Our equestrian community’s roots run deep in the meadows and mountains of the Carolina foothills. For nearly a century, the area has attracted equestrians of all persuasions, drawn here by the land and lifestyle that make this such a special place.
Carter P. Brown (1893-1978) was one of the first equestrian “transplants” to put down roots here. A Michigan hotelier and an amateur architect with a keen appreciation for the rustic charm of Appalachian folk architecture, Brown was responsible for creating many of the area’s most distinctive properties, including the Ellis Slater, Sr. home (now Still Point Farm) and Tootin’ Hill. In 1918, he acquired a tuberculosis sanitarium that he transformed into the Pine Crest Inn, incorporating elements from local historic structures and adding stabling for 30 horses to accommodate his foxhunting friends. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the Pine Crest continues to operate as a lodging and dining establishment for local residents and visiting foxhunters, albeit without the equestrian facilities of the Carter Brown era. Affectionately known as “the man who created Tryon,” Brown founded the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club (TRHC), an organization dedicated to promoting all phases of equestrian sport, in 1925. The following year, he helped organize The Tryon Hounds, which held regular drag foxhunting meets in the “Hunting Country.” Today, both organizations are thriving clubs that provide recreation and sport for the equestrian community.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the area saw steady growth, as Brown encouraged friends and fellow sportsmen to explore its many attractions, and worked tirelessly to support the equestrian community. In 1928, TRHC held the first Tryon Horse and Hound Show. In 1931, the show moved to Harmon Field, a multi-use recreational facility that the town of Tryon purchased with a grant from The Harmon Foundation, and almost immediately became one of the community’s most popular and best-attended events. Schools and businesses closed for the show, traditionally held on a Wednesday in April, so everyone could attend. One of the show’s highlights was the annual barbecue, held in appreciation of the landowners who made their land available for equestrian sport. Today, TRHC’s Tryon Horse Show is a five day, “A” rated show that attracts an impressive roster of equine athletes, and one of the premier social events of the year. Although the event has moved to a new location at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE), Harmon Field has expanded and prospered, as well, under the guidance of the Harmon Field Commission and with the support of TRHC and the larger community. Today, Harmon Field hosts Blue Ridge Hunter Jumper Association (BRHJA) shows, the annual Foothills Barbeque Festival, and a full range of community recreational events.
The Block House steeplechase was another of Brown’s contributions to the community. Built as a defensive outpost after the outbreak of the French and Indian War, and situated in the land now known as “Hunting Country,” the Block House is one of the area’s most important landmarks. Used as a tavern and gambling house in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the building was in a state of near ruin before Brown refurbished it as a residence for the A.D. Plamadon family during the early 1940s. Mindful of Brown’s longstanding goal of establishing a steeplechase in the area, Plamadon offered the use of his new property, and in 1947 the first Block House Steeplechase was run under the sponsorship of the TRHC.
Other “transplants” who encouraged the growth of the equestrian sport in the area included Mr. and Mrs. Willis E. Kuhn of Indianapolis, who bought The Cotton Patch, a 130-acre property in the “Hunting Country,” in 1948. Designed for Massachusetts banker and FDR advisor James H. Perkins by renowned architect Russell S. Walcott, the main house was built “off the land” using local materials. The Kuhns used the farm as a winter residence and as a Thoroughbred breeding and training facility, acquiring contiguous acreage and adding to its equestrian amenities. Willis Kuhn served several terms as president of TRHC, and his wife Jacquelyn was the Club’s first woman president. The Kuhns were members of The Tryon Hounds, and the farm became a regular hunt fixture, with members enjoying good sport over its rolling hills and along its spacious river bottoms. Producing a distinguished stable of equine athletes, The Cotton Patch became a landmark in local and national equestrian circles.
