tickets have just been opened for the Spring Races,” said Wiley. “But the customary spaces for group tailgate picnics – often featuring luxurious service items, flowers and gourmet picnic food – have been enlarged and limited in number this year. “Already almost all tickets are sold out.”
Other point-to-point local hunt club races will be held in various locations from Warrenton, Virginia to local farms around Middleburg between March 5 through April 24. Two other popular sanctioned steeplechase races are the Foxfield Spring races in Charlottesville to be held April 30, and the popular Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadows in The Plains outside Marshall, Virginia on May 7.
But also an increasing number of cultural events are opening in Middleburg. A “Hunt Country Music Festival” is planned for May 20-22 at the Salamander Resort and Spa just outside Middleburg. On March 20, the famous Whiffenpoofs singers of Yale University will perform there. Plus, a new film festival featuring documentaries called Doc5 is being organized for early June; the week-long Middleburg film festival takes place in the fall.
The 340-acre Salamander Resort and Spa was opened in 2013 with 170 all-view guest rooms, numerous dining offerings, conference and catered spaces, full spa and one of the best equestrian programs in the country including miles of riding trails. It’s added a lot to traditional Middleburg’s social and cultural life, Ristau and Wileu agreed. No doubt old Georgetowners/Middleburgers like the Kennedys and the Grahams would have welcomed it as well.
For a checklist of things to do in Middleburg see here.