In 1956, the US Equestrian Team selected Tryon as the site for its qualifying trials for the Stockholm Olympics. TRHC was instrumental in bringing the team to Tryon, with Tryon Hounds Joint Master of Foxhounds Ernest Mahler serving as local coordinating chairman and fundraiser. Harmon Field and The Cotton Patch were venues for the Olympic hopefuls; at The Cotton Patch, the Kuhns built an impressive stadium where large crowds gathered to watch riders contend for spots on the jumping and three-day-event teams. The trials received national press coverage and helped establish the area as the nationally known equestrian haven that it is today. The riders who qualified for the Olympics that year are still remembered as among the best in their respective disciplines: jumping team members William Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, High Wiley and Warren Wofford; and three-day event team members Jonathan Burton, Frank Duffy, William Haggard, and Walter G. Staley, Jr.
The Kuhns’ generosity in hosting the Olympic selection trials was but one of many public-spirited gestures. Mrs. Kuhn took a particular interest in Converse College, a private, four-year liberal arts college for women in nearby Spartanburg, South Carolina. A member of the Converse College Board of Visitors, she was an enthusiastic supporter of the school’s equestrian program and invited the collegiate riders to make use of The Cotton Patch’s land and facilities. Upon Mrs. Kuhn’s death in 1985, Converse received the property as a bequest and owned in until 1989.
The 1950s brought dramatic changes to this area, which became an attractive prospect for investors as a result of federal tax laws that encouraged the purchase and operation of large cattle farms. In the early 1950s, Harry M. Sloate, an automobile dealer from Hartford, Connecticut, purchased a number of modest farms on the South bank of the North Pacolet River, assembling a large Hereford cattle farm that he named the Emerald Bar S. Across the river, Dwight Eisenhower’s close friend and bridge partner, Ellis D. Slater, assembled a 2,000 acre Angus farm that he named Caroland. These two large commercial farms effectively protected over 5,000 acres astride the North Pacolet River during the 1950s.
The region was becoming attractive for other reasons, as well. The economic prosperity followed World War II brought with it a wave of development that, for all its’ salutary effects, had an inevitable downside. As the open space so essential to equestrian life began to disappear in more densely populated regions, horsemen and sportsmen from the Northeast and Midwest sought refuge in the open space of the Carolina foothills. In 1956, Fairview Farms, Inc., the successor to Joseph and Fredrica Timken Hale’s Hale Stables, of Greenwich, Connecticut, purchased the Emerald Bar S. Under the management of trainer/manager Anthony E. Wallace, the Hales had produced an impressive roster of equine athletes, including three-time AHSA national conformation hunter champion Golden Hill, AHSA open jumper high score award General, and working hunter high score award winner Bronze Wing, but by the 1950s intensive development in the Greenwich vicinity precluded any possibility of expansion. Mrs. Hale’s son and heir, Eligio Del Guercio, and Wallace made the decision to move the operation. In its new location, Fairview raised Hereford cattle while continuing to breed and train show hunters, and purchased additional contiguous land that brought the farm’s size to 3500 acres. By the early 1970s, Del Guercio and Wallace had decided to focus on preparing young Thoroughbreds for the track; with the construction of a 3/4 mile, all-weather training track, Fairview Farms became a first class, state of the art training facility. Completed in 1972, the track was designed and built by New York racetrack superintendent Richard Strickland, who had rebuilt the tracks at Belmont Park and Aqueduct. Acclaimed by sportswriters as a premier Thoroughbred racing farm, Fairview produced over 500 stakes winners before Wallace’s retirement in 1995.
As the equestrian community has grown, it has become more diverse and acquired more depth. Legendary instructor Gordon Wright, credited with mentoring more Maclay winners than any of his contemporaries, maintained a residence in Gowensville (Greenville County) in his later years, and established the Greenville County Hounds in 1963. In 1988, the Green Creek Hounds was established by Margaret “Peg” Secor. These two hunts merged in 1998, and the new club is known as the Green Creek Hounds.
During the 1980s, a number of forward-thinking individuals — here and elsewhere — began individual and organized efforts to protect open space. The Foothills area, with its proximity to the I-26 and I-85 Corridors, was particularly vulnerable to development, and lifestyle and generational changes were also adversely impacting “horse country.” Road paving in “Hunting Country” and elsewhere in the 1950s had already prompted The Tryon Hounds to seek new territory at Fairview Farms and Caroland. The Block House had changed hands several times after Plamadon made it his residence in the 1940s; the property was briefly owned by Converse College and used as a venue for its’ equestrian program in the late 1960s, but by the mid 1980s, it was no longer a secure long-term venue for the steeplechase. The community’s response was the creation of the Foothills Equestrian and Nature Center (FENCE). The initial donation of 120 acres of land from Mrs. Ernest Mahler, the dedicated efforts of FENCE founders David Kirby, Tom Moore, Gus Hoffman, Paul Culberson and Jim Flack, and the sustained support of volunteers and donors have produced a 380 acre facility that provides a home for the steeplechase, a venue for horse shows, and a nature study center serving all segments of the community. The steeplechase moved to FENCE in 1989; in 2011, the community celebrated the 65th running of The Block House.
In 1989, Ellis Slater’s son, Allen D. Slater, Sr. was instrumental in establishing the Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC), a nonprofit land trust that has helped protect over 8,000 acres to date and holds conservation easements on 52 properties. Today, the region is served by two additional thriving land trusts: Upstate Forever, established in 1998, with offices in Greenville and Spartanburg, currently holding easements on 14,000 acres in the South Carolina Upstate and Western North Carolina; and The Spartanburg Area Conservancy (SPACE), established in 1989 and currently holding easements on 1600 acres. Conservation easements have been instrumental in protecting some of the most significant equestrian properties, including Fairview Farms and The Cotton Patch.
Shortly before Fairview closed its training operation in 1995, Eligio Del Guercio’s son and heir, Kenneth, began to develop the part of the property now known as Golden Hills of Fairview. Golden Hills is comprised of residential equestrian tracts with a minimum size of ten acres governed by strict covenants that protect the land’s natural beauty and rural character. After Kenneth’s death in 1997, his heirs decided to sell the remainder of the farm. Tony Wallace’s wife, Madelon, joined forces with Herbert L. (“Bud”) Myers to save the farm. Myers, a retired corporate executive who moved to the area with his wife, Kit, in 1990, had previously been instrumental in forming the Aquetong Valley Association, placing their farm and over 1,000 adjoining acres near New Hope, Pennsylvania under environmental easement. Together, Myers and Madelon formed Greenspace of Fairview, LLC, which purchased Fairview in 2000 for the express purpose of protecting its distinctive beauty and historic rural character. Today, the 1300 acre property is comprised of a limited number of residential tracts ranging in size from 25 to 56 acres, with the balance of the land designated as commonly held open space, protected from subdivision and development. The entire property — individual investor tracts and open space — is protected in perpetuity by a conservation easement held by Upstate Forever.
The Greenspace concept was well received by the community, paving the way for additional projects that have protected the landmarks and open space so important to the equestrian lifestyle in the Foothills. In 2003, The Cotton Patch was placed under easement to Upstate Forever. The easement permits a maximum of eight building lots on the 403-acre property, with two-thirds of the land designated as commonly held open space on which development is prohibited. Other contiguous properties, including Carter Brown’s old residence, The River House, have also been placed under easement.
Residents of the area have explored other means of preserving horse country, as well. Trail riding, always a favorite pastime in the Foothills, has become more formalized in recent years, with the creation and formalization of primarily residential trail systems in the “Hunting Country” (FETA, established 1993), the Collinsville section of Polk County (CETA, established 1998), and most recently, in Gowensville, South Carolina (GENTS). These organizations and other private trail associations in the area preserve riding trails in a manner that respects the rights of the landowners who make their land available for equestrian sport.
Preserving “horse country” is a challenge and an opportunity. Here in the Foothills, we take that challenge seriously and welcome the opportunity to preserve our rich equestrian heritage for future generations.
Copyright, Walker, Wallace & Emerson Realty, 2011